Monday, March 30, 2020

Quality of life. . .

My mother is almost 90 and has a number of serious health issues.  Truth told some days it is an effort to get up, make her way to the kitchen, and sit for most of the daylight hours.  When I talk to her, almost daily, she often wonders why the Lord has kept her alive for so long and what purpose there is in her continuing to live.  She is a Christian and believes that life is God's domain but it does not prevent her from speaking and praying from her pain, frustration, and fears.  We all know this because it happens to all of us from time to time and for others more often.

Add to this is the constant barrage of concerns fueled by a world which does not believe in God, does not believe in the sacredness of life, and does not believe that God has a purpose for anything.  Instead, the world judges life by its quality.  Quality of life has become the buzz word of our age.  Not only the aged and infirm but youth and adults daily must wrestle with the question of whether or not their lives are worth living.  No generation was faced with such a question like our own age has been.  More than anything else, this question has been the reason for the dramatic rise in assisted suicide laws that allow folks the opportunity to make a legal choice not available to anyone ever before -- should I end my life with the assist of drugs that would allow me a painless death.

Before I go on I cannot but point out the strange paradox of those who insist that capital punishment has no moral basis and that no drugs can assure a safe and painless death for those thus condemned.  Odd, isn't it, that something we insist cannot be guaranteed to the prisoner on death row can be routinely offered to those who wish an assist in their decision to end their lives.  Ah, but I digress.

According to one online source, Quality of life, the degree to which an individual is healthy, comfortable, and able to participate in or enjoy life events. The term quality of life is inherently ambiguous, as it can refer both to the experience an individual has of his or her own life and to the living conditions in which individuals find themselves. Hence, quality of life is highly subjective. And that IS the problem.  Quality of life is highly subjective and captive to the whims of the moment.  My point is that quality of life is not and cannot be used in a Christian context.  To use this term is to subject life itself to our judgment, specifically to the most subjective judgment of  all -- the individual who is going through struggles, afflictions, or pain that makes his or her judgment anything but objective.

As I listen to my mother, I remind her of what she already knows and of the counsel her own pastor gives her regularly.  Our lives have meaning and value not because we or anyone else has rendered that judgment but because of God's grace in giving our lives their beginning, sustaining our lives according to His will and purpose, redeeming our lives with the holy and precious blood of His only-begotten Son, and delivering our lives from the end of death and the grave by our Lord's mighty resurrection from the dead.  While it is tempting for us to delve into the realm of speculation (God must have a purpose for your life of He would not keep you alive), the Christian meets God not on the ground of speculation but upon the firm ground of His Word and promises.  She knows this.  I know this.  We both need to hear it again from time to time -- especially when the troubles, trials, and temptations of this life make us question God and even disregard what God has made abundantly clear to us through His work of salvation and redemption in Christ, His Son.

Pastors, like sons, must learn to listen.  We cannot afford to cut off the complaint of those who find themselves in such a position.  But neither can we leave them without the clear and abiding counsel of God's Word.  The Lord knows the weakness of our hearts and the afflictions we bear and until He delivers us fully and finally from the burdens that fill our lives with pain and sorrow, He has given us the promise of His Word as our comfort, His presence with us in the day of trouble, and His grace sufficient to carry us through this suffering even as it will carry us through death to everlasting life.

The Psalms are the first place we go for consolation.  After all, David was not without his own complaints to the Lord and his own insistence that his life was no longer a joy but a burden he was not sure was worth bearing.  But read through the laments of David and you find yourselves led past the trials and troubles to the end, into the presence of God and the sufficiency of His grace that will not fail His people.  You will look in vain to find Scriptural support for the way we banter about the term quality of life and decide if our lives are worth living.  But you cannot avoid the great comfort of God for those whose lives are filled with pain, sorrow, doubt, and despair.  Not in the least is the fact that God has judged our lives as priceless because of the priceless currency of His Son whom He gave to save us and who willingly suffered all things for us that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom here and forevermore in heaven.  Judge your life not by the quality of the moment but by the value the Lord has attached to it with the salvation freely given to you but at the cost of Jesus' agony and death on the cross.  This is what I say to and pray with my mother as a son who loves her and this is what I say to and pray with the people in my care as a pastor who loves his people.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Not the new normal. . . I pray

In our effort to do something for our people when worship services are either limited or curtailed, we have established patterns and expectations that may come back to haunt us.  I am not faulting the intent but worried about the consequences of making worship without the gathering of the faithful a normal idea in the minds and hearts of our people.

Let me suggest the obvious -- that there is nothing catholic or Lutheran about sidestepping the norms of our practice and make it possible for people to commune in their homes with bread and wine (or grape juice) while listening to or watching the Divine Service being broadcast by the pastor from an empty church building.  It pains me to see and hear that some are doing exactly this in an effort to bring comfort and consolation to their people.  But that is exactly the point.  There is no comfort and consolation where confidence does not exist.  Such home communions with technology providing a live or recorded broadcast of the service and the Words of Institution put a question mark precisely where an explanation point is needed.  What are they receiving?  If we cannot answer that question with confidence from Scripture, tradition, and our Confessions, then we are mistaken in our well intended efforts to serve the people of God.  For in time of fear, panic, and anxiety, it is precisely confidence that is needed.

Adding to this is the constant assault of email, print, audio, and video to our people.  I have refrained from posting much precisely because Facebook and other platforms and overflowing with pastors broadcasting on a daily basis.  It has been our practice too direct people to the Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, the Word Endures Forever by Pastor Weedon, and the daily devotions of our Synod President.  There are more than enough faithful offerings for our people.  We supplement this with a liturgy or two recorded from our live services (we are holding 18 Divine Services per week with ample capacity for more than 150 to attend and still meet the recommended limit of 10!).  We send out one email a week WHEN there are changes to be noted.  I am not saying you have to do what we do here but to consider the overload of offerings being given to the faithful -- unprecedented (even though that is an overused word).  Can we keep this up after the viral threat is over?  Should we?  Will our people expect it?  Will this replace face to face contacts?  For some?  For many?

I also have a word of concern is how the recorded or live Divine Services are being received.  If our people are sitting at home with a cup of coffee in their pajamas watching the Divine Service as they would any other Facebook offering or YouTube video, we may have taught them something that we did not intend.  If you watch the Divine Service at home, dress up, put aside distractions, and give your full attention to the liturgy of  Lord's House.  If our people are subjected to weeks, perhaps months, of watching at home with a casual attitude toward their outward and inward preparation to hear the Word of God, we have not helped them mature in their life of faith and prayer.  In essence, we will have taught them that what happens in worship is no different that the cute meme on Facebook or the funny YouTube video and that worship itself is basically a spectator sport.  Is that what we intend to do?  Then it would help our people if we encouraged them to watch with the same attitude and posture they would if they were in the Lord's House.

So perhaps you will fault me for raising these concerns but I know from experience what it takes to unteach something you did not mean to teach.  Extraordinary times require extraordinary courage, strength, and faithfulness on the part of both pastor and people.  What they do not require is the kind of innovation which may suggest that live streaming is an apt substitute for being together in the Lord's House or holding up your bread and wine to the screen at home is the same as Holy Communion or that the constant stream of communications will continue when the day comes and the doors to the churches will open again and life will, hopefully, continue as it was -- at least with respect to our lives of faith and worship!  My appeal, therefore, is to make sure that what we are doing in time of pandemic does not become another problem we must deal with when the pandemic and panic ends.  Faithfulness is still the primary expectation of those who lead the churches and of those who sat in the pews -- especially when times preclude our weekly meeting together in the Lord's House (as Hebrews reminds).

Saturday, March 28, 2020

If. . .

Though it has not been spoken out loud by folks in my parish, I am waiting for it.  I suspect that it is, perhaps, behind the reticence of churches to challenge the idea that they are non-essential social gatherings and therefore shut down for the duration.  Or, I could be too harsh and judgmental and it just may be that some do not have any real idea what to do except to do nothing.

The old saying about Luther and the end of the world and his choice to plant an apple tree is probably a myth but a good one.  Christians ought not act differently in the face of a pandemic than they do when dangers are more subtle and usual.  We do what we do and that is nowhere more true than when it comes to the Church and her ministers.  We do what we are given to do.  It is not irrelevant to preside at the Eucharist, to preach the Word, to absolve the penitent, to admonish the erring, and to comfort the wounded and fearful.  This is who we are and what we do.  But it is probably true that we are somewhat haunted by the old question of why?

The stone of stumbling for so many is called “theodicy.”   Some would put it at the heart of faith but I am not so sure.   Anyway, it goes like this:  If God is all good and all powerful why is there suffering? If he is all good God would want to end suffering. If he is all powerful he is able to end suffering. Therefore he must not be either all good or all powerful. 

One Christian writer has suggested that this sort of seventh grade level of logic is less bothersome to him but he is astounded that so-called adult philosophers and theologians still pick their brains over it. I’ve therefore suspected that they don’t really puzzle over the question. It’s really just an adolescent hissy fit because they have decided they don’t like God.  I like that.  They don't like God so they posit a question that makes God look back no matter what.  Sort of like the old question, pardon my impolitic choice of example, have you stopped beating your wife yet?  In this case, the question is:   “How can a good God allow suffering?  Is suffering a punishment sent from God because sin?  Is the COVID-19 virus God’s judgment on mankind?

I hesitate to speak for God but I think it is fair to say the disasters, catastrophes, and pandemics of our world are not caused by God but by sin and its reign of death and destruction.  All creation groans under the weight of this deterioration.  That said, this does not mean that God does not use the disasters, catastrophes, and pandemics that do occur as both wake up calls to the reality of our world fading away and as calls to repentance and faith. Scripture is replete with acknowledgments that suffering is a part of life.  When we suffer because we have done wrong, that is just.  When we suffer unjustly because of faith or acting rightly, God has promised not only notice but reward for suffering under such persecution.  Again, when we suffer as a result of our sin, then God does not need to add to this judgment -- it is the natural judgment which is the fruit of that sin.  When disaster occurs because of our failures, we must acknowledge that sinful lives bear sinful fruits.  Even in pandemic, man's complicity cannot be forgotten in our effort to assign blame.  But it is a false perception of God that He is somehow hurling down lightning bolts as punishments against us for what we think, say, and do wrong.  He does not need to.  Sin has consequences that even forgiveness does not vitiate.

God is not, however, detached from our suffering.  In fact, God does intervene to prevent suffering -- is this not the agency of the angels?  Furthermore, God has relented against the disasters and judgments we deserve and placed the full weight of our sin upon the shoulders of His only Son.  Because of this mercy, we pray.  God hears our prayers and answers our prayers -- not because we have argued our case and proven worthy of an exception but because it is His will and purpose in Christ to pour out grace into the tortured circumstances of this mortal life and to deliver us from even the sufferings that we would deserve. 

It is exactly this interference for the sake of grace that is the very heart of the Gospel. God could not be content to watch our suffering or sit idly by as our sin and death consumed us.  Indeed, the cross teaches us that God embraced our human suffering and bore in the body of His Son on the tree the full weight and burden of its punishment and pain.  Unlike our temptation to run from suffering, God races toward it.  The Lord does not always deliver us from suffering -- though sometimes He does -- but He is ALWAYS present with us so that we may endure it. Remember when the three Hebrew boys were thrown into the fiery furnace and the king said there was a fourth one there with them?  Was that not the grace of God intervening?  That episode was itself a shadow of the Christ and His coming to us sinners in our world of sin to meet with us and for us the suffering and death of sin.  The Lord knows our pain and has made it His own.  He has borne our iniquities upon the cross.  He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  By His wounds we are healed.

So perhaps it is the wrong question.  Is the Lord the cause of suffering?  Should we not be asking where is God in the midst of it?  And how does His grace support, strengthen, and sustain us through it all?

What Augustine did say. . .

Nobody knows but I am pretty sure that St. Augustine did not say "He who sings, prays twice."  That said, St. Augustine should have said it.  And he did say something that could have given rise to it.
“I feel that our souls are moved to the ardor of piety by the sacred words more piously and powerfully when these words are sung than when they are not sung, and that all the affections of our soul in their variety have modes of their own in song and chant by which they are stirred up by an indescribable and secret sympathy.”
—Saint Augustine, Confessions, Book X, chap. 33, MPL, XXXII, 799ff.
I am told all the time that we are no longer a singing culture.  Glee clubs have gone the way of all flesh.  Elementary, middle, and high school choirs are shrinking and, when they do sing, they tend to sing along with a CD to a fairly popular song, more like many divas singing solo than a real choir.  Church choirs are waning as well.  In the age of praise bands and worship divas, there is not much room for the SATB choir (or, for that matter, for the great choral treasures of the past).

But I do not really believe what I am told.  I sit in traffic and watch the mouths of people singing along to their favorite sound tracks.  People hum, whistle, and sing while at work.  Music is around us all day long.  We often remember TV series and commercials more by their theme song or background music than by the name of the series or the product being advertised.  Choral music in which people sing in parts may not be as strong as before but singing is every bit as much a part of our lives and culture as ever before.  It is individualized -- we listen to it alone more than together -- and it is governed more by personal preference than ever before but we are a people surrounded by the sound of music.

I am sure there are folks in my parish who wish we did not sing so many hymns or so many stanzas of the hymns we sing or all the liturgy but it has been long enough that I do not here so much about it anymore.  Music is medium through which the Word is repeated back to God and we give voice to that which is most certain and most sure -- His promises!  Hymn, song, and chant are all mentioned in Scripture and described as the most appropriate vehicle of the praise that flows from the people of God in response to His mighty deliverance.  Most of us cannot imagine a service without hymns, without chant, without voices raised in song both from pew and choir loft, and without instrumental praise, especially from the mighty organ (as Mozart called it, the king of instruments.  And that is not only how it should be but how God meant it.  Those who are not fans of music in service to the Word will have to learn to live with it in heaven -- at least as St. John describes the heavenly liturgy!

Friday, March 27, 2020

What do we know?

As it appears that the numbers of corona virus infections increases and the government decreases the number allowed in "non-essential" gatherings, it might be good to remember.  We have no way of knowing exactly how many new infections there really are.  We are charting the number of infections identified without knowing if these are really new or simply existing infections now identified by testing.  We could be overestimating the numbers or underestimating them.  That said, if we have any confidence in the numbers from those countries where the virus first hit, it would appear that it is declining.

It is good to make some comparisons.  In the US, at least 14,000 people have died and 250,000 have already been hospitalized during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 26 million Americans have fallen ill with flu-like symptoms.  Look at those figures with the infections of the corona virus. Coronavirus Cases so far this year: 42,878; deaths: 682; and recovered: 370 (as of mid-March).

The point of this is not to suggest that we should minimize or ignore the threat.  The point of this is to suggest that the panic and hysteria that has caused us to hoard toilet paper and empty store shelves as fast as they can be restocked is also a major problem facing us.  We can meet this threat with common sense (washing hands as we have been directed), with cooperation (looking at the common good and not everyone is on their own), and with faith (Christians should not be panicking even in the face of real threats!).

People of God, this is our time to show the world love does not disappear when threats appear, that the hope within us is not fragile or weak, and that the God who sent His one and only Son to save us will not abandon us in our hour of need.  Why do we we sing those great hymns of faith and gather in the Lord's name?  Is it only for good times or for show?  I am certainly not saying that we should ignore the threat but neither should we ignore the mercy of God and the love that suffered death to give us life.  Whether you find a way to gather with brothers and sisters in Christ in small numbers or shelter in place at home, we are not our own and we are not on our own.  None of us can predict exactly where we are at in this cycle or when it will all end but all of us Christians know to what lengths God has gone to save us and should be comforted by the fact that God's mighty investment in us and in our redemption will not leave us high and dry in the face of this or any other threat.

 "If God Himself Be for Me"  by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676

1. If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy;
For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded, fly.
If Christ, my Head and Master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?

2. This I believe, yea, rather,
Of this I make my boast,
That God is my dear Father,
The Friend who loves me most,
And that, whate'er betide me,
My Savior is at hand
Through stormy seas to guide me
And bring me safe to land.

3. I build on this foundation,
That Jesus and His blood
Alone are my salvation,
The true, eternal good.
Without Him all that pleases
Is valueless on earth;
The gifts I owe to Jesus
Alone my love are worth.

4. My Jesus is my Splendor,
My Sun, my Light, alone;
Were He not my Defender
Before God's awe-full throne,
I never should find favor
And mercy in His sight,
But be destroyed forever
As darkness by the light.

5. He canceled my offenses,
Delivered me from death;
He is the Lord who cleanses
My soul from sin through faith.
In Him I can be cheerful,
Bold, and undaunted aye;
In Him I am not fearful
Of God's great Judgment Day.

6. Naught, naught, can now condemn me
Nor set my hope aside;
Now hell no more can claim me,
Its fury I deride.
No sentence e'er reproves me,
No ill destroys my peace;
For Christ, my Savior, loves me
And shields me with His grace.

7. His Spirit in me dwelleth,
And o'er my mind He reigns.
All sorrow He dispelleth
And soothes away all pains.
He crowns His work with blessing
And helpeth me to cry,
"My Father!" without ceasing,
To Him who dwells on high.

8. And when my soul is lying
Weak, trembling, and opprest,
He pleads with groans and sighing
That cannot be exprest;
But God's quick eye discerns them,
Although they give no sound,
And into language turns them
E'en in the heart's deep ground.

9. To mine His Spirit speaketh
Sweet word of holy cheer,
How God to him that seeketh
For rest is always near
And how He hath erected
A city fair and new,
Where what our faith expected
We evermore shall view.

10. In yonder home doth flourish
My heritage, my lot;
Though here I die and perish,
My heaven shall fail me not.
Though care my life oft saddens
And causeth tears to flow,
The light of Jesus gladdens
And sweetens every woe.

11. Who clings with resolution
To Him whom Satan hates
Must look for persecution;
For him the burden waits
Of mockery, shame, and losses,
Heaped on his blameless head;
A thousand plagues and crosses
Will be his daily bread.

12. From me this is not hidden,
Yet I am not afraid;
I leave my cares, as bidden,
To whom my vows were paid.
Though life and limb it cost me
And everything I won,
Unshaken shall I trust Thee
And cleave to Thee alone.

13. Though earth be rent asunder,
Thou'rt mine eternally;
Not fire nor sword nor thunder
Shall sever me from Thee;
Not hunger, thirst, nor danger,
Not pain nor poverty
Nor mighty princes' anger
Shall ever hinder me.

14. No angel and no gladness,
No throne, no pomp, no show,
No love, no hate, no sadness,
No pain, no depth of woe,
No scheme of man's contrivance,
However small or great,
Shall draw me from Thy guidance
Nor from Thee separate.

15. My heart for joy is springing
And can no more be sad,
'Tis full of mirth and singing,
Sees naught but sunshine glad.
The Sun that cheers my spirit
Is Jesus Christ, my King;
That which I shall inherit
Makes me rejoice and sing.


One of the differences between. . .

Every church body has its tensions. It seems that many of them are about worship, sex, and politics (secular and church).  But I have observed that there are some tendencies that seem to transcend the denominations.  Those who promote their denomination are generally called conservatives or even arch-conservatives or, in the case of Lutherans, confessional.  Often these have little to do with essential disagreement over doctrine and faith but center more upon practice and piety.  On the other hand, those who seem to minimize their denomination or confessional tradition are often called progressives or even liberals, or, in the case of Lutherans, missional.  They tend to find denominational structures, bylaws, and even the name itself.

You would be hard pressed to find a conservative Lutheran ditching the name Lutheran from their congregation's identity or omitting the hymnal or skipping the lectionary or eliminating fellowship arrangements in determining who communes or forgoing vestments or such.  It is not because these folks are company men but because they have confidence in their confession, they accept the wisdom of the church over the centuries, they are concerned about the tie between dogma and worship, they take equally seriously the words of Scripture that call us to mark divisions as they do the words of Scripture that call us to proclaim the Gospel. 

On the other hand, progressive Lutherans worry that the name Lutheran may be driving folks away and is not all that important anyway, that there are folks who do not like hymns or liturgy, that it is more important to be welcoming than to worry about communing worthily, that the traditions of the church are mere suggestions one is free to dismiss for whatever reason, and that the Gospel trumps everything in Scripture.  It is not because they have anything against their denomination but they see themselves pursuing a higher purpose -- not making members but bringing people into a personal relationship with Jesus.  This is their exclusive purpose and for the sake of this purpose, nearly anything and everything else takes a distant second place.

The Methodists are finding the tension between their own progressives and conservatives so impossible that they are ready to split.  Some Lutherans have already done so (from the ELCA to the NALC and LCMC).  Even Roman Catholics have serious tensions between those who want to see more openness to change and those who insist upon preserving not only the faith but the order of the past.  In some respects it is surprising that the LCMS has kept these competing tensions together (despite the fact that some on both sides would just as soon get rid of the other side).

In this respect, the words conservative and progressive seem to have less of a base in doctrinal difference (though a good case could be made that there are doctrinal differences between the positions) but have a great deal to do with how the church operates on Sunday morning and what things are important to the church's life and ministry.  In other words, these words and these differences are born of a presupposition that there is a difference between style and substance.  The Lutherans who are progressive insist that they are being true Lutherans (just as the conservative ones).  The same is true of the Methodists and Roman Catholics and, well, you insert the church body of your choice.  Yet that is precisely the problem.  Although nearly everyone seems to accept it, I am not at all sure that there is any truth or legitimacy to the idea that style and substance are different and can be separated.  In fact, I am pretty confident that the root of many of the problems we face across the scope of Christendom has to do with the idea that faith and practice, substance and style, doctrine and practice can be pealed apart and treated differently.  But then, as you probably know, most folks would call me a conservative or even arch-conservative.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

An ordination sermon. . .

Sermon for the Ordination of Vicar Richard Neely Owen on Sunday, March 22, 2020.

Big Challenges. . .

Of course everyone knows the big news.  Concordia Portland is closing.  Some of the goofier stuff I have read suggests that it is being closed because of its appearance of friendship to LBGTQ+ concerns.  Others have suggested it is being closed because it is theologically liberal.  Both of those give too much credibility to the theoretical and ignore the practical.  Small schools like Portland are in the fight for their lives and some of them are going to die, even some of our schools.

A million years ago we came up with the Concordia preparatory system to train church workers and, if there were lay folks who wanted a theological education, they could attend as well.  We set up an elaborate system of boarding high schools, two year prep schools, and a two year finishing school just to produce pastors for the church (and some Lutheran teachers to boot).  Things started going sour when the high schools began to close.  People were not so sure they wanted to box up their young'uns and send them off at such a tender age.  All of this corresponded in time, at least, to the beginnings of Missouri's theological wars.  Then a Senior College was closed and a Seminary moved to its campus and nearly all the two year schools became four year colleges.  Where the pre-sems and the church work students were once the center and core of the school's mission and purpose for existence, now the schools were competing for every 18 year old out there and trying to offer every program that would appeal to those students and make them enough money to stay open.  Except for Seward and Ann Arbor, church work students became an asterisk instead of the beating heart of the school.  Then the Seminaries welcomed men without languages and the shine began to rub off of the Concordias.  They were no longer essential to the Synod's need to pump out pastors.  About the same time the pipeline of 18 year olds began to decline.  Schools began expanding their core mission to find someway to pay the bills.  River Forest found a mission in on site master's programs for public school teachers.  Then the online revolution changed everything.  Suddenly a Portland was in cahoots with a for profit firm to become an online degree mill.  It worked for a while but the numbers of undergrads on campus did not grow.  They ran afoul of the government and costs went up and profits declined.  They found themselves where so many small religious and/or private colleges find themselves -- depending upon tuition for cash to operate and a shrinking pool of 18 year olds.  In the end they could not find a magic way around the wall.  They were in need of cash and competing against cheaper state schools and better endowed private schools.  Portland died because they could not sustain the business model and they had no certain path to fix what was wrong with their model.

I have no insider knowledge but I have read most of what has been published on the closing.  The Synod had no pool of money from which to bandaid the school through and the school faced the loss of its line of credit and its notes became due.  The regents had no choice.  It is sad and tragic but it was not a surprise and is not surprising to those who chronicle the state of private and religious colleges in America today.  Portland was not the first and it will not be the last.  The shake up going on is still rattling through our Concordia University System.  In the end you have to wonder how we can operate a church system of schools in which 1/7 or less of its students are Lutheran and the numbers of church work students is less than 5% of the total enrollment.  The schools who survive will have to find a way to operate in this environment.  Maybe Mequon is an example of a broad and diverse university but I am not sure we can make a case for needing even Mequon being a school of the LCMS.  Gustavus Adolphus in tiny St. Peter, MN, probably has the highest Lutheran student population (40% or more, I am told) but it is a legacy school building upon generations who were and will be Gustavus grads.  The ELCA schools are less tied to the national church but they too have been closing and some of those will not survive the purge either.

You will not be hearing the last of the fight our schools are in just to survive.  We are not alone and we are not immune to the pressures on these small schools.  They do not have enough endowment to be secure, depend too much upon tuition to operate in the black so little ups and downs in enrollment can have big effects upon their fiscal health, and there are cheaper and, in some cases, better options among the state sponsored schools (some of whom offer instate students free tuition).  My alma maters are gone -- St. John's College more than 30 years ago and Concordia Senior College more than 40 years ago.  We thought things would settle out but they have not.  The ride will be rocky, my friends, and we will have to make some hard decisions.