Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dean Wenthe on the Ministry of the Deaconess, & Other Matters

In this informative youtube video, the Rev. Dean Wenthe, President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and the Rev. Larry Harvala, Professor at the seminary and Dean of Placement, speak on the placement of this year's seminary graduates, both the men and the women, and also on the issue of the non-placement of some of them.

What I find most interesting about Dr. Wenthe's talk is that he seems to break new theological ground.  For according to Wenthe, Jesus Christ Himself has established the office of Deaconess.  Interesting.  The WELS can't find the Preaching Office per se in the New Testament, while the Missouri Synod has now advanced in its biblical and theological acumen to the point where it sees not only the Pastoral Ministry there, but has even found an office of deaconess in the Gospels.  Why didn't past generations see this?  I wonder if the seminary knew this before it had it's own deaconess program on campus, or if it took the existence of the program to make the theologians finally see that this is a valid ministry, and one given by Christ Himself to boot.  Of course the modern LCMS also recognizes several other "ministries," if commissioning ritual practice is any indication.  For example, the school teacher, provided the teacher graduate from one of the Concordia schools, and provided the school employing him be a Missouri Synod school, is a "minister" with a "call" and even a "proof text," if we are to read the fourth chapter of Ephesians crassly enough.  So this development ought not surprise us. 

Nevertheless, to be sure, this is tragically out of tune with the notion that we need to have both charity and clarity.  Doctrinal clarity was for a long time a hallmark of the Missouri Synod, and the seminaries in particular, including Fort Wayne.  Now the seminary not only has women in the same classes as the men, but now also claims that these women are there to prepare for an office established by Christ Himself.  This represents a sad slouch away from loving clarity, toward a feminist confusion of the Gospel, of vocation, and of the Church and her Ministry. 

Perhaps the decisive turning point in this direction was when the masculine character of the seminary was compromised by the deaconess studies program.  One would have thought that if diaconal ministry were important to the decision-makers in today's Missouri Synod, or at the seminary, they would have decided to start with that which has been truly neglected, and which is truly worthy of the name Ministry, namely, the ancient Diaconate itself.  By its own nomenclature, a 'seminary' claims to be the 'seedbed' of the Church's Ministers.  That is a most unladylike thing for a deaconess to even think of being a part of, but why let mere words and definitions get in the way of relevancy?

What I find most interesting about Professor Harvala's talk is that the lack of Calls for so many graduating seminarists is attributed to the economy.  I do not have the political knowledge or inclination to comment on the truth of this claim.  What strikes me, however, is what this says of the seminary's, and maybe the Synod's, view of the Church.  That is, even if it were true that some parishes are not issuing Calls which they would otherwise, because of the "downturn in the economy," that would mean that we do not see the parish pastor as an absolute necessity, as something vitally important to the life of the Church in a given place.  If we did, we would say to the graduate in need of placement:

There is a church, in such and such district, which really needs a priest.  But they can't afford to give you a regular paycheck.  We, the greater Church, in the form of the district, or synod, or a mission society, or whatever, are going to see how we can help support you.  And for your part, are you willing to supplement your income in some way, if need be, so that these people can have a pastor? 

Meanwhile, the full time bureaucrats are content with the role they are playing in a dysfunctional Church, and happy they are no longer in the parish ministry, where apparently the fluctuations of the economy could at any time mean the end of a man's Call.

3 comments:

The Exiled said...

Yet again, more smoke and mirrors from the talking heads. To blame the economy for this is not addressing the real reasons. The synod has not made any significant changes or investments in how they do things for decades. To act like this was a surprise shows how unwilling synod is to look at things and address them. I know, it is so much easier to sit there and say, "Its all God's will." I can't understand how the seminaries, the synod, can let this happen to men, and their families, who have made great sacrifices to actually go to the seminary. Is this a way to help promote the non-educational options the synod has for becoming a pastor?

Tim said...

I suppose one could argue that Christ established the role of Deaconess through the judgement of the Church, who is under the guidance of the Spirit. But, I'm just stirring the pot here ;)

Grr... it is comments like these (about pastoral treatment from the Synod) that angers me. Has anyone thought to stand up, and point them out? Call the Synod on its hypocrisy and foolishness? Oh, that the Lord would raise up a prophet to call us back to our first love!

Oliver said...

Tim...Oh that the Synod would have ears to hear, the current "administration" at Synod, Inc., is conveniently deaf to any and all constructive criticism or suggestion for doing things in a right proper and fitting manner!