By Kevin Armbrust
MILWAUKEE — On Tuesday, Aug. 1, the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), and the Rev. Dr. Thomas Egger, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL), delivered consecutive and congruent essays commending residential seminary education to the Synod as the historical and faithful model for training servants for ministry to the church and world.
Rast’s essay, “The Biblical and Reformation Heritage of LCMS Pastoral Education,” began with Luther’s admonition to “be alert, study, keep on reading! Truly you cannot read too much in the Scripture; and what you read, you cannot understand too well; and what you understand, you cannot teach too well; and what you teach well, you cannot live too well.”
Rast began his description of pastoral formation in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) by noting that both current Synod seminaries were begun prior to the establishment of the Synod itself in 1847. CSL traces its roots to December 1839 and CTSFW to October 1846. Rast observed, “This simple fact not only shows that the founders wanted to continue historic Lutheran practice; it underscores the importance that they placed on pastoral formation and the need for pastors to be ‘apt to teach.’”
Although the St. Louis seminary began as a general school, the curriculum was revised in 1843 to emphasize theological formation. In 1846, Wilhelm Sihler, the first president of CTSFW, wrote, “Because of the current need, and in anticipation of increased future need, they have decided to establish a seminary in Fort Wayne, so that faithful, qualified young men can receive the necessary training to take over the holy office of the preacher in the Lutheran church.” By 1876, both institutions were seen as preacher seminaries.
Rast then examined the question, “Where are we now, and where might we be going?” The seminaries have adjusted over time, in line with educational standards and the needs of the Synod. Information technology and other changes have introduced the question of the necessity of residential, in-person seminary formation.
Rast observed, “While we tend to view our seminaries as static, the historical record shows that over the course of their histories our seminaries have been incredibly dynamic and responsive to changing contexts and the needs of the church in the fulfillment of its mission.
“This creates a healthy tension for confessional Lutherans. We believe that there is the faith — the fides quae, the faith once delivered to the saints. This faith is captured in phrases like Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura. The Scriptures teach and the Lutheran symbols confess this one, true, catholic and apostolic faith — and as such, this faith is as true and unchanging as the God who revealed it in the Scripture. The faith does not change.
“At the same time, we all know that the church today exists in dynamic circumstances. The theological/religious questions of today are framed differently than those voiced by Luther in the 16th century, just as the questions Luther framed differed from those of Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries. This means that we must constantly strive — as did Augustine, Luther and the faithful over the ages — to apply the unchanging message of the Gospel to these differently framed questions. Because the spiritual need of people does not change: Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins.”
Rast concluded, “My own perspective is this: At its best, it has used confessional seminaries to form confessional pastors, which lead to confessional Lutheran congregations and mission. And we as a Synod need to commit ourselves to keep doing this with all possible vigor and support, especially now as church bodies throughout the world continue to cry out, ‘Come over … and help us’ (Acts 16:9). God has richly blessed the LCMS with two excellent and faithful seminaries.”
Egger presented an essay titled “Our residential seminaries: Deep pastoral formation and worldwide impact” in which he explained that, “as we continue to generate and evaluate new proposals and new ideas, we must remind ourselves of the enormous blessings that have come to us from our Missouri Synod heritage of deep scriptural and theological preparation for ministry. And we must recommit ourselves, continually, to build upon and never to forfeit this commitment.”
This history and heritage, this “emphasis on deep scriptural and theological preparation for ministry, is not naïve nostalgia. This emphasis does not spring from institutional protectionism, from lazy inertia, from fear of change or from blindness to the pressing need for new pastors. Rather, this emphasis arises from the two great goals of all Lutheran theology: First, that we give to Christ the full glory due Him for all He has done in saving sinners; and second, that we deliver the full comfort of His saving work to sinners, that they might place their full hope in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.”
To this end, Egger explained the crucial strengths, benefits and reasons that full-time residential study at LCMS seminaries must remain the main program of pastoral preparation.
Egger recognized that full-time residential education stands at odds with the current trend in higher education, which embraces fast-paced, online, competency-based models. The seminaries, however, are not seeking a quick information-based competency model, but formation and growth in the Word of God sufficient for service to God’s people and the care for human souls.
Egger read the words of C.F.W. Walther, the first president of CSL: “Neither the word of man nor the wit and wisdom of man, but rather the Word of God and the entire Word of God, and that which serves the elucidation and application of that Word, shall be studied with unwearied diligence, day after day, from the first rays of the morning until late after nightfall.”
The formation for service occurs best in the community of the seminary, beginning with daily chapel, which forms humility before God’s Word in fellowship with other students, faculty, staff and others. This Word of God shapes the content and conduct of classroom instruction and the life together on seminary campuses.
Although modern education rejects the importance of faculty, LCMS seminaries continue to treasure their faculties as essential in the formation process, as the confession of the faith is never divorced from those who confess the faith. Indeed, the seminary faculties are a blessing to the students, to one another, to the LCMS and to the church around the world.
Egger acknowledged the expense and sacrifice needed to study at a seminary. He thanked the Synod for their generous support of the seminaries and noted that the sacrifice needed to move to seminary also works to form a person for a life of service during which he may be called to various places to serve as God desires.
“But in seeking to improve, our seminaries don’t look to gurus or trends. … We evaluate new as well as old ideas. … But we place our confidence in God’s Word as that which forms and prepares faithful, wise, resilient servants of Christ. We gather as brothers and sisters in Christ to be shaped by that Word. And that formation happens especially well in a fraternal seminary community, gathered daily around God’s Word, interacting inside and outside of the classroom, as a rich experience of the church at-large.
“For these reasons, in-person seminary formation should continue to be the centerpiece of our church’s shared work in forming pastors for a lifetime of Gospel ministry. Both seminaries thank you, the people of the LCMS, for your strong support of this endeavor. Your convictions regarding the ministry and the Word of God have provided us the time, the place and the experienced faculty for this joyous work of preparing pastors, missionaries and deaconesses. For the sake of the church’s confession and mission, here and throughout the world. In the Lord’s name, thank you. God bless you.”
Dr. Kevin Armbrust is director of the Graduate School and special assistant to the president at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Posted Aug. 3, 2023
2023 LCMS Convention
Under the theme “We Preach Christ Crucified,” the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod met July 28–Aug. 3, 2023, at the Baird Center in Milwaukee.
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