Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Newspaper "Christian News"

When my family moved away from Seward, Nebraska, during the summer of 1968, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LCMS), was going though a doctrinal struggle. A year later, in July 1969, the church's convention elected Jacob A. O. Preus II as the church's new president. Preus had criticized many of the church's pastors and college teachers for liberalizing scriptural interpretations, and he promised to purge such pastors and teachers from their church positions.

My Dad did not teach theology -- he taught methodology of elementary education -- so he was not a teacher who was prominent and notorious in this controversy. I was too young (15 years old when we moved away) to understand the controversy well, but I was aware of it and understood that my Dad opposed Preus's faction.

Because my Dad was a teacher in a LCMS college, he received a free, unrequested subscription to a pro-Preus newspaper that was named Christian News. (Actually, the newspaper was named Lutheran News while we lived in Seward, but in this article here I will use only the name Christian News, which has been its name since 1968.) In my memory, each issue was about eight pages, published weekly. My Dad disdained this newspaper, but he allowed it into our home, where it was mixed in with the many newspapers and magazines that my family received.

I read Christian News regularly during my last two years in Seward and then for several more years in Eugene. Somehow, the publisher learned my Dad's new address and continued to mail the newspaper to him for free, even though he no longer was teaching in a Lutheran school.


Christian News was not published by the LCMS. Rather, it was published by a dissident Lutheran pastor, Herman Otten. He did not write every article, but he was the major writer and the editor. He must have received monetary support from some wealthy Lutherans, because surely there were not enough paid subscriptions and advertisements to pay for the printing and mailing costs.

The newspaper's goal was to expose heretical liberalism among the church's pastors and teachers. Many articles quoted and criticized religious books that had been published by Lutheran college teachers. Any deviations from literal interpretations of the Bible or from Lutheran doctrine were exposed and denounced.

One example that sticks in my memory involved a LCMS college teacher who had written a book that described various literary genres in the Bible. One such genre was epitomized by the Book of Jonah and was compared to the genre of the modern comic book. The teacher wrote that the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale and surviving three days in the whale's stomach was an amusing fiction, like a comic-book story. Of course, Christian News denounced this teacher and his book as heretical and insisted that the Jonah story was literally true.

I myself did not agree with such literal interpretations of the Bible, but I appreciated this newspaper's forthright argumentation and advocacy. At that time, I was thinking about becoming a journalist, and I admired this one pastor's ability to publish such an influential newspaper. As my own religious beliefs evolved in Eugene during the early 1970s, I eventually stopped reading Christian News. I became more interested in other controversies and rarely took the time to look at it when I noticed it in our home's pile of periodicals.


I am writing this article about Christian News here in my Seward blog, because I intend to write my following article about my Mom's religious rebellion. I have been thinking about that rebellion since she died a couple weeks ago. The controversy that was developing in the LCMS when we moved away from Seward was a significant circumstance.


Christian News has a website, http://www.christiannewsmo.com/, which includes the newspaper's mission statement:
Proclaiming faith in the saving merits of Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven.

Emphasizing that the Holy Trinity is the only God who exists.

Exposing the Universalism which has taken over most major denominations.

Defending the inerrancy of Holy Scripture and opposing the destructive higher critical notions of the Bible promoted by liberal scholars.

Below are excerpts from an article about Otten's career, published by his local New Haven Banner newspaper in 2012. It's important to note the article's many indications that Otten was opposed by much of LCMS's establishment.

Pastor Herman Otten leaving Trinity Lutheran Church after 55 years

New Haven, Mo. – Pastor Herman Otten officially announced in a press release this morning [July 26, 2012] the he will be leaving Trinity Lutheran Church after 55 years.

Otten will remain editor of Christian News “To promote 21st century reformation and realignment in all of Christendom."

In a “Farewell Address” that Otten had presented in a voters meeting at Trinity Lutheran Church on July 15 announced that he would be leaving Trinity after 55 years as pastor on Easter 2013. He said he wants to give Trinity time to call a new pastor. Few congregations have kept their same pastor for so many years.

Otten, however, will not be retiring from the ministry. He will continue serving as editor of Christian News, now in its 50th year with issue No. 2,326, until a new editor takes over. Otten said once he no longer has weekly pastoral duties he plans to travel promoting the need for a realignment in Christendom and a 21st Century Reformation as the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s

He has been working on a book tentatively titled Why a Realignment and 21st Century Reformation Today? He says this book will be somewhat like his popular Baal or God published in 1965. It was enthusiastically promoted by Bible believing Christian in many denominations in the U.S. and other nations. ....

When Lutheran News became Christian News in 1968 ..... Rev. Wayne Saffen of the University of Chicago, a liberal theologian, wrote in The Lutheran Campus Pastor that “Christian News has widened its strategy from dividing or conquering the Missouri Synod and the Lutherans to dividing or conquering the visible churches of Christ on earth. Its own realignment of Christendom calls for division between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’” ...

Otten says that even in such formerly conservative denominations as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), evolutionists and liberal higher critics of the Bible are permitted to remain on the clergy roster. .....

.... Christian News says the religious leaders, including LCMS President Matthew Harrison, are dead wrong when they claim that the Bible is silent about contraception. Christian News photographed a page from Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis where Luther condemns contraception.

The new book by the father of seven says that in 1890 the average LCMS pastor had 6.5 children. Today it’s around the national average of 2. When Otten began serving as a pastor of Trinity, the LCMS was baptizing about 83,000 children a year. Today the number has dropped below 23,000 per year. ....

Several times Trinity, New Haven has petitioned conventions of the LCMS to call for a 21st Century Formula of Concord which reaffirms the Formula of Concord of 1580 but also speaks to the issues of our day, evolution, abortion, homosexuality, “gay marriage,” higher criticism of the Bible, the historicity of the Genesis creation account, the findings of archaeology, Bible texts, etc. ...

During the last 50 years convention workbooks of the LCMS have more overtures from Trinity, New Haven than any other congregation. Trinity petitioned the LCMS to take a stand vs. abortion, higher criticism of the Bible, homosexuality, euthanasia, theological liberalism, racism of the left and right, and for such doctrines as the inerrancy of the Bible, the historicity of the Genesis account of creation the virgin birth of Christ, the immortality of the soul, the physical resurrection of Christ, the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible, a 600 B.C. dating of Daniel, the unity of Isaiah, the historicity of Jonah, etc. Some overtures Otten drafted were signed by more than 300 pastors and laymen in over 20 states.

The Lutheran Campus Pastor, a liberal publication, commented:
Christian News is now without doubt the most influential publication in the (Lutheran Church) Missouri Synod. .... It is an impressive record. Concerns which had been generated when the editor was still a student have almost all been validated by convention resolution: affirming a six day creation ,a historical Jonah, an inerrant Scripture, Adam and Eve are real historic persons, etc.
While conservatives in many church bodies commended Christian News and Trinity, the LCMS never certified him for the ministry. Otten graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1957 with an M.Div. and a few days later from Washington University with an M.A. in history. A year later he earned an S.T.M. from Concordia Seminary and was on course to earn his doctorate at age 26 when his long battle with the LCMS hierarchy began. He never had time again to return to the classroom.

He informed leaders of the LCMS during the 1950s, at their request, about what was going on theologically at Concordia Seminary and elsewhere in the LCMS.

When Trinity, New Haven, which he had been serving as a student while doing his graduate work, would not remove him as pastor when ordered by LCMS officials, Trinity was suspended several times and then expelled from the LCMS.

Each time the suspensions and expulsion were declared invalid by the LCMS Board of Appeals, which consisted of 5 attorneys and 6 pastor/theologians elected at LCMS conventions. This same Board of Appeals ruled after interviewing professors under oath that the seminary had not shown just cause for not certifying Otten for the ministry.

The board found Otten had told the truth about the liberal professors. The vote in 1984 was unanimous for Otten. However, even though the LCMS Handbook required the LCMS and Concordia Seminary to accept the ruling, they refused to certify the pastor of Trinity.

The rulings in favor of Otten and Trinity were a major reason who LCMS officials worked to get the LCMS to change its entire judicial system where evidence was carefully evaluated, a transcript made, witnesses sworn in, examined, and cross examined. Now the LCMS’s Council of Presidents is the final authority and the Board of Appeals is gone.

Officials of the LCMS say Trinity is currently under the threat of expulsion from the LCMS and Pastor Otten “is an impenitent sinner on the road to Hell.”

When Matthew Harrison was installed as president of the LCMS, Pastor Otten was banned from communing and participating at the installation. Some 200 pastors participated in the installation/communion service. No liberal promoting evolution was banned. Harrison came for more than six hours to New Haven to urge Christian News to support him for president.

He gave Otten many of his books and writings, which were then reviewed in Christian News. For more than a year Christian News regularly promoted Harrison for president. Other LCMS presidents have also requested the support of Christian News since this publication was the only newspaper reaching all LCMS congregations and later convention delegates each week. Once elected, these presidents kept their distance from Christian News and wanted Trinity to remove him as pastor.

One of the most significant events in the history of 20th Century American denominationalism occurred in 1974 when 45 out of 50 liberal faculty and staff members at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis walked off the campus of the seminary and began “Seminex” at the Roman Catholic St. Louis University Divinity School and the United Church of Christ’s , Eden Seminary.

Liberal and conservatives have said that it was two “stubborn” New Yorkers from Concordia, Bronxville, NY who were primarily responsible, Dr. John Tietjen, President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis and then Seminex and Herman Otten, pastor of Trinity and editor of Christian News.

Today the official line from the LCMS is that Trinity, New Haven, Otten and Christian News had little to do with any of the conservative positions taken by the LCMS since Trinity began submitting overtures and Christian News began.

A Seminary in Crisis, published by the LCMS’s Concordia Publishing House in 2007, hardly mentions Trinity, Christian News or any of its publications sent to all LCMS congregations and convention delegates.

Others have not been as critical of Otten and Trinity or minimized the influence of Christian News as have LCMS officials and their publications.

James Burkee, chairman of the faculty at Concordia University, Wisconsin, the largest Lutheran University, writes in his Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod – A Conflict that Changed American Christianity, in a caption of a photo showing Otten with a group of students at a college where Otten was invited to speak:
Herman Otten Jr. founded conservative tabloid Christian News following his rejection by Concordia Seminary. He shaped Missouri conservatism with an impact magnified by his freedom from church oversight. Otten was the most significant figure in modern LCMS history.
Burkee’s book was published in 2011 by Fortress Press of The Evangelical Church in America. The Foreword is by Martin E. Marty, referred to by some as America’s leading church historian.

James Adams, religion editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in his Preus of Missouri and The Great Lutheran Civil War, published by Harpers in 1977, wrote:
But when historians assess power and influence in Missouri (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) in the 60s, no man right or left will be more important than journalist Herman Otten. Before the ink was dry on his final exams at Concordia, St. Louis in the late ‘50s, Otten was accusing his professors of heresies. . . Although he was to influence the mighty Missouri Synod as much as any individual, he never became a certified minister. He liked his independence. . .

Bill Miller the editor of the Washington Missourian, who has served as president of the Missouri Press Association and traveled in many countries, said in his "Editor's Notebook" in an item titled "A Man of Courage, Discipline" in the February 12, 2003, Washington Missourian:
Pastor Otten battled the odds and scored many victories. However, he still is considered a radical, disturber and misdirected crusader by the liberals. He is feared by that element because of his comprehensive research and investigative reporting. He is a fierce debater. His newspaper interests range beyond religion, although there usually is a moral connection. He investigates and comments on most major issues facing the world today. He never backs away from his fundamental beliefs. Yes, he is controversial! There are people who will disagree with this column. 
He is the most disciplined person this writer has ever met. His day is organized by the hour and he is a shining example of one who does not waste time. Although in his late 60s he retains his zeal for physical conditioning and even has competed in ‘iron man’ competitions in various parts of the country. For years he jogged the 17 miles to The Missourian office early every Thursday morning to proofread and layout his newspaper. 
Pastor Otten has never neglected his congregation. Those duties come first. He visits the sick in hospitals and the aged in nursing homes, regardless of their faiths. 
He also has not neglected his family but he has had to depend on his devoted wife Grace, a deaconess, for her dedication in the family's many activities. 
Also assisting him have been all of his seven children, at one time or other, who share many of the same disciplines of their father. Several have their own careers but they come home to help with the camp when needed. They inherited his work ethic.
While the LCMS’s Lutheran Witness has a policy of refusing to publish any letter from Otten or mention Christian News or Camp Trinity, both the New Haven Leader and the Washington Missourian have published favorable reports about both.

“Forty years of Christian News,” a feature article in the January 22, 2003 New Haven Leader had this subtitle: “The newspaper that started in the basement on Maupin Street now has readers around the world.”

An article published in the New Haven Leader 10 years ago said:
Despite the literal millions of words he’s published, friends and congregation members say he’s always put his family and his congregation first.” “And the congregation also stood solidly behind its pastor despite the pressure from the LCMS to get rid of him.
When Otten married Deaconess Grace Anderson in 1962, they went on a 5,000 mile wedding trip where Otten spoke to groups along the way on the “Crisis in Christendom”. At the time he may have been the only pastor who publicly took issue with liberal professors at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis and elsewhere. When a leading Lutheran theologian, who denied the inerrancy of the Bible and promoted liberal higher criticism of the Bible, challenged conservatives to debate him, a group of California laymen sponsored a debate between a liberal and Otten. Almost all of the 600 at the debate remained for all six hours. ....