Skip to main content

Note from CORE’s Executive Director: Many thanks to a seminarian, who wishes to remain anonymous, for writing about what it was like to attend an ELCA seminary.  Students considering enrolling in an ELCA seminary, as well as members of orthodox congregations still in the ELCA, need to know what is being taught and what they can expect from their future pastor.  Will this kind of woke educational experience train someone who will provide good pastoral care and leadership for your congregation?  Those who believe that theologically solid pastors are and will continue to be available within the ELCA should know that there are some (Thanks be to God!) but the number is decreasingly rapidly.   

I attended United Lutheran Seminary (United), in Gettysburg, for 3 semesters. My time there led me to realize that there was no place for a confessional Lutheran faith within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I knew nothing of the other Lutheran denominations. Every Lutheran church within an hour of my house was ELCA and that was all I knew. Upon entering seminary, I was assured by my synod’s bishop that there was a place for a confessional Lutheran in the “big-tent,” that is the ELCA.

United did not share this view and I realized this in my first semester, when I began questioning the “sacred doctrines” of the ELCA that were invented in the last 10 years. My first semester I took the class Systematic Theology 1: Creation, Sin, and New Creation, which I thought would provide me with a greater understanding of the ELCA’s newly held positions as well as a basic overview of theological concepts and systematics. I hoped that it would answer some of my questions and strengthen my ability to conduct ministry faithfully. I was disappointed to find that much of the class was heavily focused on womanist, feminist, and other niche and modern theological interpretation rather than core or confessional concepts. This was the only theology class that I was required to take. This lack of true theological instruction allows seminarians to believe they understood yet have made strawmen of a Biblical Christianity. Much of what the Church held for the last 2000 years could be dismissed as “privileged,” “racist,” or “sexist.”

My first (and only) sermon I gave at United was for my homiletics class. I was assigned to preach on the first week of Lent, which includes the Gospel reading of Christ being tempted in the wilderness. In my sermon I mentioned, not as the message of the sermon but to highlight the goodness of Christ, that hell was real. I felt relatively proud of my sermon while giving it. Given that it was my first sermon, it could have been better, but I stand by my message today. It shocked me when my homiletics professor opened my sermon up for critique and she implied that I shared a heretical message. I did not realize that the acknowledgement of hell was such a faux pas. After my professor shared that I was a heretic, much of my peers’ remarks echoed her idea. I called my parents as well as a mentor that evening and shared that I wanted to leave seminary because apparently, I did not understand anything about the faith.

Getting raked over the coals for believing that Christ was not lying when He spoke of hell was the straw that broke me. I realized that I could not stay at United, and I would not be welcome in the ELCA, if this is where the publicly acceptable discourse is.

Some of the common talking points that the professors would push in a variety of their classes include: using non-masculine pronouns for God, the merits of a variety of sexual relationships, how the church has been a force for bad in the world, and leftist political talking points.  It is a shame that there could not be serious theological discussions concerning these topics as to disagree with any point carried with it accusations of being “not-loving,” among other unflattering titles, and being shut down by the professor.

When I told my synod’s bishop about leaving the ELCA, I told her how I felt betrayed by a church that I grew up in and how I was lied to when I was told that there was a place for me. She was sorry and could not defend the actions of the ELCA from polygamy to the disbelief in hell. There is no Biblical defense, and she couldn’t spin one. When I went to my home congregation to tell my pastor, whom I grew up with, he was not nearly as cordial. He tried to challenge me as misinformed when I pointed to the ELCA’s radical direction. He accused me of being political for not agreeing with the ELCA.

Although the gospel is not preached there anymore, it is sad to know I am no longer welcome in my home congregation.

Since coming to the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), I have appreciated the professionalism of the professors in the North American Lutheran Seminary (NALS), the comradery among clergy, and general support from congregations. It is refreshing to be able to read the Bible and confessions in a seminary setting and have genuine discussions about the application and use of the concepts. There is a fellowship among the students as members of Christ’s Church, here for Christ, unlike what I have known within the ELCA.

I write this because this is my story. I could have shared more anecdotes about the inability of United to form its students, the unprofessionalism of the professors and ignorance of those who followed the party line, but these examples make my point. I do not want to slander the ELCA or any pastors or congregations in it. I only want to bring light to what is going on in the once great Lutheran seminary of Gettysburg, PA, United Lutheran Seminary.

It breaks my heart to have had to leave but I have found a home in the NALC.

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Moe Redding says:

    The Holy Spirit has led you out of the darkness and into the light. You have been true to God’s Word and our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems you have also kept a heart of grace for those from whom you have separated yourself. This is also the Holy Spirit within you. Well done! The Lord has incredible work for you. Stay faithful. Stay in the Word. Stay humble before the Lord. Stay in the power of the Spirit. He will lift you up.

    Psalm 27: 14
    Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

  • James Young says:

    I suspect this individual grew up in the same area — perhaps the same town/congregation — as I did. He also goes far to explain why the church of what’s happening now! is dying.

  • Rev. Nicole A.M. Collins says:

    When I transferred from LSTC to TED’s it was like night and day. I have written about and shared this experience in the past…. The night and day was from closed political club theology to transferring into scholarships, top in my preaching class and truly reading, thinking and breathing the Living Truth Of God, His Word. I also didn’t have anyone shame me or give me a low grade for writing about the Holy Spirit. I thank God for my pastor Eric Dawson, who helped me transfer to TEDs and realize my true gifts as a minister by and through loving and breathing God’s Word.

    • Dennis Nelson says:

      I am glad that TED was a good experience for you. May God continue to bless you in your ministry.

  • Jeff Morlock says:

    Welcome, my brother. I appreciate your sharing this story, as many are quietly suffering and others have decide to drop out and give up on God’s call to ordained ministry altogether. Your courage in sharing this will empower others, either to speak up for truth in the ELCA seminary where they study, or to do what you did, and find freedom and joy in an orthodox, confessional, Christ-centered, traditionally grounded theological school like NALS.

  • Bill Gross says:

    Thank the Seminarian for sharing. My experience at an ELCA seminary was similar, although I attend a wonderful confessional Lutheran congregation. Thankfully God led me to the LCMC and to the Institute of Lutheran Theology.

    • Dennis Nelson says:

      Thank you for your encouraging words. I will pass them on. And thank you for your faithful witness.

  • John Redfield says:

    As someone who is almost finished at an ELCA seminary. Your experience echoed my own experience. The is simply no place for Biblical viewpoints based on scripture in the seminaries. They are focused on making more liberal people feel good and making conservatives feel bad for being conservative. There are so many people who go to an ELCA seminary from conservative areas and are absolutely shocked by how progressive the seminaries are. They are the heretics I assure you. Older pastors closer to retirement actively hide how liberal the ELCA has become and many congregations are absolutely clueless to how bad things are. I was one of them until I got to seminary. You had the balls to leave early and I fear it is too late being this close to placement. However, once I do get ordained I will be a force to be reckoned with. I’m going full scorched earth in exposing how corrupt the ELCA has become. This last synod assembly where they prepared the path to get rid of the bound conscience clause in the statement on human sexuality, will eventually get me kicked out of the ELCA. God will have a place for me somewhere. He has brought me this far to see how terrible it is and now he wants me to move forward and have a voice.

    • Dennis Nelson says:

      May God continue to watch over you and give you courage and clarity.

    • Cary Granzow says:

      We will have an opening after the first of the year, there are several of us that do know what is going on in the ELCA.
      My church is St Paul Lutheran in Herington Kansas we have a web site please check us out.