Just about everybody in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has heard of Herman Otten. The mere mention of his name is enough to make some LCMS “liberals” foam with rage. On the other hand, many “conservatives” won’t openly identify with him. His story oozes with interest and irony, especially in light of the hubbub in the LCMS over the certification and ministerial placement of the Concordia Seminary seniors at Seminex (see following story).

Otten, 41, publishes Christian News, a ripsnorting 16-page weekly tabloid (circulation: 14,500) of mostly conservative news and views about LCMS affairs and personalities. He is also pastor of the 120-member Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Missouri, a small tent-manufacturing town astride the Missouri River bluffs about sixty-five miles west of St. Louis.

Raised in New York City and a lifelong Missouri Synod Lutheran, Otten got his B.D. from Concordia (St. Louis) in 1957. He earned an M.A. degree in history from nearby Washington University the same year and went on to receive an S.T.M. from Concordia in 1958.

During his years at Concordia Otten and a band of fellow-conservatives discovered a group of students and professors “who denied the inerrancy of Holy Scripture and other doctrines of the Christian faith.” After a series of discussions with the alleged liberals Otten and his friends voiced their concerns to the seminary administration but were rebuffed. In 1958 Otten took “proof” of liberalism at Concordia (notes from faculty lectures) to then LCMS president John Behnken, who referred the matter back to the seminary. Faculty members expressed outrage at Otten for complaining off campus.

Meanwhile, Otten was serving Trinity as a student supply preacher. In 1958 Trinity issued a call for Otten to serve as pastor. But Concordia’s faculty refused to certify him as eligible for a call because he had “disseminated adverse statements concerning the theology of several [teachers] without having first spoken to them about the issues, showing thereby an attitude and procedure … detrimental to his own Christian life, and giving evidence of his lack of fitness for pastoral dealing in the ministry of the Word.”

Otten appealed to the seminary’s board of control and the LCMS board of appeals, which bogged down in a 5–5 vote on whether the school had shown just cause in rejecting Otten’s certification. Thus Otten was left hanging.

In 1961 Trinity again issued a call to Otten, and he accepted. Local LCMS district officials warned Trinity that it had violated LCMS bylaws in calling an unqualified pastor, but Trinity stuck by its man and eventually was suspended from LCMS membership. The LCMS board of appeals, however, overruled the suspension order in 1967 on grounds that the bylaws invoked were unclear. Nothing was done about Otten’s status, though, and to this day his name is banned from the LCMS roster of ministers.

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Partly because of the 1967 decision the LCMS in 1969 adopted a bylaw that prohibits churches from calling or being served by uncertified pastors. The penalty for violation of the bylaw is expulsion. Otten suspects that some of his old enemies helped ramrod the rule through the convention in order to get at him. So far, Trinity hasn’t been hassled over it. But now the seniors at Seminex and the churches that want to call them are hamstrung by it (see following story).


Some months ago U. S. Senator Mark Hatfield, an evangelical, got a bill passed in the Senate designating April 30 as a “National Day for Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.” It and two similar versions were still stalled in a judiciary subcommittee on the House side late last month. Subcommittee member Kenneth Heckler, a Democrat of West Virginia, says Congress shouldn’t waste its time on such national-day bills; many are submitted every session. The President, he adds, already has the power to issue national-day proclamations, and he should be the one to do it.

Meanwhile, a letter-writing campaign has been directed at Congress in support of the Hatfield idea, and some religious leaders have announced they will observe the day even if no proclamation is forthcoming. Some evangelicals (including several in Congress), however, have questioned whether the Hatfield move smacks of civil religion, which he has repeatedly warned against. It does not, Hatfield insists in a four-page explanation.

Otten and his wife Grace—they have five children—were married in 1962. With $30 of her Christmas money they launched the mimeographed forerunner of the Christian News (formely Lutheran News) to keep pastoral friends informed of the liberal-conservative issues in the LCMS. The paper is self-sustaining at $3.00 per year. Otten—tough in print but likeable enough in person—handles editing and production himself (it is offset published by a job printer in the next town), and two women employees do the mailing chores. (Otten takes no pay from the paper. The church provides an annual salary of $5,200 and a parsonage.)

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Hardline conservative columnists, correspondents, and letter-writers help keep the fires stoked up. The paper emphasizes theological orthodoxy and takes a dim view toward ecumenism (even Key 73 was suspect), the charismatic movement, and communism (but Otten disavows John Birch Society founder Robert Welch on theological grounds; he says Welch is a universalist who believes in evolution).

In 1969 the LCMS council of district presidents issued a condemnation of the paper. They said it interfered with LCMS unity, “breeds mistrust, creates unnecessary tensions, and disturbs God’s servants in the performance of their tasks.” Leading the list of signers were J. A. O. Preus and several other conservatives. (Robert Preus, a Concordia professor and brother of the LCMS president, is an Otten friend.)

Otten takes the criticisms in stride. Some conservatives oppose him, he says, because “I’ve made it clear that I intend to stick to the theological issues and will not play any political game. They can trust me to tell the truth but not to play politics in the church.” He is upset about the way some liberals were removed in the recent LCMS upheaval. A doctrinal purist, he comments: “It seems to me they correctly complained when they said they were not given scriptural reasons.”

March In Missouri

March was a heavy month for Missouri Synod Lutherans. There were many developments but most attention centered on Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and the rebel school known as Seminex (for “seminary in exile”) operated by former Concordia students and faculty members. (Thirty-two faculty members, nine staff officials, and several secretaries were dismissed in mid-February after they refused to end a class boycott protesting the suspension of Concordia president John H. Tietjen over doctrinal issues. Some 400 of about 500 resident students then “exiled” themselves. They set up classes on the campuses of the Jesuit St. Louis University Divinity School and Eden Seminary, a United Church of Christ school.)

Both Concordia and Seminex held spring-term registration last month. Concordia registered more than 80 students, while Seminex processed 385—109 of them seniors hoping to be placed as pastors in the 2.8 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).

Placement of the Seminex seniors is one of the biggest problems plaguing both sides in the church-wide doctrinal dispute. A bylaw in the LCMS handbook stipulates that churches can call as pastors only those men who have been certified by their seminary faculty, with placement handled by district presidents. LCMS president J. A. O. Preus and his conservative leaders insist that Concordia is the only LCMS seminary in St. Louis; Seminex has no standing. They want to see the seniors placed but not in a way that gives official status to Seminex.

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Meeting in Chicago last month the 45-member LCMS council of [district] presidents debated the problem for hours, sometimes heatedly. A committee was named to come up with placement procedure suggestions in time for the next council meeting, April 29-May 4. The council did approve placement of 124 Seminex second-year students as “vicars” or interns for next fall but not with Seminex supervision. The students rejected the plan.

While there was sharp disagreement over even that action, the biggest struggle will involve the graduating fourth-year men. Conceivably, the outcome could be anarchy and schism. If Preus and his forces withhold certification from the Seminex seniors, some district presidents and churches may follow through on threats to place them anyway. In that event, the churches who call such pastors will be in violation of LCMS law and be subject to suspension. The denomination must then decide to change the rules (unlikely), ignore the situation, as in Pastor Otten’s case (see preceding story), or oust the offenders (in which case there would surely be a split).

In an interview Preus suggested another option for the seniors: “The door is still open for the dissidents to return.”


Trouble At Calvary

Another big evangelical church is in trouble over sales of securities: independent Calvary Temple of Denver, whose pastor for twenty-five years has been Charles E. Blair.

A ten-day hearing was scheduled to begin in district court April 15 to determine if a receiver should be appointed to straighten out the finances. Calvary’s attorneys argued in a preliminary hearing last month that unlicensed sales of securities had ceased months ago, that the church’s holdings are financially sound, and that Calvary intends to hire experts of its own choosing to work out the problems.

An assistant attorney general representing Colorado securities commissioner Stanley R. Hays maintained, however, that Calvary’s practice of automatically renewing time-payment or call-payment certificates is the same as selling. He said that Hays’s office had been “deluged by calls from elderly people—many of whom have invested their life savings in these certificates.” Instead of being “paid back the money they invested, the certificates are being constantly renewed,” he charged.

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“We are creating a plan to pay back our investors out of voluntary donations,” Blair told a reporter.

The voluntary donations at Calvary total about $2 million annually. About 6,000 people attend the three Sunday morning services. Sunday-school attendance is well over 3,000—among the largest in the nation. (When Blair arrived in 1947 the church had only thirty-two adult members.) The church has more than forty employees and a pastoral staff of ten. It helps to support 100 missionary families serving in sixty-plus nations.

Calvary is governed by a fifty-man board of directors. The board in turn has established the Charles E. Blair Foundation, which produces low-key TV programs “to inspire the individual to put together a better world,” and Life Center, a deficit-ridden 320-bed nursing home.

The church has been engaged for several years in an expansion program that calls for a new 4,500-seat sanctuary and educational facilities to handle 10,000. As part of the program it has purchased eight or so of the city’s most expensive homes and lobbied for rezoning, evoking on occasion bitter reaction by the neighbors. Blair and his board have revised their plans several times in order to work things out. It remains to be seen whether the court will see it their way this time.


Mrs. Eunice Kronholm, the Minneapolis area banker’s wife who was held more than eighty hours last month in a nationally publicized kidnapping, says she spent part of the time sharing her Christian faith with her two captors. Later she recounted her experiences for reporters at a packed press conference held at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, a Baptist General Conference (BGC) school she once served as nurse.

Mrs. Kronholm was abducted soon after she and her husband Gunnar—president of Drovers State Bank in St. Paul and an officer of the BGC—had returned from a Holy Land tour. A ransom of $200,000 was subsequently paid, and Mrs. Kronholm simply walked away unharmed from a house where she had been kept. (Two men were later arrested and all but $109 of the ransom recovered.)

She says the kidnappers wondered how she could be so calm and “not bitter.” “All I could say was that I was a Christian and God had given me strength to do this,” she told reporters. On the Sunday of her captivity the abductors acceded to her request for a radio so that she could “go to church.” They listened with her to several religious broadcasts on KTIS, a Christian station, and at one point an announcer asked for prayers for her safe return—boosting her spirits, she said. During a Billy Graham broadcast one of the abductors acknowledged that he had heard the evangelist before and considered him “a good speaker.” But beyond such exchanges the kidnappers made no positive responses to her faith-sharing.

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Mrs. Kronholm says her release by 6 P.M. on a Monday was an answer to a specific prayer request she made to God.

The Exorcist In England

English reaction to The Exorcist, which opened in London last month, is in some ways more subdued and in some ways more intense than it was in the United States, especially among evangelical Christians.

Film critics on BBC-TV and in the more reputable British newspapers generally have downgraded the movie and given it ho-hum reviews. BBC-TV and BBC-Radio have proclaimed that the mass hysteria which accompanied showings of the film in America “will never happen here.”

Evangelical Christians in Britain have taken the film much more seriously. Leading the opposition to the film is a non-sectarian organization largely supported and staffed by evangelicals that is dedicated to a restoration of morality and decency in Britain, the Nationwide Festival of Light (NFOL). Organized in the wake of the Jesus movement in 1971, the NFOL has launched a campaign against The Exorcist that has received national attention in both the Christian and the secular press. NFOL leader Steve Stevens says his organization has asked Warner Brothers Studios to finance clinics to deal with the inevitable emotional casualities of its film. The firm’s reply was formal, courteous, and non-committal, reports Stevens. NFOL attorneys are pursuing the matter.

The NFOL mounted a leaflet campaign at the five London cinemas showing the film to sell-out audiences. “This film bears the power of evil!” the pamphlets warned. Included was the testimony of a young Cambridge graduate who experienced deep emotional trauma after seeing a special preview of the film. Also cited was the film’s danger “because it fails to point clearly to the power of Jesus Christ over evil.” Fourteen London area phone numbers were listed for those in need of spiritual help and counsel.

It was still too early this month to judge the impact of The Exorcist. In random interviews, viewer reactions seemed mixed. There were the usual tales of fright and nausea but no conclusive evidence of widespread emotional and psychological damage. Evangelical Christians, most of whom had not seen the film but many of whom had read the book, generally shared the feeling expressed by the NFOL and others that the film was disturbing and perhaps damaging. However, not all agreed with the attempts being made by the NFOL to curtail or ban The Exorcist.

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Most Pentecostal leaders support the NFOL stand as do many Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, and Reformed churchmen. On the other hand, one Anglican evangelical said that although something should be done, he felt that the NFOL approach was not positive enough. “Does not church history teach us that attempts at censorship usually stimulate rather than diminish interest in the object of the censorship?” he asked. A Baptist spokesman agreed and said that although the vast majority of British Baptists sympathize with the NFOL and its aims and many support it financially, large numbers also have serious reservations about its tactics, especially in its call for censorship. Another well-known evangelical said he feared that the Christian response thus far was “wholly negative” and that the general public regards the NFOL as nothing more than an obnoxious body of middle-aged censors. Mrs. Barbara Castle, Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in the new Labor government, was asked to take the matter to both the British film industry and the Home Secretary. NFOL officials also appealed to the film technicians’ union in an attempt to stop the projectors.

In short, while the outcome may be in doubt, the Christians of Britain are out to exorcize The Exorcist from England.


Liberating The System

After four Gay Liberation members were invited to a senior high school class in Burlington, Ontario, evangelist Ken Campbell informed the local mayor that he would withhold a portion of his property taxes as a protest. “I refuse to pay another cent of property tax for support of this educational system until there are some radical improvements,” Campbell wrote in his letter to Milton mayor Anne MacArthur.

The appearance of the Gay Liberation advocates in the class attended by his 14- and 15-year-old daughters was “the last straw,” he contended. He cited required reading in English courses and the general atmosphere, which he described as “sexual fascism” and “totalitarian secularism.”

His action raised immediate reaction—extensive press, radio, and TV coverage, wide support from parents, and a promise from the school principal that in the future homosexuals would not be permitted to promote their views from a school platform.

Campbell, who heads the Campbell-Reese Evangelistic Association and has preached extensively across Canada, told the press that his battle was not “a narrow religious one. All I ask,” he stated, “is a truly liberated education system in which the theistic view will be presented in parallel to the atheistic assumptions that now dominate.”


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