Pastor Otten Leaving Trinity, New Haven, Missouri After 55 Years
(500th Anniversary of Reformation, October 31, 2017)
This press release was sent to many publications, particularly Lutheran in July. CN has waited until now to publish it.
Pastor Herman Otten in a “Farewell Address” he presented to a voters meeting at Trinity Lutheran Church, New Haven, Missouri on July 15, 2012 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 Reformation approaches on October 31, 2017. 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 Christians in many denominations in the U.S. and other nations.
Baal or God says in its introduction:
“Baal or God shows there are basically two different religions within external Christendom. The difference between these two religions is the difference between God and Baal. Informed Christians ought to recognize that the real difference within external Christendom does not lie along traditional denominational lines within the major denominations. On the one hand there are those within these denominations who accept the fundamental truths of historic Christianity and on the other hand there are the modern liberals within these same denominations who reject historic Christianity. The situation in Christendom is like that in American politics. There are conservatives and liberals in each major political party. So there are believers in historic Christianity and modern liberals in the major denominations.”
When Lutheran News became Christian News in 1968 its masthead was written by Dr. Kurt Marquart, who long promoted a 20th Century Reformation and Formula of Concord. Marquart escaped from the Communists when they took over his native Estonia. Marquart and Otten were roommates at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Otten refers to Marquart as “The International Luther.” After interviewing Marquart, Dean Clarence Marion, a member of the Notre Dame University School of Law ,commented on December 3, 1967: “My friends, in my 13 years at this microphone, I have never heard a more precise and learned analysis of the conflict now raging between communism and organized religion, namely the churches of denominations.”
When Christian News began with a new masthead written by Marquart, 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.’”
The cover of Otten’s “Farewell Address” has a photo of the 40 ft. 21st Century Reformation Cross at Camp Trinity dedicated to the memory of Kurt Marquart “The International Luther”. It will be seen by thousands of youth and adults who regularly come to the camp which Otten and his wife began 40 years ago. Otten says that the book will show that theological liberalism, universalism, evolution and higher criticism of the Bible has taken over all the major protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
The pastor/editor says that sex offenders and homosexuals are often not removed from the pastoral ministry. His new book will quote from “The Rite of Sodomy – Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church” by Roman Catholic scholar Randy Engel and from “The Truth About What Really Happened to the Catholic Church after Vatican II” by Roman Catholics, Brother Michael and Brother Peter Dimond. 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. The New Haven pastor intends to show groups throughout the U.S. that William Beck’s An American Translation of the Bible is the most accurate Bible translation in the language of today. Trinity, New Haven has petitioned the LCMS to publish a translation of the Bible by confessional Bible believing scholars who use Beck’s AAT as a basis. The LCMS’s Concordia Publishing House first published the AAT New Testament in 1963. Christian News published the entire AAT in 1975. Since then Otten has had Bible believing scholars meeting at Camp Trinity to make improvements. Children and Family As the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation approaches, Otten also intends to show why a return is needed today to Luther’s view of the family and children. His recently published “A Handbook of Christian Matrimony” is subtitled: “The Blight of Birth Control and a Fifty Year Battle for Church Growth – Back to Luther no the Family and Birth Control on the 500 Anniversary of the Reformation.” The title page quotes “Unfaithfully Yours,” the cover story of the July 13, 2012 TIME which said: “No other single force is causing as much measurable hardship in this country as the collapse of marriage.”
The lead story of the July 23 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. 21st Century Formula of Concord 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.
In 1990 Otten presented a tentative Formula of Concord to a congress of the International Council of Christian Churches when it met at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. After Otten presented this “Formula of Concord” he was greeted with a rising ovation from delegates from many nations. Caucasians were in the minority. Unlike some conservatives, Otten has opposed racism ever since his student days. A bi-racial daughter-in-law recently gave birth to his 18th and 19th grandchildren. The multiracial ICCC delegates unanimously voted to send the 20th Century Formula of Concord to all their denominations in many countries. Most of the church bodies in the ICCC were small denominations.
The 20th Century Formula of Concord is in Otten’s “Walter A. Maier Still Speaks – Missouri and the World Should Listen.”
In this book, Otten noted that Lutheran Hour speaker Walter A. Maier, the most widely known Lutheran of his day, wrote in an editorial titled “Back to Luther” in the November 1933 Walther League Messenger on the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s birth, that almost every major denomination was “honeycombed by traitorous disloyalty” to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Maier wrote: “We repeat, the appeal to American Protestantism is: ‘BACK TO LUTHER!’ and if this be a battle cry to summon the latent forces of complacent laity to action; if it be a rallying summon for a spiritual crusade for Christ; if it means the splitting of the church into two groups, one liberal and unbelieving, and the other conservative and faithful unto death; if it require the breaking of conventional ties, the banishment of pulpit Judases, then we still repeat the cry: ‘BACK TO LUTHER!’”
The Missouri pastor says that his “Why A 21st Century Realignment and Reformation” will have more material on the Roman Catholic Church than his 1965 Baal or God. He claims that since Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church has “caught up” with liberal Protestantism.
Through the years some conservative Roman Catholic theologians have supported Christian News. Father Val. J. Peter, JDC, STD Director of The Catholic Center, Dowd Chapel, Boystown, Nebraska wrote on July 9, 2012: “I have been a great admirer of Christian News for years and years. Always enjoy reading it.” Father Peter sent Christian News the correspondence he has had with the “Great Courses.” The Great Courses advertised in many publications has been promoting the writings of Bart Ehrman, an agnostic, as their authority on Christianity. Few publications have been critical of the Great Courses for promoting the views of Bart Ehrman.
Msgr. John E. Steinmueller, S.T.D. S.S.L. was another Roman Catholic scholar who expressed appreciation for Christian News and promoted it. Dr. Steinmueller’s 3 Vol, “The Companion to Scripture Studies” was formerly used in many Roman Catholic seminaries. He wrote to Pastor Otten in 1974: “I diligently read Christian News every week. Sad to say your Missouri Synod and our own church are suffering from the same malaise. May the good Lord continue to bless your work in defense of the Scriptures and their inerrancy.”
Otten says that some conservative Roman Catholic theologians are more perceptive than some conservative Lutherans who claim that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the current hero of much of Protestantism and Luther-anism. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, has said that Bonhoeffer is the greatest Lutheran since Martin Luther. The Harrison administration of the LCMS regularly holds up Bonhoeffer as a great and faithful Lutheran. Otten, in his 2011 book Bonhoeffer and King, documents the fact that Bonhoeffer “demythologized” the Bible and considered such historic facts as the resurrection of Christ a myth. Among the theologians Otten mentions as claiming that Bonhoeffer denied such doctrines as the deity and resurrection of Jesus Christ is Cardinal John Joseph Carberry, former Archbishop of St. Louis. (St. Louis Review, November 1969).
The National Catholic Register Commented:
“Christian News is a religious weekly unlike any other in the world. Crammed with news articles, columns of comment, and book reviews photo-reproduced, as well as much original material, this Lutheran paper has the polemical fervor of a lost age of religious controversy.” “Otten is largely ecumenical by adhering to an ecumenical thing” (National Catholic Register).
Trinity’s Convention Overtures
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 Johan, 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: “For the 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.”
The LCMS, Trinity, and Otten
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.
Seminex Shows Otten Told the Truth
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. . .”
The editor of Guidelines For Today, a Mennonite publication, wrote:
“Of all the religious papers and publications I receive, I rank Christian News among the finest. Herman Otten is an apologist of our time the like of which is difficult to find.”
Commenting on Otten’s Baal or God, the Baptist Challenge said: “A book you should have.” The Christian Challenge, an Episcopalian magazine, said: “. . . must reading for all informed Christians everywhere.” Herman Sasse, one of the leading Lutheran theologians the 20th Century wrote; “Somebody should rise and publicly thank Herman Otten for his brave fight . . . why was it left to a young pastor to speak when others should have spoken?”
The congregations and pastors of the Washington Circuit of the LCMS’s Missouri District know Otten better than seminary professors and LCMS officials. Trinity, New Haven is a member of the Washington Circuit. This circuit petitioned the LCMS to have Concordia Seminary certify Otten for the pastoral ministry. LCMS officials ignored the petition. During Otten’s years at Trinity at least six of the circuit counselors asked for Otten’s certification. Top LCMS officials disagreed with all six.
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.”
The New Haven Leader 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.
Appendix D of Otten’s “Farewell Address” is titled “The Future of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod – Won a Battle – But Losing a War.” The New Haven pastor concluded his farewell address: “Through the years Christian News has recommended that America follow the advice George Washington gave in his farewell address. This is my farewell prayer: May God the Holy Spirit lead Trinity to call a pastor, who is first and foremost faithful to God’s Word and the scriptural position Trinity has supported ever since it began in 1923 by faithfully preaching Christ crucified. Such a pastor will help guide you, your children, and your grandchildren through this vale of tears to your eternal home in heaven long after I am gone.”