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Rev. John H. Tietjen, 75; Lutheran Church Leader During Split

February 21, 2004|From Associated Press

The Rev. John H. Tietjen, a former seminary president at the center of a split in the Lutheran church in the 1970s, has died. He was 75.

Tietjen died Sunday at his Fort Worth home of cancer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Tietjen was the former president of Concordia Seminary who helped create a breakaway seminary and an alliance of dissident Lutheran congregations during a split over biblical doctrine. He also was a major force in 1987 in the merger of churches that created the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, now the nation's largest Lutheran denomination.

At his death, he was pastor emeritus of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Worth. On Feb. 8, Trinity Lutheran celebrated Tietjen's more than 50 years as a minister.

Tietjen was born in New York City and graduated from Concordia Seminary in Clayton, Mo., near St. Louis, in 1953. He earned a doctorate in theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York and wrote the book "Which Way to Lutheran Unity?"

In 1969, he became president of Concordia, the larger of the two seminaries of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

After fundamentalist and more conservative Lutherans gained control of the Missouri Synod hierarchy, critics accused Tietjen of failing to insist upon a literal instruction of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. He was ousted in January 1974.

Most of Concordia's faculty members and students staged a walkout. In less than a month, they formed Seminex, the "seminary in exile," in space at St. Louis University and Eden Theological Seminary, and asked Tietjen to lead it.

The Rev. Larry Neeb, who was an administrator at Concordia and then at Seminex, said Tietjen sometimes was miscast as a liberal theologian during the tense battle within the Missouri Synod.

"He wasn't a crusader; he was a man who was protecting his faculty. What he insisted upon is that Scripture also be understood for the human side of its development," Neeb said.

Tietjen wrote a book on the history of Seminex called "Memoirs in Exile." Known formally as Christ Seminary-Seminex, the seminary was moved to Chicago in 1983 and merged with the Lutheran Seminary at Chicago in 1987.

In 1976, Tietjen helped organize the Assn. of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, an alliance of about 400 Missouri Synod congregations. As a leader of the association, he helped forge its merger in 1987 with the Lutheran Church of America and the American Lutheran Church. That merger created the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In addition to his wife of more than 50 years, Ernestine, survivors include three daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.

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