WordAlone Network members have been invited by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., to enroll as students in graduate programs of theological studies at that Lutheran Church Missouri Synod institution, reported the director of a theological institute being initiated by WordAlone, a group within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Dennis Bielfeldt, the director, has been working for at least two years to bring such an institute into being, “not with bricks and mortar” but online and at existing institutions. Several have agreed to host classes taught by WordAlone professors or to fold WordAlone students into their programs.
The LCMS seminary is the most recent to invite WordAlone students to enroll, according to a report by Bielfeldt today to the WordAlone annual convention meeting Sunday through Tuesday in Golden Valley, Minn.
In a letter to the WordAlone Network, Concordia official Andrew Bartelt, executive vice president and academic dean at Concordia, wrote “. . . consistent with the expression of the larger goals of our collaborative work, we desire to create safe space for serious discussion of what it means to confess and teach the historic, orthodox, confessional Lutheran faith in the North American context and internationally, and we invite participation from all others who seek to engage such issues facing Lutheranism in today’s world, both within ELCA and the LCMS, as well as amongst other Lutherans and Lutheran agencies.
“We recognize the challenges and even risks that come not only to us but also to you as we pursue these goals. But we are confident in the grace and guidance of God, even as we pray for His wisdom and blessing, in the name of Christ. He is risen indeed!” (The letter is posted at www.wordalone.org/docs/bartelt.shtml)
Bartelt reminded potential students that the Missouri synod holds a “traditional, confessional position within the framework of historic and evangelical Lutheran theology.”
While most WordAlone Network participants are members of the liberal, social justice focused ELCA, prospective students from WordAlone may have more theological beliefs in common with the LCMS than with many of their colleagues in ELCA seminaries.
That’s because WordAlone has worked for several years to restore “traditional, confessional biblical interpretation and authority” within the ELCA. Concerns over such biblical matters were most recently seen in the denomination’s struggle over blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining persons in such relationships, both of which WordAlone opposes.
While noting some areas of theological agreement between WordAlone and the seminary, Bartelt did not ignore two potential areas of dispute. He wrote, “Indeed, we welcome those who are willing to engage in honest dialogue and conversation about controversial theological matters, including issues such as the historical-critical method [of biblical study] and women’s ordination.”
He also wrote, “With others in our faculty and administration, I am pleased to continue to foster, as appropriate, the relationship already nurtured through dialog with your leadership and network.”
Bartelt noted the seminary does not prepare candidates for ministry outside of the LCMS or of churches in fellowship with the LCMS. Most likely, that means WordAlone students who wish to become pastors may study at Concordia Seminary but then take ministry courses through the WordAlone institute, according to earlier statements from Bielfeldt.
Bartelt wrote that Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, had instituted the role of “facilitator of external working relationships,” specifically with those not in the LCMS, following a recommendation of Concordia’s faculty, made in its April 2007 meeting. Bartelt was appointed facilitator and named liaison to the WordAlone Network.
Bartelt said Concordia officials had hoped to send him or another representative to the WordAlone Convention, neither was able to “be with you at this time.”