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
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. …