What's this all about?
If you're confused, read the original conversion announcement.
If you're confused, read the original conversion announcement.
After it is known that someone converts from one faith to another (or denomination, etc.), the next logical question seems always to be "why?" or more specifically "what thing(s) convinced you?".
The answers to those questions have nothing to do with Lutheranism, at least not until my conversion was already a past event. So I have no need to explain what I think is wrong with Lutheranism, because my opinions about it come from being converted; they are not the cause of my conversion.
Conversion is somewhat personal in nature; any story of it really only makes sense to those who have been through it. Plus, I don't really think it will do anyone any good to hear about all the doctrinal or theological changes that happened in me. It's enough that before I chose to be Lutheran, and now I choose to be Orthodox, and my choosing is tied to what I believe.
However, there is another side to the question, "Why did you convert?" The question also tends to mean, "Give an account of yourself. You were a Lutheran pastor, sworn to preach, teach, and confess the Scriptures according to the Lutheran Confessions. You seemed very whole-hearted in your belief and promotion of Lutheran Christianity. You loved serving your two congregations and handing on Lutheranism to them. What in the world happened?"
That question is a little more appropriate to answer.
The Decision to Honestly Look
The most disturbing part of "looking East" is that you truly have to open yourself to the idea that your own way of believing could be missing the mark. This is different from suspecting it is wrong or doubting it is true. It means, rather, that in the face of what you don't know, your own confession of faith may not measure up. Of course, you expect it will measure up and more. But, if we think of all the other people out there who never have come to know the beauties and truth that we know where we are at (in my case it was Lutheran Christianity), and thus lose out from not inquiring, then we must admit that the same is entirely possible for us in the face of what we have never heard or fairly heard out.
I was invited to look East by a friend. The goal was not to be converted, but to see if what was in the Lutheran Confessions was to be found elsewhere. (It is not, as I said in the post announcing my conversion.) But the scariest part is to take what you hold most dear and say, "You must be challenged now and proven genuine in the face of the unknown." The worst that could happen is your conversion; the best is that you learn something.
There are two parts to this challenge, and they are not Orthodoxy vs. Lutheranism. They are "me" and "the Truth". If Lutheranism is the best confession of the Truth, then it can stand against all else, including the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity. If it is not, then it will fall short. But, at the same time, I am sold under sin and subject to corruption. I can be misled. Who's to say I'll get it right. A person has to be careful about this way of thinking. Too much of it leads into being so skeptical and defensive that you hear nothing but what you have decided to hear, or it can lead to outright atheism.
Thus, considering "me" as a fallen human being, the decision to look itself is very dangerous. I decided the reward for looking, though, was worth the risk. The reward is nothing short of my Lord Jesus. To not look was to bind myself to presumption in place of conviction. That's a bit unsettling to me.
I should point out that I had written a paper at the end of seminary, condemning Eastern Orthodoxy as "synergistic" and "not the pure Church of old, but its own denomination..." However, something was unsatisfactory about writing that paper for me. I believed my conclusions in the paper - both in favor of Lutheranism and against Orthodoxy - so it's not like I harbored doubts. Eventually I realized what it was: there was something about Orthodoxy that was different enough from other denominations that made my evaluation of it seem unfair, as if I hadn't given Orthodoxy a proper chance to speak. When the invitation came to give it a serious look, I decided that this was an opportunity for a more careful investigation. If nothing came of it, then at least I would have the satisfaction of knowing why I'm not Orthodox, as I know regarding Roman Catholicism and other Protestant denominations.
Maybe one day I'll publish that paper I wrote with another in rebuttal. It still makes me laugh.
So that is what happened. As to why I kept looking once I discovered Eastern Orthodoxy did not equate with Lutheranism, that's a bit harder to answer. A big part was that, while knowing it wasn't Lutheran was easy, learning what Orthodoxy itself is was terribly hard - and I wanted to know. I certainly walked away from it a number of times, thinking, "Well, that's enough of that." Thank God He had mercy on me.
What I Converted To
And I will say this one last thing: I did not look because I was searching for "the Church." I had friends who were looking for that very thing and found it in Orthodoxy. I had no notions that there must be a "visible" Church or some "true" Church. I just wanted to know what made Eastern Orthodoxy what it is - that would allow me to know if I belonged there or with Lutheranism.
In the end, though, I was blessed to see that what is most defining of Eastern Orthodoxy is it's immediate experience of the kingdom of heaven, of a direct and living connection with Christ that is different from the Protestant experience. In other words, its Church-ness, its ecclesial-ness.
All of the book descriptions about Orthodoxy being the Church, all of the strange ways the Orthodox have about describing things in this Church, all the frustrating and seemingly nonsensical ways the Orthodox try to explain the Christianity of individuals outside Orthodoxy, etc., all is derived from trying to relate in speech, in books, in example, in illustration what can only be known by experience. Thus, the common answer to many who want to know what the big deal is: "Come and see."
In this sense it's a spiritual thing that must be apprehended by faith - by the one seriously and truly inquiring (not pre-concluding). That's not to say that one cannot give witness to Christianity in such ways (books, talking, etc.), because it can be, and always has been, and should be. But it is to say that what is pattently different between Orthodoxy and where I was in Lutheranism is a matter of this experience of the Church's "immediate kingdom-ness".
Sure, the theology of Orthodoxy belongs with its experience, and the two should be together always. My investigation was primarily theological. I do not desire to take anything away from the organic wholeness of Orthodoxy as I write and give description. I merely wish to focus here on the most distinct difference, in my opinion, between Orthodoxy and Protestantism: the experience of the kingdom of heaven while we live in the world.
Between where I was in Lutheranism and where I am in entering Orthodoxy, there are two ways:
- A hidden fellowship, spread throughout the world, appearing only where the Gospel is preached in truth and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's command, and sustained by the forgiveness of sins in spite of our fallibility in this life, until the purity and perfection of the next life is attained. Any visible unity or structure or polity is separate from it's invisible church-ness, and is a human creation, plagued by the fallibility of human fallenness. This is proven best by the errors of Rome. At best you can have a visible Church, namely, a congregation, but not the visible Church, at least not until Christ's return. Therefore the true Church transcends what humans build in the visible realm, and instead unites true believers in the invisible realm.
- A visible gathering around Christ in the world (a.k.a. a gathering around the Eucharist, continuous and unbroken and findable throughout time). She is known within herself by, and held together throughout history by an ongoing, immediate experience of the kingdom of heaven - which is both eminently and immediately kingdom, Body of Christ, and Church. Her existence in the world is perhaps half-way between the hidden/invisible Church idea and the visible return of Christ on the Last Day - yet this is only apparent to faith. In this immediate experience of Christ and His kingdom "Word and Sacraments" are not all you have to go on, but fill all that this is, visible and invisible, for they are the mystery of Christ being all in all. Because this is an immediate experience of the kingdom, the Church herself is a sacrament of the kingdom, bringing all that enter her into immediate participation in this Kingdom that is also Body and Church of Christ. The sins, vanities, pride, and foolishness of men may rage among those in the fellowship, but they cannot overthrow this immediate experience of the kingdom in her Eucharistic fellowship, because the gates of Hades cannot prevail against her (the Church).
I am still a catechumen (learner), so I pray that if I have misspoken, wiser Orthodox will step in and correct me. Lord, have mercy.
So, I see two ways. It's just a matter of which one you believe. I have converted from one to the other, because I seek Christ Jesus in spirit and in truth, and I believe that based on what I have seen and heard for myself that I cannot remain where I was. I must leave behind what and who I love in Lutheranism in order to remain with and follow the One I love above all things.
And as a result, now I hear a little differently our Lord Jesus' words, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Amen.