The LC-MS – It All Sounds So Familiar!; I Too Have a Dream

In 1951, as a visitor at Concordia Theological Seminary (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to chat with a member of the faculty there, and I have not yet forgotten what he told me.

At the time, our own Calvin Seminary was in the throes of what appeared to be irreconcilable differences among members of the faculty. With eight others, I was then serving on the Seminary Investigation Committee. For all concerned, it was a traumatic and an unforgettable experience with the result that four members of the faculty were dismissed.

It is not my intention to try to revive the ins and Outs of that controversy at this time. What I do recall, however, is how I was filled with envy that day at Concordia when, in answer to my question whether the professors there also were divided by differences among themselves, that faculty member replied to this effect, “Oh no, they are far too busy for anything like that.”

What was wrong with us anyhow? Why couldn’t the spiritual descendants of John Calvin live together in peace like the spiritual descendants of Martin Luther? With such disturbing thoughts we headed back home to our troubles there.

Well, that was twenty-three years ago.

A lot of water has gone over the dam since then.

Concordia Seminary and the LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) are now embroiled in a controversy, the like of which they have never known before. May our gracious Lord, who has so richly blessed this denomination for well over a century, abundantly supply the balm of Gilead to heal the gaping wounds and also to reunite those now so sorely divided. But–may it never be at the price of abandoning the integrity of His own inspired and infallible Word which seem to be the issue which the battle is all about!

Recently this Lutheran controversy was brought to Grand Rapids with plenty of advance newspaper publicity that filled two large LCMS churches on Sunday afternoon, March 31. Dr. John H. Tietjen, ousted president of Concordia Seminary and gifted spokesman for “the moderates,” addressed the earlier meeting; while Dr. Edwin C. Weber, first vice president of the denomination, obviously a very well-informed participant in the controversy, spoke for “the conservatives” at the later meeting held in a different part of the city.

Much of what he heard sounded so familiar.

What do you believe about the Bible? It is precisely at that point that conservatives (or evangelicals) and moderates (or liberals) always come to a parting of the ways. Listening very carefully that Sunday afternoon, we once again could not escape the conviction that Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer, director of L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland and well-known evangelical author, hit the nail on the head when he stated the following in The Presbyterian Journal of March 6, 1974:

“Going back to the 1930’s in the United States, the larger historic denominations were largely lost to the liberals, but three were not: The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Christian Reformed Church [italics added], and the Southern Baptists. Thirty-five years later, these three denominations are now grappling with the same issues, all of which are rooted in the question of the authority of Scripture” (p. 7).

That Sunday afternoon Dr. Weber told us that when he was studying for the Lutheran ministry about thirty years ago, the professors told the students that no denomination can keep . the gospel in unadulterated form for more than a hundred years. According to a newspaper report, Dr. Weber had said to an audience at another meeting that their teachers “told us to be on guard so when the time came we could stand up for the doctrine we believed in”; and he added, “Now is the time.”

The LCMS was organized as a denomination in 1847; the CRC ten years later, in 1857. More than one hundred years have come and gone for us also, and we may well take stock to try to determine precisely where we are.

Just how much farther down the wrong road the LCMS may be than the CRC would be difficult to say. Before we pass judgment in favor of ourselves, however, let’s bear in mind that last summer the LCMS General Convention or Synod, headed by the conservative Dr. J. A. O. Preus, had the backbone and the intestinal fortitude to suspend Dr. Tietjen from this position as the head of their seminary. Moreover, the Concordia Seminary board has since dared to oust the professors who, in their judgment, were not teaching in keeping with the LCMS’s historic position, notwithstanding the devastating results when a very great majority of the professors and students went elsewhere to organize a Seminex (Seminary in exile) on Roman Catholic and United Church of Christ campuses close at hand.

Now frankly, one wonders what it would take for a e Re synod in this day and age to have a head-on confrontation with a really decisive action like that concerning false teaching when it makes its inroads among us. Compromise instead of clear-cut and definitive action at our major assemblies forebodes no good for the future of the CRC. There is still hope for a church when it has the courage and the conviction to face up to its controversies as well as the conviction to act boldly and decisively, once and for all.

Dr. Tietjen is a winning and convincing speaker with an apparent charisma that may very well be captivating to young men studying for the ministry as well as others. However, there is reason to believe that he may therefore be all the more dangerous.

It all sounds good and well when Dr. Tietjen pleads for love and the freedom to study Scripture, which he insists that he accepts as the inspired Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. But confidence in what he says receives a sharp jolt when he tells about the change he discovered at Concordia between the time when he was there as a student and when he came back in 1969 to serve on the faculty.

When he was at Concordia as a student, Dr. Tietjen said, they had to study dogmatics or the LCMS systematic theology. But when he returned in 1969 that was no longer true. He found that now they are studying the Bible, and that he is learning now from the students and from other members of the faculty.

Now that may sound good to students and it may flatter them with a sense of their own importance. But would any medical school or law school ever think of training doctors and lawyers that way? That would be the height of stupidity, and both the practice of medicine and of law would soon be in a shambles. Medical students and law students have to knuckle down and first master what others before them have discovered in the hard way long ago. It is only then that they can go out and explore possible new ways for themselves.

What arrogance and conceit, as well as inexcusable folly, it would be for ministerial students to think that they should not first learn from far greater minds whom the Holy Spirit has been leading in the church for centuries gone by.

Dr. Tietjen feels free to accuse the LCMS of political tactics; and it is conceivable that he and his followers may create a lot of sympathy and also split the church. But, as Dr. Weber pointed out at the later meeting, the LCMS is a confessional church and there are certain rules under which all are expected to live. Is it wrong now if the authorities insist on having the confessions honored and the rules observed?

The Sunday following the meetings in Grand Rapids we listened to Dr. Tietjen once again as he was being interviewed on a church-news radio broadcast. In reply to the question what he would propose or write as a conclusion of this LCMS scenario, he replied in substance as follows:

“I would suggest that we get together, observe the Lord’s Supper, and commemorate what the Lord has done for us all. I would suggest that we then put everything on the table, forgive each other, and start all over again.”

But life is not quite that simple, and deep-down differences about the Bible and its doctrinal deliverances are not settled quite as easily as that. The LCMS conservatives appear to be more realistic in their approach to what is happening—and, I would say, rightly so.

The LCMS is sorely in need of our prayers.


And why shouldn’t I?

That is, have a dream.

After all, Martin Luther King had no monopoly on this. Also, I thought I might qualify for this according to what Peter said in Acts 2, quoting the prophet Joel: “And your old men shall dream dreams.” But obviously the reference there is to special revelation, something to which I dare lay no claim. But anyhow let me tell you about my dream—and don’t hesitate a moment to let me know what you think of it, either good or bad.

How about having a Congress of Conservatives called together from across denominational lines?

Of course, the details for such a get-together (It might even prove, with God’s blessing, to be historic!) would have to be refined, and the guidelines clearly spelled out.

But let me try to pass on to you a few thoughts that have been running through my mind. If they are worthless, don’t hesitate to shoot them down. However, I am throwing them out, in the hope and with the prayer, that our Lord may be pleased to make them lodge like seed-thoughts in the minds of many to bring forth a harvest of Scripturally-sound ecumenism that would draw bona-fide conservatives together and make them a blessing for His church and in His service.

Let’s call it a “Congress of Conservatives.” And let’s meet together for a full day or even two.

Who should be included?

Here are a few suggestions, and you may be able to add to the list.

A face-to-face coming together of that kind might hopefully draw many concerned and interested persons from the CRC. And, if it could be under joint leadership, I would hope also from the RCA and the OPC. Would our Protestant Reformed brethren and those of other Reformed bodies be willing to come so that with them also we may be able to talk together? We really do have so much in common, and we need each other more than we may realize. Let’s not allow the liberals to have a corner on ecumenical ventures.

Now please don’t call me just another dreamer. Remember the adage: “He who builds no castles in the air, builds no castles anywhere.”

And doesn’t John 17 prod our consciences now and then because we may be doing so little, or nothing at all, to pursue that precious goal of Christian unity for which our Savior prayed! Let’s listen to Him again:

“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word: that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:20, 21).

May there not be obstacle . . . that could be removed to make that prayer of our Savior realized, not only in achieving an inner, spiritual oneness, but also a visible, external organization? Who would dare to say that this is doomed to failure before we even try! Or that it would he easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for us as conservatives from these diverse backgrounds or affiliations to get together?

I don’t dare to believe that it’s just an empty dream that our Savior may now be saying to us also, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

We do know that even faith like a grain of mustard seed can move mountains. And you and I know very well that there are mountains to be moved. But won’t you try to dream this dream with me in such a faith as this?

I know, of course, that this is an irregular and unorthodox procedure, and that the regular way to pursue such ecumenism is by means of inter-church committees and meetings. But am I wrong in believing that, if we have to wait for that to happen, it will never come at all?

How then shall we go about it?

A planning session attended by representatives of the various elements, groups, or churches interested in exploring the possibility of and the working out of such a “Congress of Conservatives” would first of all be necessary.

At such a Congress, it might be possible to have one spokesman for each group or body address the gathering on what he would envision as “The Path to Unity.” A meeting of minds on the part of those who have “the mind of the Lord” might be used of Him to work wonders.

An evening mass meeting could be held at which the thinking expressed at such an all-day or a two-day session might be summarized. Certainly, prayers could be offered for Him who is the truth to show us the way to achieve what we need so sorely.

Rome was not built in a day. And neither am I so naive as to believe that we will merely have to shake hands and that all obstacles will then fall away.

But it should mean something to us to know that, when at last we meet our Lord, we will at least be able to say that we have tried.

Well, there you have it . . .

– a Congress of Conservatives;

– possibly a working organization brought into being that might be called Conservatives United;

– and eventually, by the sovereign grace of Him whose guidance we will implore, also a United Reformed Church in the United States and Canada!

Smile if you will, ridicule this if you must, criticize and tear it all to pieces—but please don’t give up on the idea and bury it unless you can honestly say that you know a better way to do it.

The whole thing may seem too unorthodox.

And I may be in for a rude awakening.

But the times are such that, by the mercy of the Lord, this dream might even come true. May God grant it!

What do you think?

I am praying for “the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees” (II Sam. 5:2).

Won’t you let me hear from you? And please let me know whether your letter may be used for publication or not.