What is the Concordia system now, and where is it going?

29 Apr

csp2NOTE: I do not speak for my employer, Concordia University – St. Paul. This is my own theologically-informed evaluation of what Concordia is.

I think when it comes to the LC-MS’s Concordia system (here is a fairly recent analysis), our institution, Concordia University Saint Paul, is the “cutting edge” (whether one construes that as a good or bad thing in this case).  Here is our relatively new “promise statement”:

“Concordia University, St. Paul empowers you to discover and engage your purpose for life, career and service in a dynamic, multicultural, urban environment where Christ is honored, all are welcome, and Lutheran convictions inform intellectual inquiry and academic pursuits.”

Now, let’s back up.

One of Martin Luther’s most interesting and profound theological insights had to do with the fact that the fundamental units of society on earth are the family, the church and the nation.  Although Christian faith will ideally figure into nations in some way, without the fall into sin, the nation would have been an unnecessary concept.

I think all of this has to do with what the Concordia system used to be and has now become, and I’d like to explain.  At first, it may not be obvious how all of this relates, but I think it is like one of those picture illusions that you need to stare at for a while before things “pop”.  Here goes…

Regarding Martin Luther’s insight above, the “natural law”, or perhaps better yet, God’s “law of creation” – which is inextricably connected with faith in God as “Creator” – is always lying in the background here.  As professors Robert Kolb and Charles Arand note in their book “The Genius of Luther’s theology”, “Luther believed that the Decalogue applied to Christians not because it appeared in the Bible but because it expressed the law of creation”.  They go on to demonstrate this in a very interesting and explicit way, as they note that God has “organized [the] created structures of life” around four groups of “fathers” – biological, fathers and mothers in their roles as employers, fathers of the nation (public service), and spiritual fathers – and that the fourth “order of life” is the religious life that deals with “external religious communities”, that is “congregations consisting of pastors and parishoners” (K&A, 62).

Kolb and Arand explain at length:

“Luther argued that we would consider religious life within the context of creation for two reasons. First, as creatures we were designed to trust God for his gifts.  Second, God gave Adam his Word that he was to proclaim to Eve and formed a community within creaturely life dedicated to hearing the Word and praising God together. In the New Testament the church was called into existence in order to preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and exercise Christian discipline.” (K&A, 63)

They go on to note that since the church is a human community like all the others, it needs “rules and guidelines for its practice of life together” – as it “takes form in the world”, it needs “structures and governance” (K&A, 63). Interestingly, earlier in the chapter, Kolb and Arand even point out that the other kinds of human righteousness serves “life in this world” for the sake of this fourth kind of righteousness.  They say:

“The goal of an EMT [emergency medical technician] is to keep patients alive until they can be taken to the emergency room of the hospital, where their wounds can be tended and eventually healed.  By analogy, human righteousness serves life in this world (according to the first article of the Apostle’s Creed, on creation) so that people may be brought to Christ (the creed’s second article, on redemption), who deals with sin once and for all, and may live as God’s children (the creed’s third article on sanctification)” (K&A, 57).

All well and good, I think.

Now, let’s make this concrete by looking at an example from my own backyard, Concordia St. Paul.  First of all, my pastor recently asked me a very interesting question: “What really is a school that has been established by a church?” 

At the local Northwestern college, at one point headed up by Billy Graham, this takes on a pretty explicit and intentional Christian shape.  Their mission statement says: “University of Northwestern exists to provide Christ-centered higher education equipping students to grow intellectually and spiritually, to serve effectively in their professions, and to give God-honoring leadership in the home, church, community, and world.”

Compare this with Concordia’s:  “The mission of Concordia University, St. Paul, a university of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, is to prepare students for thoughtful and informed living, for dedicated service to God and humanity, for enlightened care of God’s creation, all within the context of the Christian Gospel.”

csp4Here is my analysis.  In the past, a college education at Concordia St. Paul could be understood as a more intensified expression of the Christian church on earth.  In other words, the school, college, university, etc. was more of a monastery, some more or less so (think of the gamut in medieval times: universities -> monastaries).  Now, in the present, I think that a Christian university like Concordia could be understood as a mild expression of a model nation on earth (perhaps as ideal a state that can be found in a fallen world)**, where Christians rule, in succession, with very soft power for the benefit of all people, in practice focusing first on earthly needs and concerns common to all, and only second – their truest needs, their spiritual needs, that is, the Christian Gospel narrowly understood (God was reconciling Himself to the world in Christ Jesus, defeating sin, death and the devil, freely giving forgiveness, life and salvation).  All authority derives from parental authority, as Luther said, and yet, as one would expect in a “nation model”, there is less “in loco parentis” (where those who work at the school are seen to basically stand in the place of legal parents for the student’s time of study).

In any case, assuming this model can be seen as being valid, it is my contention that many of the Christian students coming to Concordia, arguably, may not be ready for this model.  They would actually benefit more from the model of old, which operated more like monastaries, and when the schools were more focused on Christian discipleship and producing church workers (of course, if Concordia did attempt to portray itself as more explicitly Christian in all of its advertising and promotional material, one might reasonably question whether it would attract these same students, much less all the non-Christians who attend the school).

I've added the "dying" here. For my review of this book, go here.

I’ve added the “dying” here. For my review of this book, go here.

Now perhaps in today’s world there is a need for both models.  All this said, I think that an eyes-wide-open approach would reveal to us that we did not go here willingly.*  The current Concordia system, it seems to me, is our attempt to re-capture what little “Christian nation” we sense we once had in a world increasingly devoid of faith in the Word of God.  It is our last gasp at the “shining city on the hill”, not necessarily as Jesus understood it, but perhaps as Ronald Reagan (and John Winthrop before him) understood it. Concordia would be a city, a city-state, where “God is [not] dead” (note: this does not refer to the recent movie, but was written several months in advance of it) – that is, where the culture formed largely by Christians lives on. Where there is a “grounded, public, and shared sense that there is a single, unquestioned set of virtues – Judeo-Christian virtues – in accordance with which one’s life is properly led” (Dreyfus and Kelly, All Things Shining, p. 44).

Still, God can use evil for good – again, maybe there is something about this new model that could be commended and is useful. Perhaps it might even make sense to have both models on the same campus? (another experiment!). If so, perhaps this would enable the campus to serve as a live model, or teaching tool, of the two kingdoms.  Perhaps.

A few final thoughts.  Perhaps some might say that the Concordia system is more like a business than a nation – after all, Kolb and Arand talk about fathers and mothers in their roles as employers.

My response to this would be to say that while good businesses come from good families, they can exist in good nations.  Good nations don’t exist in good businesses! If we are turning into a good business run by Christians, in reality, that is just one more step in the wrong direction (even if some might think it is a necessary one) – after all, we don’t offer a product among other products but a very culture, a way of being and living in the world! I think courage and vision are needed here: perhaps opening up a new Concordia or transforming an old one – unapologetically more like those of old.

As far as the current experiment with Concordia goes – the “ideal nation” model I have hypothesized – it seems to me that the words of Martin Luther in the following quotation are well worth heeding:

“Certainly it is true that Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, are subject neither to law nor sword, have need of either. But take heed and first fill the world with real Christians before you attempt to rule it in a Christian or evangelical manner.

This you will never accomplish; for the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in names.Christians are few and far between (as they say is). Therefore, it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of the people, for the wicked always outnumber the good.” (Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed [found here])


*Ideal in that no gross public sins would be permitted, whether idolatry, thievery, greed, drunkenness, slander, sexual immortality, etc. Like any secular university, “banishment” would always an option at Concordia. Outside of Concordia, in a hypothetical “Christian kingdom” that would be more like the “real world” we are familiar with, there would be an even greater tolerance of other religions (allowing them to build houses of worship, etc), some expression of sinful lifestyles (allowing things to exist on the outskirts of town, etc), etc. Not “tolerance” in the sense that things would be seen as equally valid – or that things must be done this way out of a universal sense of “fairness” – but in the sense that because of the hard hearts of men and the ambiguities involved in ruling a nation, rules of nations must sometimes be this way, much like parents are with their own children. Allowing persons some real allowance to be wrong – what in traditional American government some have called the “right to be wrong”, is key. This also means having the courage to tell them they are wrong when the time is right. While at this Concordia the emphasis would be on the freedom found in Jesus Christ those things that would be out of bounds should also be made clear.

** In some ways we did, but never without a lot of angst and the sense that things were not necessarily changing for the better.  The ideal situation would be to have a college more connected with the Church, with regular worship, study of the Bible, presentations of Christian faith, etc. participated in by all – including non-believing persons curious about the Christian faith to such an extent that they would “come and see” (some Christian activities and service, including organized evangelism/outreach efforts, could be optional).  My pastor talked to me about the influence here of “the rules and regulations established by society in order to be accredited (the same could be said for a restaurant, rest home and hospital). Those rules and regulations would seem, eventually, to eliminate the influence of the church within those institutions.”

Luther statue @ CSP pic:

CSP in winter pic:

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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


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