Seminary and the Local Church: What’s the Difference?

I don’t know how many of you aware of the current controversy and lawsuit filed by Dr. Sheri Klouda against SWBTS, but the latest news is that SWBTS has made a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the following grounds (emphasis mine):

“The seminary’s relationship with its professors has been held by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to be the same relationship as a church has with its ministers. Any decision the seminary may make regarding the employment of one of its professors is an ecclesiastical decision, which this court is bound to accept out of deference for the free exercise of religion, protected by the First Amendment.”

[It goes without saying that the situation is serious and sad, as you read this, consider praying for our sister seminary that the truth would be told and righteousness reign during these difficult days.]

When I first read this, I was struck by the grounds for dismissal being that the seminary treats its professors the same way a church treats its ministers. What do you think about this? Are decisions made at a higher educational institution to be considered “ecclesiastical” decisions? What is the discontinuity of being a student at a seminary versus a member of a local church?

To be clear, I am not speaking about this from a seminary-professor standpoint but from a seminary-student standpoint. With that said, similarities can be found that both seminary and church have a covenant, confessional statement, worship services, and community. So what’s the difference between the seminary and the local church?

Feel free to discuss this in the comments section below.

- posted by Timmy Brister, April 12, 2007
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