30 April 2010

Seminary or Not?

An interesting article by my neighbor and friend, Pastor Heath Curtis. Give it a read and chime in. Provocative, as usual.

36 comments:

Chris said...

Fr. Weedon,

The root of the problem is this and I know you don't want me to say it though I believe it is the elephant in the room which Lutherans have blinded themselves to or ignored for a long time: the priesthood is no longer regarded or taught to be regarded as a divine office which alone dispenses the sacraments.

Once that happened (and who knows when exactly), then the priest/pastor became something of a mere middle man or go-between or everyone could regard himself as a priest/pastor. That is the heart of the issue. From there comes such abhorrent practices as deacons consecrating the body and blood, the removal of private confession and absolution from all but a few parishes, women preaching and distributing the sacraments, etc. Missouri has reduced the office of the priest to a mere man.

St. John Chrysostom says that God's two greatest gifts to mankind are the incarnation of Christ and the priesthood. Is it a wonder then that there are so many competing theologies in Missouri? Priests are regarded as nothing more than mere men (I am by no means saying that they are holier than I though I suspect that they are) and if they are nothing more than mere men, why bother calling them? These congregations can do just as well without them.

Missouri's continued disintegration will continue unabated until the priesthood is restored to its former dignified position. Missourians seem so obsessively concerned with polity and the inherent goodness of "democracy" that, as a result, the truth and purity of doctrine, dogma and worship have all suffered.

Once this issue is addressed in the seminaries and in the congregations, there should be no complaining about the foreseeable outcomes.

Sorry for being blunt, but you asked.

Anonymous said...

Priesthood of all believers?

Anonymous said...

If the point of going to seminary is solely to land a job, than you may very well be correct in what you say. But if the point is training in how to meet the needs of a congregation, proper exegesis, etc. than a seminary education, although expensive, is still very worthwhile and would serve one well.

I'm not Lutheran, and I'm not familiar with the specifically Lutheran seminaries out there, so my comments are mainly from the perspective of someone who is somewhat familiar (through friends who have attended) with seminaries such as Talbot and Dallas.

To the previous commenter, Chris: Can you help me understand why a priest would be anything other than, as you say, 'a mere man'? 1 Peter 2:9 says "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;" (NASB)

Dixie said...

Years ago, when I was studying for a degree in Lay Ministry from Mequon, I went online to discuss Lutheran doctrine to reinforce what I was learning. Of course, lots of water under that bridge today but while online I met a man who ultimately ended up at CTSFW. He graduated this week and is one of the 21 without a call. He has a wife and 2 kids and a mountain of student loan debt. I am so very sad for him.

Chris Jones said...

Anonymous,

I'm not the "Chris" who posted the first comment, but I will make bold to answer your question anyway (since in addition to sharing his name I concur with his views entirely).

The "priesthood of all believers" as commonly understood among Protestants is a false doctrine. It does not mean that there is no such thing as the Apostolic ministry, and it does not mean that any and every Christian can exercise the Apostolic ministry. Rather, the Apostolic ministry is reserved to those who are properly called and ordained to it, as the Augsburg Confession teaches.

The key Scriptural phrase that applies here is not a royal priesthood which indeed refers to the whole People of God, but stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Co 4.1) which has reference to those who are properly called to be pastors and teachers set in authority over the flock.

Steve said...

Pastor,
I'll just chime in as a fellow who is eligible to retire from the military soon. I have prayed seriously about going into the ministry as a second career. My undergrad degree and career (military band) have given me tools to really help in a church without being the pastor. I believe I have the gifts of music and teaching and am doing so in my church now. I have also started learning the organ because it seems that many of our churches need organiss too.

Bottom line, me and my family really love supporting our pastor, praying for him and helping him anyway we can. We're headed to Kansas early next year which might be where we retire. I think the Lord has used this article and some others like it to help me see what His goal for me is: not to try the SMP or DELTO programs but to go where he leads us somewhere around Ft. Riley, Kansas and try to be a genuine help to some LCMS Church there. God bless you.

Steve Foxx

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

I agree that one area where Lutherans "have blinded themselves to or ignored for a long time" is the priesthood. This is one result of the reformation (intentionally or unintentionally?) which, it appears, the "enlightenment" has helped to put in stone. (There is much about the reformation that seems to be appropriated only through "enlightened" eyes.)

Why would it be that Lutherans see a need to, or be compelled to, constantly revising or reinventing "ministry", "worship" and almost everything else that affects their life together?

The Scriptures clearly connect Jesus' work to Baptism and Eucharist. To deny this connection is to deny Scripture. It is the same with the Apostolic ministry! Scripture clearly connects the Apostolic ministry to Jesus' work. Whether it is Jesus' choosing of the twelve, His sending of the 70(or 72), His post-resurrection appearance to the disciples (John 20) and the apostolic references of Peter and Paul (ie, 1 Timothy 4:14). Even with the clarity of Scripture we, as Lutherans, have neglected, and sometimes even oppose, the divine origin of the apostolic ministry.

The Lutheran Confessions speak of the ministry in terms of bishops, priests and deacons. They are clear as to the insoluble tie between the priest/pastor's work of preaching and administering the Sacraments. Such work is clearly Christ's work and intent for the life of His Church on earth.

What do we have difficulty seeing? Why is that we reduce the ministry to pure function and then create all sorts of "ministries" that are defined in functional terms? I agree that our blindness here is intimately tied to our disintegration. If we cannot even teach what is clearly rooted in Scripture and followed in Sacred Tradition, that is what Christ has given His Church, then we only impose on ourselves perpetual confusion in this area (which is related to our perpetual confusion in matters of worship).

Chrysostom's words are appreciated here. Why would Christ come down from above and create His Church, provide her with the means to sustain her life on earth (Word and Sacraments) and then after choosing His Apostles determine that such ministry, as originating from Him, is no longer necessary and may be created by any gatherings of voting members? I have even heard that the only divine institution is the local congregation. Have we really gone and outvoted the Lord's own institution?

The Apostle talks about one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. There is one Lord and Savior of all. It is not a break, or even a stretch, to connect Christ's work on earth with the one holy ministry in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

Indeed, we are overly concerned with polity and, as long as we reject what is clearly given, there will be further confusion and disintegration. As functionalists the pastors are no longer permitted to teach and the ministry is confused with every person with faith walking down the street.

We may also want to question why we would call it the "public" ministry and not the "holy" ministry, especially when this ministry is not founded on democratic vote or functional purpose but is instituted for the holy work of Christ among His holy people for the forgiveness of sins.

Eucharisted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Qualified individuals who try to colloquy into the LCMS had might as well not bother for the time being as well. Perhaps the reason they are being told no is due to a pastor glut, but I seriously doubt it.

Past Elder said...

I'll have to admit, coming from the RCC, including its pre-Vatican II version, I find it difficult to call pastors priests, or to speak of the "priesthood".

At the same time, part of that experience is also having once thought of Lutheranism as Protestant, just with, along with the Episcopalians, more Catholic trappings around than the rest.

I'm thinking that same mentality has arisen among Lutherans themselves, and Protestants generally.

On Reformation Day (or in good Vatican II style, Reformation Sunday) Luther is always hailed, by churches that that no more uphold the Confessions than RC ones, a great pioneer and ground breaker, who unfortunately was too close to his own Catholic experience to shed all that needed to be shed.

Yet, the Confessions make clear that what they have shed is essential, that to re-form is not to shed one thing and start, or re-start, something else, but to re-form what already is, according to the institution of Christ rather than of Rome.

The pastor problem is a mirror of the worship problem. Why would there not be waffling on the Office of Holy Ministry when there is waffling on the Word and Sacrament it concerns?

Great flying Judas at the airshow, if we don't know that we have not abolished the mass but zealously guard and defend it moreso than our opponents, why should we know what is an Office of Holy Ministry which in no way contradicts the priesthood of all believers?

When I first read the Confessions, I would imagine what it would have been like if, during the "reforms" of Vatican II, they had come out preaching and doing THIS rather than the warmed over existentialism and phenomenology replacing what they now thought needed reform?

So in our day, some of us are just Protestants with more liturgy and paraments than the rest, while others are Vatican II Lutherans, and the real deal gets harder and harder to find.

And ironically, there really is a shortage of priests, but in the RCC -- Judas in the chancery, parishes close right and left and "pastoral associates" abound no matter how much one selectively looks to pockets elsewhere.

Eric Ekong said...

1. We all need to use the same definition for clergy shortage. If we don't we suffer hearing the same comments which tend to wrong. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe we are taught "every parish" needs a shepherd. That means there continues to be a shortage.

2. All is not lost by those not receiving a call. There is still work in the ministry to be done. Our declining church is proof of the need for qualified shepherds. My heart and prayers go out to all who didn't receive calls. There is no shortage of lost sheep and unbelievers in the world.

Becky said...

Once again I am lost in the semantics and not steeped in the Christian church's history enough to join the argument. That aside, I believe that a pastor's calling is nothing short of divine. God knows each of us before we are even in the womb. He knows His leaders before they are born. As for going to seminary or not, a calling to go is God's calling, so go. As for LCMS ministers, yes there is a glut. Why? No good reason - just excuses. It's because of human nature's desire for power and money. Case in point: Take a look at the LCMS website and search for a congregation in Sarcoxie, Missouri. Who is the pastor there at Trinity Lutheran Church? You won't find that information, because there isn't a pastor there. So why can't one of Ft. Wayne's 21 without a call fill that vacancy? The answer lies in what that little congregation can do for SYNOD. Not much. So they, who have been without a pastor for YEARS, will continue to be without a pastor because synod has them "black listed" for lack of a better term. They simply won't allow a call to Trinity Lutheran Church, Sarcoxie, MO. It's too small and too poor. It would appear there is nothing "Ablaze" about it. Look further. That warm and inviting congregation is ablaze and gathers each Sunday to worship, while the called beg "Send Me."

Jim Huffman said...

One of the problems in LCMS theological training is that it is stuck somewhere in 1965.

If the University of London has been offering a distance BD (= M.Div.) since 1836 (!), why is the LCMS unable to offer something approaching distance learning for seminary education?

I no agree with everything I wrote 6 years ago, but these are thoughts I had on that very subject then:

http://thewittenbergdoor.blogspot.com/2004/06/solving-problems-of-seminary-education.html

Carl Vehse said...

"As for LCMS ministers, yes there is a glut. Why? No good reason - just excuses."

Some data are shown in the Association of Religion Data Archives graphs that plot the numbers for LCMS clergy, churches, and church members since 1925.

In 1970 there were 6,866 clergy for 5,690 churches with 2,788,536 members.

As of 2006, there were 8,601 clergy for 6,155 churches with 2,417,997 members.

Becky said...

Perhaps the glut wouldn't be solved completely, but the point of my comment was that seminarians like Dixie's friend could be called to places like Trinity in Sarcoxie. Surely there are more congregations in the same fix. He would be employed (20 unemployed is better than 21 unemployed), there would be one less LCMS church without a pastor, and perhaps by his leadership, the risk of that congregation losing even one member would be diminished.

Edward Reiss said...

Becky,

What stops Trinity from calling a pastor? Does the district or synod somehow stop them?

Chris Jones said...

Ed,

There is nothing preventing Trinity (or any parish) from calling a pastor. But in the LCMS the first call out of seminary is arranged by the seminary, not simply extended to the graduate by any parish that wants to call him. One might think that a young man fresh out of seminary, perhaps single or newly married without children, would be an appropriate pastor for a small, rural parish that cannot afford a very high salary. But it would appear that the powers-that-be at the seminary who are responsible for arranging the "first calls" do not see it that way. Quite a few of the first calls are to assistant pastorates at well-established suburban parishes. Perhaps that makes sense as OJT for new pastors, but I am not sure that the need for an associate pastor in some tony suburb is greater than the need for a sole pastor in a small parish out on the rural route. The country folk need the Gospel too, you know.

I'm not sure when it was decided that the Church didn't need real bishops anymore, but the placement of pastors could be done by a committee of academics at the seminary.

Edward Reiss said...

Chris Jones,

Now I understand. Even given the current system, it would seem that e.g. Trinity and the new reverend would be better off being matched. I agree with your point re: a hierarchy of needs. It seems I am missing something rather obvious.

BTW, are these men on the call list?

Anonymous said...

Chris (Jones),

Thanks for your answer regarding the priesthood. I absolutely agree that a unique calling and gifting from God are required of a leader. My main concern is saying that this calling makes the called somehow other than a 'mere man'.

I believe this is a dangerous point of view and contrary to the clear teaching in scripture that gifting from God isn't to elevate the man, but the Gifter.

I certainly don't want to hijack the discussion any further from the main point (seminary or not) so I'll end for now.

Thanks again for the thoughtful response.

David Cochrane said...

The clergy shortage can be handled by limiting the size of congregation. No single pastor can manage to shepherd more than 150-200 members.

In my city, Phoenix, AZ, we have congregations who are daughter to other congregations. The congregation would call a pastor to take part of the congregation who live in another area and plant a congregation.

This of course will not happen until the fever to have large churches has abated.

Anonymous said...

Dixie,
It is not enough to be "sad for him" and pass by on the other side.

Figure out what you can do to help, whether your friend directly, or by contributing to the fund being organized on BJS for all the men without calls.

(In that case, it will be distributed according to need, and perhaps they are arranging a tax deductible conduit, so you can give a little extra, if that matters to you.)

My 'left hand' isn't party to the details, but my 'right' is fairly busy.

Anonymous said...

In 1970 there were 6,866 clergy for 5,690 churches with 2,788,536 members.

As of 2006, there were 8,601 clergy for 6,155 churches with 2,417,997 members. --courtesy Carl Vehse

There is no "glut" of ordained men. The difference of 65 clergy has been more than absorbed by the bureaucracy.

What there is, to our shame, is a glut of "licensed" laity occupying the chancel where an ordained Pastor should be.
Our people have been housebroken to "entertainment" ... our altars are shoved aside for bigger "praise bands" ... our organs are sold for scrap and our qualified Lutheran music teachers on our Concordia campuses are "scrapped" with them.
Who with that attitude needs an ordained clergy!?

We've been sold a tanker of bilgewater by non Lutheran "marketers."

Chris:
A pastor, of himself, is a "mere man" but vested in his Office, he is a steward of the mysteries of God, the conduit of the Word, and, if you like, "the living voice of Jesus."
The Pastorate (if that pleases the former RC better) is a special calling. It's too bad that most Lutherans have forgotten it!

--helen

Anonymous said...

OOPS!
I misread Carl's numbers even after I copied them!

But, the gist of my argument, that we have a greater problem because of the laity usurping the Pastor's Call, stands.

--helen

William Weedon said...

Helen,

It's alright. We knew what you meant! :)

Hope you are in good health!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Pastor,
God provides.
(Drs & Pharmacists, too) ;)

"My dtr the Pharmacist" called me one day, because she was passing "the most glorious church" on the way to St. Louis, (yours).

I sent her your "Cantata" piece this noon, observing that it must sound "glorious", too!

God bless!
--helen

William Weedon said...

Helen,

Tell her to stop in next time and just introduce herself as Helen's daughter. It would be a joy indeed to meet some of your family!

Becky said...

Helen - You are absolutely right, and thank you for setting me straight. There is no glut of ordained men. I took a look at several districts' links from the LCMS webpage yesterday with postings dated as late as 4/29. I saw an abundance of vacant pulpits. Some were noted as "vacant but being served."

BTW, just to be clear, I don't have any personal connection to Trinity/Sarcoxie. I simply visited there a few years ago when I was traveling. What a lovely congregation!

Boaz said...

Sems should be teaching evangelists more than pastors, as that's the much greater need.

In this age, when congregations of all types are declining, the following two requirements are incompatible:

1) pastors should make a living preaching; 2) pastors must have years of training costing over $100k.

Only one of those requirements is biblical.

Anonymous said...

Maybe those who hear the call early enough should work on their language requirements in their undergraduate years. (My son did.)
But we are not asking for "too much" education!
You can't "evangelize" before you know what you are talking about.

It does cost too much. That is because education of pastors is no longer priority with synod. It should be (as it was) synod's reason for existing.

If synod were picking up the tab for the professors' living, expense would be much less of a problem.

--helen

I read of undergraduates picking up too much debt. There are a lot of college "necessities" that aren't.

Anonymous said...

If synod picked up the tab for the facilities and professor's living, as it should, the expense to the student could be much less.

Some come to seminary with too much debt. There are a lot of undergraduate "necessities" that aren't, plainly speaking. Maybe it's too easy to borrow.

We aren't asking for too much education. An "evangelist" has to know more than, "Jesus loves you."

--helen

Anonymous said...

ATTN: Pastor,
I thought I lost a post.
If it comes up duplicate, pls take one of them out?
Thanks!
--Helen

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Carl Veshe makes s cogent point. The numbers he posted were fairly easily found. Why haven't we done this before? The equation we've been hearing for years is retirements + vacancies - candidates = shortfall. We're seeing now that equation does not pass the reality test. But who among us was challenging it? I repeated it more than once on the Sundays we reconized the Seminaries. Who saw through it? Who was saying, 'this is all goig to go horribly wrong?' Or did we all accept what we were told because it seemed fairly plausible and went with it?
Second, even if we knew there were not going to be enough calls to go around, who was going to tell a man who believed he was called to the holy ministry that he couldn't go to the Seminary? How exactly do you handle that?
I recall that just before I graduated the Synod in convention voted that Seminary tuition should be free to candidates. That I believe was in 1998. What happened? We weren't willing to pay year after year the millions required to educate our pastors and that fell by the wayside. We can complain that 'Synod' did this or that, but when we as congregations pull our financial support from the Synod, (and no that's not an argument in support of the Synod) where is the money supposed to come from? It comes from student loans for the most part.

It is terrible that we have so many pastoral candidates and deconess' who will be wondering how they will make it throught the summer now that they must leave college in a few weeks.
Yet what have we as congregations been doing for the past decade or so? We support a candidate that is from our congregation, or we adopt one, but are we willing to send money to the Synod to in part to pay for the upkeep of our seminaries and pay the Professors salaries?
Its tempting to look to our favorite targets to snipe at and blame for the shortfall of calls for our candidates. But this situation has been in the making for a long time, and I'm not sure that we can look to any one issue or person to accuse, other than face the fact that (if I have my math right) from 1970-2006 the number of congregations increased by about 8%, the number of clergy increased by 21% and the number of people in those member congregations decreased by 14%. I didn't see that coming, and I should have.

Rev. Allen Yount said...

So I guess now Jesus would say: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are much more than needed. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out no more laborers into his harvest." (Cf Lk 10:2)

And I suppose Paul would now write: "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task, but there are no positions available right now, therefore he is to desire something else" (cf 1 Timothy 3)

Come on! The Lord knew this situation was coming and still kindled the desire to be pastors in their hearts by His Word and Spirit.Where is our faith placed? In statistics? Or in our Lord who is able to do more than we can even imagine, including during times when statistcs tell us the situation looks almost hopeless? Seems to me we're in the middle of a church year season when we commemorate the supreme instance of that.

Rev.Allen Yount
-+-Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio Facuint Theologum-+-

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

^ I too believe the Lord kindled the desire for these men to enter the holy ministry. Hence my question, even if we knew they would not recieve calls what would we do? Tell them not to enroll? Of course not. The discussion of statistics was not intended to argue that the Lord did not call these men. That does not mean we should be ignorant of facts. And the facts show that we had an erroneous understanding of the circumstances and led the candidates in the Seminary to think something that simply was not so.
I believe every one of the candidates who did not recieve calls will in the future recieve them, in God's good time and according to his will. But in the future we should be cautious of the sort of promises they're made and this should be a wake up call that they need more support than they're given.

mike bryant said...

How would it be if we attempted a return to "Choose from among yourselves..." Or even "I left you...to appoint elders"? What if a congregation foresaw the need for a pastor and selected a candidate from their district and sponsored his education? 1hat if pastors were not ordinarily released from their call until their replacement was trained and installed?

I don't know whether SMP is an answer or a problem, but I do know there is a lot more going on here than simply graduating men without a call. I think a fundamental examination of how we operate in the pastor / congregation relationship is in order. Enough congregation hopping. Enough call abandoning. Enough running off the old timer. Enough starving the guy we can't get along with. Enough career building. Let one who desires to be an overseer desire a good thing and let him serve in peace without either being run off or being tempted to call-ditch.

Anonymous said...

after reading this blog as a current seminary student, I am debating if I should go lay on the floor in the fetal position and sing "Jesus Loves me this I know..." but in all honesty, I am glad I came to Seminary. The theological education I am getting is second to none. This kind of training is needed in order to preach the Gospel effectively and correctly. We will continue to pray for our brothers awaiting a call.