Rev. J. Preus Dies; Was Lutheran Leader President of Missouri Synod for 12 Years

By Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 15, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Rev. J. Preus Dies; Was Lutheran Leader President of Missouri Synod for 12 Years


Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The Rev. Dr. Jacob Aall Ottesen Preus, the past president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, died Saturday evening, apparently of a heart attack, near his daughter's home in suburban Minneapolis. He was 74.

The Rev. Dr. Preus was on a walk with his son-in-law when he collapsed about a block from the home. He was a resident of Laclede Oaks Manor, a Lutheran retirement community in Webster Groves.

In the early 1970s, the Rev. Dr. Preus led the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod through the most difficult religious crisis of its history. At the time of his death, he held the title of president emeritus of the church body.

The Rev. Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann, also a president emeritus, said, "Through his wise and courageous leadership as church body and seminary president, as well as his scholarly work on Martin Chemnitz, Dr. Preus helped both his contemporaries and future generations understand and focus on the evangelical orthodoxy of the word of God that is the center of the Christian message.

"A churchman, scholar and friend, he will be missed and long remembered within Lutheranism," Bohlmann said.

The controversy in the '70s arose over the historical authenticity of Bible stories. The Rev. Dr. Preus was a conservative, and saw Bible stories, such as the story of Jonah and the whale, as historical. Many in his church, including most of the faculty of Concordia Seminary in Clayton, disagreed with him and said the stories were parables.

The Rev. Dr. Preus said that those who dismissed the story of Jonah as not being historical might eventually move to dismiss fundamental Christian tenets, such as the resurrection of Jesus.

He appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate what he saw as liberal professors at the school. In 1973, as a result of the committee's report, the majority of the Concordia Seminary faculty was accused of false teaching - in effect, heresy.

The Rev. Dr. John Tietjen, then the seminary's president, who championed the moderate faculty members' position, was removed on several charges.

Most of the faculty boycotted classes in protest of Tietjen's firing. All but five faculty members formed Concordia "Seminary in Exile," called Seminex.

Ultimately 100,000 lay members dropped their membership in the Missouri Synod, a figure smaller than many had predicted, said the Rev. David L. Mahsman, a spokesman for the synod.

The dissident group formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, which in 1988 merged with two other Lutheran groups - the Lutheran Church in America and The American Lutheran Church - to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"Dr. Preus was thrust into serious controversies within our church body and managed to deal with the problems without a major split," Mahsman said.

The Rev. Dr. Preus did not fit the stereotype of a stuffy religious leader, said James E. Adams of University City, author of the book "Preus of Missouri." The biography highlights the Rev. Dr. Preus' role in the Missouri Synod controversy. Adams was religion editor of the Post-Dispatch during the split.

"He is a guy I enjoyed being with," Adams said Sunday.

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