Our Purpose and Objectives
The purpose of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary is to offer theological training that prepares men to enter the pastoral ministry of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod or of churches within its confessional fellowship . The seminary also endeavors in various ways to offer opportunity for theological and professional growth to called workers who already are serving in the ministry of its confessional fellowship .
To carry out its purpose Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary has established the following objectives:
- To lead its students into a reverent, thorough, and scholarly study of Holy Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God and to a clear apprehension and faithful, evangelical application of its contents, especially of its basic messages of law and gospel;
- To encourage its students, through daily academic and devotional contact with the Word of God, to grow in their personal faith and to continue that growth throughout their lives;
- To teach all the areas of the theological curriculum—biblical, systematic, historical, and practical theology—in a thorough and scholarly fashion, always in full harmony with the Holy Scriptures and in conscious agreement with the Confessions of the Lutheran Church;
- To train its students in the skills required for ministry in the contemporary world, e.g., preaching, teaching, outreach, counseling, worship, administration, equipping the saints, interpersonal skills;
- To instill in its students the kinds of attitudes that will assist them as they carry out their ministry in the contemporary world, e.g., Confessional in stance, Evangelical in approach, Mission-minded in spirit, Culturally sensitive, Appropriately flexible, Zealous to nurture and to equip the saints.
To lead its students into a reverent, thorough, and scholarly study of Holy Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God and to a clear apprehension and faithful, evangelical application of its contents, especially of its basic messages of law and gospel.
The Lord says through his prophet Isaiah, “This is the one I esteem, he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my Word” (Isaiah 66:2). We want our students to do the same—to approach the inspired, inerrant Word in reverence and awe, to recognize that God himself is speaking through his Word. We also want our students to know the Word through and through. It is for this reason that the seminary curriculum includes a study of the entire Scriptures, much of it in the original languages. A seminary student spends about 800 class hours in his years at the seminary in the direct study of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. A concerted effort is also made to present instruction that is not only reverent and thorough, but scholarly. Everything in the whole realm of human endeavor and knowledge that may be helpful is drawn upon as an aid either in understanding the Word or in transmitting it to others. Intensive work is done on both the Old and New Testaments in the original languages, utilizing the most recent information on the text and incorporating the newest studies in grammar, syntax, and lexicography. There is an appreciation also for the work of others as that is set forth, for example, in their documentation of archaeological discoveries, in their commentaries on Scripture, and in their insights into history. All are received as gifts of God, to be used with the single limitation of “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Even this limitation is not and must not be viewed as a curtailment of academic freedom. Because both faculty and students are grounded in the conviction that ultimate truth is to be found only in God’s verbally inspired and errorless Word, there can be no thought of exercising the “freedom” of teaching or defending views at variance with Scripture. In a confessional seminary such as ours, whatever runs contrary to Scripture’s “Thus saith the Lord” will be discarded by conviction. Especially we want our students to be able to distinguish between and properly apply the Scriptures’ two main messages, law and gospel, in their ministry—the law to expose sin, the gospel to announce the forgiveness of sins won by the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ.
To encourage its students, through daily academic and devotional contact with the Word of God, to grow in their personal faith and to continue that growth throughout their lives.
St. Paul encouraged the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). He counseled Timothy, “Watch your life [literally, ‘yourself’] and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Both of these passages emphasize that dispensers of the Word need also to be receivers of the Word. Only when ministers of the gospel are taking the Word to heart themselves are they truly qualified to take the Word to others. Daily chapel services and other special services thus play an important role in the seminary’s program, as does regular worship on the part of our students at local congregations. In addition, students are encouraged to take time for private devotional study of the Word in preparation for a lifelong devotional study of the Word. They are also urged to approach their studies not merely as an academic exercise or as a way to acquire mere theoretical knowledge, but as a way to feed and nurture their own souls as well. “Prepare your assignment devotionally” is an encouragement the students hear regularly from their professors over their years at the seminary.
To teach all the areas of the theological curriculum—biblical, systematic, historical, and practical theology—in a thorough and scholarly fashion, always in full harmony with the Holy Scriptures and in conscious agreement with the Confessions of the Lutheran Church.
The Apostle Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus, “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). What Paul had passed on to them, they were in turn to pass on to their flocks. Timothy was to do the same. Paul instructs him, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). As a confessional Lutheran seminary, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary sees this as its primary task also: to pass on intact to the next generation the whole body of truth as revealed in the Scriptures and set forth in the Lutheran Confessions. Without apology we can use the word “indoctrination,” instruction in a body of doctrine, to describe what the seminary does. Indoctrination involves teaching by faithful men who are themselves committed to Scripture and the Confessions and learning by faithful students who are willing to accept that same confessional stance, and who in turn will pass on the same body of truth in its fullness to the next generation. Research and reading have their proper place in the indoctrination process, but the primary forum of exchange between teacher and student remains the classroom. Hence the seminary sees regular class attendance by all students as essential to the indoctrination process and vital for the maintenance of a confessional program at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. This close tie between teacher and seminarian in no way is intended to discourage independent work. In fact, methods of independent study are suggested and encouraged, because they form the basis of the continuing education which is strongly advocated. The body of truth the seminary seeks to pass on to its students is contained in the four areas of its theological curriculum (what follow are excerpts and summaries of material found in more detail in the Catalog of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary):
Each year certain books of the Old and New Testament are taught exegetically. In this study individual words and phrases, as well as the literary structure, are examined carefully on the basis of the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Books of the Bible that are not covered exegetically are handled in a more cursory fashion in the isagogics courses. In these courses emphasis is laid on becoming acquainted with the line of thought of the sacred books. The New Testament isagogics course is taught on the basis of the Greek text. In addition, a course is given in biblical hermeneutics (principles of biblical interpretation) and textual criticism.
In this intensive two-year course the doctrines of the Lutheran church as set forth in the Lutheran Confessions are examined thoroughly in the light of Scripture to strengthen the students’ conviction that they are in fact drawn from the Bible. The course aims to give those who are preparing to become public ministers of the gospel a clear and comprehensive understanding of the truths of God’s Word which will enable them to preach and teach with the assurance that this is what the Lord says.
In the church history courses students are guided to note how our God and Savior has ruled in grace and judgment through all that has happened in world history since our Lord’s ascension to the present time. Stress is laid on the fact that our God has made everything serve his one great purpose of gathering his church of believers from among all nations through the gospel. The students are guided to see how the erroneous thoughts and sinful actions of men have been constantly at work in corrupting God’s message of law and gospel and thus in hindering the building of Christ’s church. At the same time, however, it becomes evident how God in his might and mercy has continued to raise up staunch confessors to expose human error and to restore and preserve the pure proclamation of his saving Word. Courses in the Confessions of the Lutheran church aim to give the students a thorough understanding of the doctrinal content of the various confessional writings and to help them recognize that they do indeed present the truths of the Scriptures.
Under practical theology are the various methodology courses in which students are trained in the skills required for bringing the Word to the world. We will look at this in more detail under the next objective. Suffice it to say at this point that these courses are also taught within the boundaries set by the Holy Scriptures and in full harmony with the Lutheran Confessions.
To train its students in the skills required for ministry in the contemporary world, e.g., preaching, teaching, outreach, counseling, worship, administration, equipping the saints, interpersonal skills.
Learning how to share the gospel with others is the major objective of the courses in the fourth of the theological disciplines, Practical Theology. The seminary offers three years of training in the theory and practice of preaching, and students are trained to plan and conduct the public worship of the congregation. In order that its graduates be thoroughly “able to teach” the seminary offers three semesters of training in the principles of pedagogy, educational methodology, and the overall program of education in a congregation. In addition there are courses in each of the three years in pastoral theology, presenting the scriptural principles and the practical methods according to which a Lutheran pastor will want to conduct his total Christian ministry, for example, administration of a congregation, evangelism and stewardship, ministering to the sick and dying, and counseling the troubled, the distressed, the tempted, and the erring. In recent years two pastoral theology courses have received greater emphasis than heretofore: counseling and evangelism. The breakdown in the family in America has affected WELS congregations also, necessitating more thorough preparation of our students in the skills of counseling. With regard to evangelism, in the more distant past German immigrants formed a natural mission field for a German-Lutheran church body such as the WELS. In the more recent past, conservative Lutherans, dismayed by liberal tendencies in their church body, have been a fertile field for the growth of WELS congregations. Neither of these pools of potential members exists today in large number. In addition, American society as a whole is becoming increasingly secularized. Our pastors need to gain the skills to carry out “raw” outreach in such a society. Hence, a pastoral theology course specifically on the subject of evangelism has been developed. In the course on the Pastoral Epistles, letters written by the Apostle Paul to young Timothy, emphasis is placed, especially in connection with the study of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, on cultivating the social and interpersonal skills that are necessary for a pastor as he relates with his congregation and the people of the community in which he lives. In addition, two pastoral counseling courses specifically teach interpersonal communication skills and a course entitled “Mission Perspectives” focuses on the attitudes and interpersonal skills needed in working with people of a culture different from one’s own. The Apostle Paul tells the church in Ephesus that Christ gave to his church “pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Throughout the Pastoral Theology curriculum it is impressed upon students that as pastors they play a dual role in the congregation: they are not only called to do the work of the ministry themselves but to train members to serve in various capacities according to their gifts. The pastor is thus both nurturer and equipper of the saints. In several courses specific training is given in equipping the saints for service within the congregation, e.g., administration, education, visitation, stewardship, and evangelism. Although the seminary has a program of early field experience for first- and second-year men, and seminarians may already do limited supply-preaching, it is principally in the vicarship year that what is presented in theory in the classroom is put into practice in a congregation. There under the guidance of an experienced pastor the vicar is exposed to all the tasks of the parish ministry in order that by doing he may grow in the all-important work of sharing the gospel with others.
To instill in its students the kinds of attitudes that will assist them as they carry out their ministry in the contemporary world.
The seminary recognizes that the formation of proper spiritual attitudes is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit upon a believer’s heart. What the seminary can do is to teach and apply the Scriptures in the classroom to give the Spirit the opportunity to create and strengthen such attitudes as those listed below:
Confessional in stance
The Apostle Paul exhorted Titus, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The seminary’s objective for its graduates is the same, that they do not go out into the ministry “as reeds swayed by the wind” (Matthew 11:7), “blown here and there by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). The seminary’s intent is that its graduates be men who put integrity above popularity; men whose consciences are bound by the Holy Scriptures; men who boldly confess with Luther, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise”; men who therefore, regardless of personal consequences, always “speak the truth,” but always “ in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Evangelical in approach
The seminary wants its students to understand and appreciate what it means to be ministers of the gospel. It wants them to be able to recognize and appreciate the difference between an evangelical, gospel-centered approach to the ministry and a legalistic, law-oriented approach. An evangelical approach to the ministry does not mean that the law is never used, of course, but that it is used in accordance with its primary purpose: to reveal sin, to accuse, to convict. The seminary wants its graduates to know and to put into practice the truth that the gospel and gospel alone can properly motivate and empower God’s redeemed people to believe and to do that which pleases God. Students are strongly encouraged to read, take to heart, and put into practice C. F. W. Walther’s classic Law and Gospel, with its reminder that “your hearers will be spiritually starved to death if you do not allow the gospel to predominate in your preaching. They will be underfed because the bread of life is not the law, but the gospel” (p. 406). It is the seminary’s prayer that its graduates’ gospel-centered approach to ministry will express itself in a love for souls entrusted to their care. With a gospel-produced love for souls in their hearts, our students, under God, will consider it a joy, privilege, and blessing to be serving the Lord out and among God’s people.
Mission-minded in spirit
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion on them [we might paraphrase, “his heart went out to them”] because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The Apostle Paul writes, “I am compelled to preach” (1 Corinthians 9:16). He is speaking of an inner, gospel-motivated compulsion to get the gospel out to the world. With a large majority of the six billion people on earth not professing faith in Jesus Christ, the mission field is vast. The seminary’s objective, under God, is to implant in its students a Christ-like, Paul-like heart for those who are still lost, and with that a zeal to extend the gospel beyond the circle of the congregation of believers to the “harassed and helpless” unbelieving world.
The seminary seeks to instill in its students a sensitivity to the fact that though in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), there are still profound differences in people—men, women, and children. These differences need to be taken into account when ministering to them (cf. Titus 2:1-8 and 1 Timothy 4:1-2). Differences between people are magnified when ministry is carried out across cultures. Those called to world mission fields know that they will be working among people of cultures different from their own and that they will need to seek to understand the host culture and adapt themselves to it to the degree they can without violating the Word. The seminary impresses upon its students that also calls to congregations in the United States will bring its graduates into work among people of different cultures. Some situations are obvious, e.g., a call to a largely Hispanic or African-American community. Some are not so obvious, e.g., a call to the Deep South or the West or East Coasts. The seminary’s objective for its graduates is not only that they recognize that the culture in which they will be serving may be different, often considerably different, from the one in which they were raised, but also that they are sensitive to cultural differences so as not to put barriers between themselves and the cultures to whom they are called to bring the gospel.
Flexibility has to do with what the Apostle Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law…, so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (9:19-22). Being “all things to all men” does not mean being spineless. It does not imply a laissez faire, “anything-goes” kind of approach to people and situations. We want our students to stand firm on every truth God has revealed in his Word. At the same time, however, we want them to recognize that, while the revealed truth of God dare not be changed, things which God has neither commanded nor forbidden may, and in some instances perhaps even should, be changed for the sake of the gospel. In this connection the adverb “appropriately” should also be noted. The seminary’s objective is that its students display an appropriate flexibility. An appropriately flexible approach to people and situations will take into account what Paul says in another place in 1 Corinthians: “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (10:23). The seminary wants its students to be aware that just because one has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that he should do it. Concern for souls, for good order, and for unity in the church are among the factors an evangelical Lutheran pastor will take into account when addressing situations the Word does not directly address. Zealous to nurture and equip the saints In the previous objective, training students in the skills required for ministry, we spoke of developing skills to both nurture and equip the saints. This objective aims at the attitude of the heart. The seminary’s objective is to produce graduates who have learned how to nurture and equip the saints and are eager to do so, thus effecting a “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:4) wherever the Lord calls them to serve.