Reflections and Follow up on Saint Louis

I haven’t posted anything on the situation with the Saint Louis seminary in a few weeks. Partly I have been busy. Partly, I have been reflecting. Since my last post, Dr. Arand has issued another statement.

The original article suggested that previous statements of the LCMS are unclear regarding the age of the earth, the length of a day, and the existence of death before sin. That was erroneous. The author – from one of our Concordia Universities – has humbly admitted this. That is wonderful news. The seminary noted his admission, said they would no longer be discussing it, and there was a few days of silence. I wrote a few things, encouraging them to speak clearly regarding the faith. I don’t presume to think that they read my admonition. But Dr. Arand did post a follow up. Officially, it was a statement regarding the editorial process. But he did have this to say about the article:

It has become clear to us that portions of the article did not articulate this argument clearly and presented a confusing witness regarding the synodical position as outlined in the Brief Statement adopted by the LCMS at the 1932 Synodical Convention.

Left unspoken is how that became clear to them. Perhaps it was the two pastor’s conferences, three District Presidents, and the author himself stating it that helped clarify things for them. Also left unsaid is the real problem – not that they did not articulate the synod’s position clearly, but that they did not articulate Scripture’s position clearly. No where does he say that scripture itself requires such an understanding of the creation.

Further, for those who wonder how such an article could have been published in the first place, he explains: “It was not the editorial process that failed, but our implementation of the process in this particular case.”

If I were going in for surgery on my hand, and my doctor cut off my foot, I may want more of an explanation than “the hospital’s procedure is fine. It’s just that the procedure failed in this particular case.” How did it fail? What was the weak link? If I am missing a foot, do I really care about the hospital’s five star rating in the local paper? Have they talked to the reviewers/editors that approved it? Do those men understand and acknowledge their mistake? What protocols are in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Their “exemplary record of theological witness and scholarship” over the last 44 years is sort of like a dog that doesn’t bite. It’s a great record, until it isn’t. And once the dog bites, it’s no longer a dog that doesn’t bite. 44 years is a good record. The seminary’s magazine was retitled back then. The previous 15 years had not been as exemplary, up to, and including denial of the resurrection. Walther’s vision was not that the LCMS would be faithful because it was the LCMS. He envisioned that the LCMS would be the LCMS because it would be faithful. At our best, we aspire to that. But the temptation to follow the path of the world, or larger and more successful churches is ever present.

If you look at organizations that faced a crisis of confidence with the public, the successful ones are those that took immediate action, admitted their own faults, and took responsibility, even sometimes for matters outside of their control. Organizations that are only inward looking – and that tend to do poorly in such crises – are those who reassure the public that nothing is wrong, everything is okey-dokey, nothing to see here, just move along citizens…

When the Nuclear Plant at Three Mile Island had trouble, the company kept denying there was a problem. When a few bottles of Tylenol were poisoned by some nutjob, the company recalled every bottle in circulation in the United States. They actually came out of the crisis with a better reputation than they went into it. It cost them a lot. But it was worth it in the long run. The two are used as classic examples of how to, and how not to, respond to problems.

At this point, I don’t get from the Saint Louis statement or from Dr. Arand any sense of their own responsibility for their actions. I don’t get that they take seriously the problem. Two district’s representing over 250 pastors rebuked them. Three District Presidents publicly stated it was false doctrine. The author of the article himself admitted so. It seems like, for an institution whose first job is to be faithful (1 Cor 4:2), any hint of unfaithfulness would be met with an overwhelming response showing that fidelity is the watchword. Instead we are getting deflection, pressure on those who spoke up, silence, and now what I can only describe as whistling past the graveyard. I’m not angry about this. I’m not on some warpath.

I’m saddened and genuinely puzzled.

Not that false doctrine snuck in the back door. That is what Satan does. He has 6000 years experience at it. He’s really good. I’m puzzled that the faculty doesn’t seem to have learned from their own history. Faithfulness in an institution can not be built up for the future. You can not build faithful practice now, and then just assume it is still there later. 44 Years is not that long in the church. And 44 years of faithfulness – if indeed there was – does not guarantee the 45th. Only God in his mercy and grace gives that to us. Our task is to be in the Word, studying, learning. My district president likes to ask pastors “can you be taught?” Are you still able to be instructed from the Word of God? If not, you can not be a pastor in the church. The day I am too knowledgeable to learn from my members, to be instructed by a three year old, or 90 year old, by someone going into surgery, someone who just lost a loved one, someone who has succumbed to dementia but still prays the Lord’s Prayer, someone who heard something in a sermon that didn’t sound quite right and they are calling me on it on the way out of church – the day I can no longer humbly learn from these people is the day I can no longer be a pastor. We’ve got to be faithful. And part of that is the humility to admit we were wrong and the humility to gratefully learn from someone else what is right – even if they don’t have enough letters in their name to hold the office we hold. In fact, those letters are the least important thing about me.

Right now, I question how important those letters are to the seminary. Which means that they are already calling into question the most important thing – their own faithfulness. That’s what happens when humility is lost. I pray that Saint Louis recovers that humility, that they recover the ability to submit themselves in all things, not to synodical resolutions, not to academic policies and procedures, but to the Word of God.

I’ve been accused of focusing too much on the Word of God. Sadly, the seminary doesn’t seem to have that problem.

***

I’ve received “Evolution: A Defense Against” back from the copy-editor. The final countdown has begun! Barring any unforeseen problems, it should be ready to go by February 14th! Check back often.

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1 Response to Reflections and Follow up on Saint Louis

  1. Pingback: Great Stuff — Reflections and Follow up on Saint Louis | Steadfast Lutherans

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