By Dr. Charles Arand
The milestone 500th anniversary of the Reformation has just passed, but it provided a wonderful opportunity to give thanks to God for the theological treasures we have inherited. This special time of commemoration and reflection highlighted anew that Jesus is the foundation of our faith; the church stands and falls on the work of redemption that He accomplished by means of His death and resurrection.
Not only did our observation of the Reformation anniversary give us the opportunity to look back to the gifts that God has bequeathed us; it also provides the impetus to look forward to taking these gifts of Christ to those who have not heard of Him.
To do that requires us to take stock of the current landscape of our culture. Whereas Luther brought the Gospel to a society and culture that was largely shaped by Christian thought (even if many were Christian in name only), we send our students into congregations that now live in a culture that is shaped less and less by the Christian faith, morals and hope — a culture that many would say is post-Christian.
We have witnessed over the past several decades a decline in membership, the loss of influence within society, the flight of young people and the perception by many young people that the church has become irrelevant. Some say there is plenty of cause for wringing our hands in worry.
But as we equip our students for service to our Lord, we seek to do so not out of fear that we are losing ground or that we’ll lose the precious Gospel, but out of a confident hope born of a daring faith in the One who has joined Himself to us in His incarnation, dying a rejected man and being bodily raised to new life. As One who has been given the authority to speak for His Father — to forgive sins, to grant new life — Jesus sent out His disciples into the larger Greco-Roman world. That world was shaped by pagan philosophy and superstition — not by Christian thought.
Rather than withdrawing from that culture, the followers of Jesus plunged into society, making contact with people, engaging with them and translating the Gospel into the language and thought forms that confronted them with both God’s Law and the Good News of the Gospel. (For an excellent treatment of Acts 17, see Dr. Mark Seifrid’s article in the January 2017 Concordia Journal, found online at concordiatheology.org.)
“We hope to be of ongoing service to our pastors and congregations by providing a variety of continuing education opportunities.” — Dr. Charles P. Arand
We at Concordia Seminary are seeking to equip our students for that kind of engagement with the world and to do so from a stance of a confident and daring faith. Luther states in his “Preface to the Romans,” “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake life itself on it a thousand times.”
First and foremost, we seek to equip our students by forming them as Christian servants so that they can live out their faith in a way that shows Christ to the world. Through their course work, students are prepared to address a society that has become biblically illiterate. Our students are immersed in the Scriptures so that they can join the psalmist in addressing God: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Walking alongside throughout this formation are our faculty, who provide one-on-one mentoring to help students in their own spiritual well-being and walk with Jesus.
Second, we believe our students’ learning does not end with graduation. Just as Baptism immerses us into the life of Christ as His disciples, that same Baptism calls us as church workers and laypeople to a lifetime of studying the Scriptures and learning all that Christ has given us to cherish and live out. To help foster lifelong discipleship, we are committed to providing an ongoing variety of resources and continuing education opportunities.
Every fall, we host the Theological Symposium on campus. This theological refreshment offers topics on preaching, catechesis, justification by faith and the theology of the cross. In September 2018, we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation in which he set forth his famous theses on what it means to be a theologian of the cross. Thus, our topic for the 2018 Theological Symposium, set for Sept. 18-19, will be “The Cross is our Theology!”
Every spring, we also host the Multiethnic Symposium. This event provides a place for pastors to come together with students to explore how we can serve all within our midst and reach out among an increasingly diverse culture. This year’s Multiethnic Symposium, set for May 1-2, 2018, will meet under the theme “Many Peoples, One Savior — Jesus: Affirming a Multiethnic Church.”
In addition to these recurring on-campus events, we offer a number of continuing education workshops around the country every summer, which bring together professors with pastors for study and discussion on a range of topics that explore how we can enhance our preaching, teaching and pastoral care.
The Concordia Seminary faculty also publishes the Concordia Journal (CJ), a vehicle of ongoing learning that follows in the tradition of the Concordia Theological Monthly (1930–72) and first Seminary President Dr. C.F.W. Walther’s Lehre und Wehre (Doctrine and Defense) (1855–1929). With scholarly articles, the CJ provides book reviews and homiletical resources for pastors, along with occasional reflections on trends in society and church.
In recent years, we have partnered with other schools and organizations on a particular issue of the Concordia Journal so as to bring Seminary voices together with other voices in the church. For example, several years ago we partnered with Concordia Lutheran Ministries and published an issue on aging, and this spring we are partnering with Concordia Publishing House to take an in-depth look at Confessing the Gospel and the Synod’s 2017 explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, two new works that address in a modern manner the theological underpinnings of our church.
Our blog, concordiatheology.org, is a companion to the CJ. It is a place where Seminary professors can offer more immediate theological reflections on events and issues that arise within our culture or share ideas on what it means to be Lutheran or how we as a church reach those beyond our borders. Readers can share their questions or thoughts on the articles, videos and other resources that are posted.
Looking to the future, we are working to develop a Christian Community Education program for laypeople. Through this program, participants may take online classes with the professors who taught their pastors. We also are partnering with Lutheran Hour Ministries to produce online resources for those who want to explore the Scriptures and Lutheran theology more deeply.
Five hundred years later, the Reformation continues to provide lessons for taking the Gospel to our world. One of the (albeit somewhat human) reasons that the Reformation succeeded was that the reformers took advantage of the recently invented printing press and flooded the market with the message of the Gospel. They did so by way of tracts, catechisms, hymnals, treatises, books, prayer books, sermon books, letters and more. We seek to continue that that tradition!