Image: Rev. Troy Medlin and Rev. Ole Schenk. Troy is the associate pastor of the church Schalk was a member at and was also the presiding minister at his funeral. Source: lstc.edu, “Troy Medlin & Ole Schenk: ‘Mutual Flourishing’ ”
It is claimed by Rev. Dr. James L. Brauer, Emeritus Professor of Practical Theology at the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, that “while [Schalk’s] feet were planted in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, his winsome erudition gave him frequent voice among Lutherans and other Christians in North America” (see the obituary republished from concordiatheology.com). Schalk is certainly well-known in LCMS circles, and his music is used in the LSB hymnal.
Carl Schalk, though, was a member of Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Illinois (the funeral bulletin lists him as such), which left the LCMS in 1977 to be an independent congregation, but one closely in-line with the radical theology of the ELCA. The church has had close ties to what is now Concordia University, Chicago. Schalk’s fellowship—in the preached Word of God and Lord’s Supper—was not with the LCMS, but rather an independent, liberal Lutheran church. In fact, Schalk was on staff as an “assistant director of music at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Ill.,” during his tenure as a college professor at Concordia, River Forest (obituary in the Reporter).
The presiding minister at Schalk’s funeral, Rev. Troy Medlin, boasts on the church’s website: “I live in Oak Park with my husband, Ole.” The source of the picture above of their outdoor wedding during the pandemic, states “Ole is in the process of switching from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, where he was approved for ministry, to the ELCA and its candidacy process. Both hope to eventually land calls in Chicago.”
Besides accepting homosexuality, Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest is a radical church also on racial justice. Its website lists this statement adopted by the church council on June 16, 2020:
• To issue a statement of solidarity, for to stay silent is not an option.
• To ask and encourage every group within Grace to take up the work of learning more about racism, white privilege, and how to be better allies in the fight for justice and equity.
• To conduct an internal audit of what actions Grace has already taken or is currently doing to support people and organizations of color with a goal to do better.
• To engage leaders from outside of Grace to conduct seminars and other opportunities for learning and growth, at Grace, surrounding issues of racism.
This superficial and shallow definition of justice is pure worldly appeasement—it is not about Christ or forgiving sinners. Was Schalk accepted outside of the LCMS for his talents, or his tolerant, non-dogmatic approach to Christianity? The funeral service, following Grace’s stated policy, had a communion service with the altar open to all baptized people, regardless of their confession or church. This is shameful and not truly Lutheran or faithful to Christ.
The funeral sermon by Rev. David R. Lyle, senior pastor of Grace, mentions that Schalk preached at Grace, River Forest, in particular on Good Friday in 2002. How sad that Schalk shared fellowship in a church, and in the Lord’s body and blood, with those that denied the most basic teachings of Christianity. There is no mention of sin or guilt in the funeral sermon, just lots of generic “forgiveness” and “grace,” which are equivalent to worldly acceptance in a church where anything goes and sin is never bound on the unrepentant. “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).
Martin Marty wrote the foreword to Schalk’s Singing the Church’s Song: Essays & Occasional Writings on Church Music and also Thine the Amen: Essays on Lutheran Church Music — In Honor of Carl Schalk. The infamous ELCA theologian Marty, who was raised in the LCMS, became very critical of his former church. Carl Schalk had many friendly dealings with the ELCA. He had many sympathies with the ELCA, and his own personal confession of church membership was contrary to public doctrine of the LCMS. That’s simply a fact. That does not negate his useful musical contributions. But his choice of church was heterodox. One’s confession of Christ’s Word and in church fellowship do matter, even for the most gifted of sinners.
It must be asked: does the close relationship between Grace, a heterdox—basically pagan—church and Concordia continue today?
Schalk did not confess with his own church membership the doctrine of the LCMS—but belonged to a congregation that runs counter to the LCMS. That does not invalidate his music or other contributions to the church at large, but it should not be glossed over, since his feet were not planted in Scripture in all his dealings and church relationships. He may have been a talented musician, but his public confession was not good—and should not be emulated or praised without heavy qualification. —ed.