Monday, April 6, 2009

A Conversion Story? Er...Sort of.


What's this all about?
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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

39 comments:

Daniel said...

Ben,

I would also like to add something which I am sure in your humility would never discuss. In converting into Orthodoxy, you and most other Protestant pastors leave behind good pay, health insurance and retiremnt. In exhchange you become a layment with either no assuranceo of ever being ordained, or for some a chance at being ordained in the near future order to become a "worker priest" for their small congregation who converted with them.

Anyone who would do such a thing obviously is in search of much more than "chasubles, smells and bells". They are travelling toward that "Heavenly city" not built by men. They love not their own lives unto the death; they are not like the cowards (Revelation 21:8) whom Revelation tells us will be cast into "the fiery lake of burning sulfur".

Strong words, but relevant in a cultural and ecclesial collapse which leaves many of our American Protestant children and grandchildren over to idolatry, sodomy and nihilism.

In the nineteen eighties the Southern Baptist Convention studied and dialogued with the LCMS to see how they took back their seminaries. This provided them with at least some measure of temporary success.

Today the denomination (or at least the faithful remnant within it)that you have just left would do well to begin to make connections with good Eastern Orthodox bishops and priests. Perhaps then they would come to learn what has enabled the Orthodox churches of Greece, Russia and Syria (to name a few)to maintain the "faith once delivered unto the Saints".

And no I am not accusing everyone in your former denomination of being cowards or unfaithful. Only they themselves know in their conscience whether this to be the case. What I am saying is that Eastern Orthodox church, which in the Book of Concord is mainly or exclusively referenced directly in postive terms; may provide a haven for the Western Mass, hymnody and other traditions that day by day falls into the hands of sodomites.
Although this late stage has yet to fully ferment in the LCMS, but "the axe is already at the root".

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ben,

The sadness I have is that I see #2 right in Lutheranism - it's what I confess every week as well in the Preface and in the Sanctus, in the Nunc Dimittis.

This is not meant to be a scathing, how dare you claim we aren't number 2 attack (for your distinction was not meant to be an attack either) - just. . . I find it sad that you see/found/saw two in the East and not at your own altar.

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Brown,

I would be saying the same thing in your shoes. I am not saying that I thought such an experience through faith was missing as a Lutheran, because I most certainly didn't. I am speaking in comparison after my conversion.

In comparison to Lutheranism, Orthodoxy knows and breathes and lives in a more immediate experience of the kingdom of heaven.

And I am not speaking of my own personal feelings about Orthodoxy, as if "now I just feel so much closer to Jesus." That's not what I mean. This is something observable outside myself in Orthodoxy. However, when I was ignorant of it and had hardened my heart against it, I couldn't have grasped it or believed it to save my life.

I could not have conceived of this difference before inquiring into Orthodoxy, and coming to "know" or "grasp" it was a serious and major hurdle - especially since I didn't even know to look for it.

Remember, I'm speaking in comparison.

orrologion said...

...continuous and unbroken and findable throughout time.

...the Church herself is a sacrament of the kingdom...


I thought this was important, and it is something I have thought of over the years when thinking through the visible/invisible/hidden Church thing. History played probably too big a part of my conversion, but I just couldn't see the Church of the Book of Concord in history. It wasn't "findable" to me, and whatever tracks in history I was pointed to by Lutherans, they all seemed disjointed textual references that were not in keeping with the church history of that day (or the centuries surrounding it). That is, there was also no unbroken continuity.

The idea of sacrament also always came to me. The 'hidden' church teaching always seemed rather anti-sacramental. "What's important is the 'spiritual' or 'symbolic' reality of the Church", which seemed so very Reformed. But, if there was to be bread and wine to the Body and Blood of a historical, 'findable' Church that looked like the churches of the Augsburg Confession, I couldn't find it.

That is why I couldn't find 2 in the Lutheran church of my youth. (But, you know, I was WELS, so they're crazy and a bunch of Wauwatosans).

Benjamin Harju said...

Christopher,

For me continuity was always important. I was always ready to go along with the idea that at some point things could have gotten messed up and the continuity lost. What I was surprised to find in Orthodoxy is that the continuity that seemed to sadly drop away in the West continues to this day.

We are willing to accept our surroundings if we believe they cannot or should not be other than they are. The thing about reformation, though, is that you always have one eye on the now and the other on where you should be. That can be a help in discovering something you missed, or it can make you cross-eyed! (That's not a jab at Lutherans, just a general caveat.)

orrologion said...

I really appreciate this:

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.

There is also something different between Reformation and Repentance in countering error in the Church. I haven't been able to put my finger on what exactly it is, but think it has something to do with judging vs. being judged. Orthodoxy has known many a time of Repentance, a calling back to the Tradition.

You and your wife have been posting some truly wonderful, thoughtful pieces on your conversion. Far better than I ever was able to. Glory to God.

Nathan said...

Ben,

Willing to listen to a challenge? This regards your two views of church

I have visited Orthodox churches many times and sensed the connection you speak of. But I have also had similar experiences, “touching the Kingdom” in the Lutheran Church – and I know others coming into Lutheran churches have as well (I tend to think we are often quite readily moved when feeling dissatisfaction and entering into a Christian community that exhibits aesthetical beauty, and of course, the grass is always greener…). Further, I definitely think that individual persons bearing the truth of God’s word and the wider communities of truth-bearing individuals present in churches are certainly sacramental. And when they rightly divide the Word of truth, finally administering absolution to the afflicted sinner, this is certainly a sacrament, according to our Lutheran understanding (word and visible sign, namely persons!)

So like Eric J. Brown above, I believe that I can identify with reality number 2 as well – you have really said nothing there that I think necessarily mitigates Lutheran experience and understanding. Here’s my take: I would argue that these two views are not opposed at all, but are simply the same reality viewed, by a Christian: a) externally (which is the way that other person from the outside can view things in common), and b) internally (i.e. more concerned with the self-authenticating nature of the Word, Church, or “known within herself”). The first is important as well as the second because it is important to be open to how evidence ("objective", things from the world out there which persons share) affects or should affect how we view our lives as Christians in this world. It is good to be critical of one's self, family, country, church, etc. when other laying claim to the faith once delivered present evidence before us that would suggest that our perceptions of these things, our understandings of them, are faulty.

Also, to complicate matters a bit, I suggest your view 1 (the Lutheran view) is really incomplete. It may be true in a way, since Lutherans do not feel that there is any one set way of Church structure in terms of congregational or Episcopal polity, but nevertheless, Lutherans do not really say that "Any visible unity or structure or polity is separate from it's invisible church-ness", because we believe that Churches are provided with the divinely instituted office of the ministry. This, certainly, is NOT a human creation in the church, but something essential to the Church’s organic and visible structure (and Rome would say that the papacy is a key part of this structure of course) which can be discerned by believers (not to mention non-believers) "from the outside", or more "objectively". This institution is not by human right, but derives from the organic, familial aspect of the institution which is the Church: the sons and daughters of God. Yes, we have agreed upon, man-made rules and structures to guide our common endeavor – but again, we come out of a very real, enfleshed, community that has been born of God, not of human association or creation…

In other words, looking at your first view (which I propose is simply a view concerned not only with the Church’s ability to be “known within herself”, but also looking at the Church in light of evidence others say makes your understanding problematic) all of this becomes a matter of whether we should be convinced by evidence from the outside. In other words, one might conclude, after examining the claims of those opposed to Orthodoxy that: “Yes, this is the visible mother who bore me” (God indeed worked through her), and though she is still my mother in a sense (and is quite beautiful and gives me a wonderful sense of beauty and awe), she is not teaching me rightly now… she is undermining the Words that gave me life by saying this or that… And I know this by the Word, for, “It is written”. Otherwise, if we pitch view number 1, it seems that really, we have lost all ability to ever critique our understandings of the Word of God and the Church it gives birth to. Hence one of my main concerns: I often sense that among the Orthodox, the sacrament of the absolution-bearing Christian or the absolution-bearing Church, which is: “Giving the confidence of faith to the afflicted via ‘just words’, the Promise, Christ” is compromised (if not denied?) for I have heard much about the sin of presumption from Orthodox.

What do you think?

Benjamin Harju said...

Nathan, I have summarized your points below, and added my comments in between. I chose this method so that you would have a better idea what I'm hearing you say. If I have misheard you, please correct me.

1. My description of "touching the Kingdom" (as you say) is a feeling based on general dissatisfaction with my own denomination or church body, as well as the aesthetical beauty of Orthodoxy.

Response:
So I'm mostly being fooled by my own emotions. You should ask more questions before coming to such a conclusion. I have been on guard against this for a long time, because I've heard this demeaning "argument" from others. What convinced me was the Scriptures alive in Orthodoxy, not my feelings. Orthodoxy teaches the Scriptures truthfully. What I found in this true teaching Orthodoxy at the same time is this difference that I am pointing to in my post - a difference that is discernible from within and not on the outside.

2. People can be sacramental (vis a vis Absolution).

3. The Lutheran experience is pretty much the same as the Orthodox.

Response:
It isn't, except maybe in the realm of thinking alone - maybe. When I was Lutheran, though, I would have said the same thing you are saying. If your experience were the same as the Orthodox Church, then you would be just as we are.

4. The two views are the same, just describing the way it seems externally (#1) and internally (#2).

5. My view #1 is incomplete. It may be right about the issue of church polity/structure.

Response:
Nathan, I did not mean to include the Ministry under the topic of visible structure, but assumed it lay under the category of "appearing in Word and Sacrament." Also, please notice that while I take up the issue of visible polity in the invisible church scheme (#1), I do not take up the issue in #2. That is because, as you yourself even demonstrated by your method of approach, this distinction is fundamental to the understanding of the invisible church scheme. I would say it is a false distinction, though, arising from misconceptions about the nature of the Church. The source of the misconceptions has a lot to do with Rome. Option #2 does not know these misconceptions, so the issue of "polity" or "structure" is not the same sort of issue for us.

6. My first view is about 1) the church's ability to be known within herself and 2) how other people describe the church, which is a problem.

Response:
Actually, I've used this way of describing the invisible church scheme before. It's strange that now that I'm Orthodox a Lutheran has a problem with it, when no Lutheran ever has before. My remarks in #1 were written when I believed in the invisible church scheme, and no Lutheran ever said the things you do about it. Your own words here establish what I described in #1 as accurate.

7. Those opposed to Orthodoxy may be able to admit that she is where Christianity came from in a visible or historical sense, but she doesn't teach the truth anymore, since I don't see how she matches up to what I find in the Bible.

Response:
The problem is not with Orthodoxy. It is with the presumption that you are reading the Scriptures correctly. Lutheranism is based heavily in the teachings of Augustine. As he was correct about some things, he is incorrect about other things. (The average Lutheran is not aware of this, though they should be.) After I gave Orthodoxy a chance to explain the Scriptures, it became clear she was eminently the more faithful. But that could never have happened if I walked in expecting Orthodoxy to bow down to me. Rather, I gave it a fair chance.

8. In option #2 there is no way to critique. Also here it is assumed that the Word of God (the Scriptures) gives birth to the Church.

Response:
In Orthodoxy critique happens quite often. Sometimes it comes from the laity, often from the monastics, sometimes from the clergy, or combinations thereof. One difference is that within the Church the call is to repentance. The reformation went beyond repentance to a remaking (whether that is what was intended or not). Also, the Church gives birth to the Scriptures, not the other way around. Or we could say Christ the Word and the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church, especially in the Liturgy, from which the Scriptures arose. Before there was a New Testament Bible, there was the Church, who was born of Christ in the Liturgy.


9. You said, "I often sense that among the Orthodox, the sacrament of the absolution-bearing Christian or the absolution-bearing Church, which is: “Giving the confidence of faith to the afflicted via ‘just words’, the Promise, Christ” is compromised (if not denied?) for I have heard much about the sin of presumption from Orthodox."

Response:
I really don't know what you are trying to say here.

10. The "visible mother who bore me" is attractive because she "is quite beautiful and gives me a wonderful sense of beauty and awe."

Response:
(sigh) It works better if you ask a person if they might be overly attracted to such things, rather than assume it and accuse them of it. Is this really the only way you think a person could believe what I now believe? Emotional delusion? So a person who goes from believing Lutheranism to believing Orthodoxy must simply be weak?

Benjamin Harju said...

Nathan,

Looking back over what you wrote, I get this sense that you are trying to take what I've described and cram it into your own intellectual framework vis a vis Lutheranism. Part of my point is to alert the reader that there is something outside of this framework within Orthodoxy that does not fit into "categories" - even Lutheran categories. It's simply a different way of being. That is why in my original conversion announcement I tried the analogy of moving from a dream to the real.

It might be helpful to point out that I am speaking of a comparison between what I found when steeped as far in as I could get into Lutheranism (I was a zealous Lutheran) versus what I find in Orthodoxy. I am comparing experiences. Your approach seems like you are trying to negate the position of experience and move the discussion away into a realm ruled by cognition.

This is one of the key differences between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy. As a Lutheran I was taught to distrust experience. Orthodoxy knows Christ as an experience. What holds Orthodoxy together? It's not the monks, or the clergy, or the laity, or the councils, or the Scriptures, or the Fathers, or any of that. Rather, there is a common experience of Christ in the Holy Spirit that strikes through history like a flame, around which all the above swirl to give witness in their proper place - in promotion of this experience of the faith, and in defense of the experience of this same faith.

Perhaps this is the most troubling part for the Lutheran - and maybe the hardest part to believe - that Orthodoxy is itself an experience. The gut reaction is to say that such a thing could never last or work. The gut reaction is to disbelieve. That's why our answer is always, "Come and see."

Lutheranism is not an experience. It is Christianity reformulated, re-grown directly from the Scriptures, with only a faint awareness of the experience that schismatic Rome had severed them from hundreds of years earlier.

Nathan said...

Ben,

Thank you for responding. I certainly don't deserve such careful attention. Thank you for putting up with me and I look forward to having time to read and digest your comments. I will comment again - hopefully sooner rather than later.

-Nathan

Nathan said...

Ben,

First of all, please know that I did not intend for my statements to cause any offense. I thank you for being so gracious with me. Sometimes my statements (which I am eager to hear a rebuttal to) are not as qualified (maybe, probably, it seems, in a sense, etc.) as they should be, and/or I don’t ask enough questions. I did not mean by my statements to imply that you have made this decision with anything other than the most careful thinking and reflection, but I can see how you would read them that way.

Please know that while you were a zealous Confessional Lutheran, I have always been a Lutheran who has questioned my Lutheranism. I have always been exploring what Christians of other confessions, particularly Orthodoxy (and I treasure the chance to talk with those who are further along the paths to conversion in these other fellowships), have to say. In fact, I would consider it a great blessing if you had time to continuously talk through this stuff with me, as I can tell that you are a very serious and thoughtful person who does not take these matters very lightly!

Now, with all that said, I know what you are saying about how Lutherans are careful to question experience, but really, in the end, how is Lutheranism not also an experience just like EO is an experience? Don’t cradle EO ever question whether or not the fellowship they are in is truly Church? (they do, I know). It seems to me that Lutheranism is just as much an experience as Orthodoxy, albeit one that puts more of an emphasis on the realm of cognition. This does not mean we seek to have a discussion that is “ruled by cognition” though – rather, I think I am trying to strike a balance that simply gives this realm a seat at the table, for we experience that the realm of cognition is important to our life as persons and Christians.

I believe that we are to think God’s thoughts after him, and that we are also called to make God’s diagnoses and observations after him – yes, even though the infection of sin continues to rage within us (which I don’t think EO denies either, though they have different categories, ways of looking at things, as you note!)

Therefore, I think that in regards to diagnosing the Church, to talk about the importance of “evidence from the outside”, or “objective evidence”, or “things-that-all-can-see-from-the-outside-and-can-observe-and-see-that-others-can-observe” (which too, is “experience”!) is, in fact, a very Christian thing to do! There is nothing wrong with this kind of outside view, based as it is on empirical evidence we can all examine, and leading, perhaps, to more “cognitive” stuff – like the Confession of Augsburg, which I think attempts to do just this, and is in line with your view #1

Let me try to further illustrate what this all means by way of analogy. I *know* that my parents love me, i.e. they will for my good (understood ultimately not in a philosophical way, but in a Christian way, i.e. that I would know Christ and learn to live as his beloved child) and they have shown this to me in my life by making many a sacrifice and putting my own needs before there own – all from my youth. Now, I have no good reason to question this knowledge – I am confident and convinced that my mom and dad really love me. I think that this, despite its lack of scientific provability, this is valid knowledge, and a controlling assumption in my life. It would not be suitable / appropriate or even possible for me to do “rigorous analysis” on this, and so I can’t really “prove it” to you. Again, for my own purposes, I don’t even think that I need to verify this with two or three witnesses. Further, if I thought that I needed to question this assumption for no other reason than to question it (“test everything” : ) ) that would be neither wise nor appropriate.

There is, however, one way that I see in which all of this could change. If there was a person who claimed that he/she had evidence to the contrary, this person may very well be able to persuade me to question this belief with some very, very good evidence. Generally, I think I would be more willing to trust a person who I knew to have good character (like my parents!), but I think I might even trust someone who I discerned had no discernible motive for lying to me as well. In other words, what I know is that which I have yet to been shown to be false.

It seems to me that this kind of thinking can be applied to the Church as well. Hence, my statement: “The ‘visible mother who bore me’ is attractive because she ‘is quite beautiful and gives me a wonderful sense of beauty and awe.’” – so, “yes, but.” The Church is no longer undivided like it once was, and so I think this kind of thinking may very well be needed.

Which brings me to the part of my letter that you did not understand. That was about a believer being able to have confidence that they were in a state of grace, i.e. that they were, at the present moment, in a stable relationship with God in Christ, that they had peace with him. Passages like Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:13 come into play here. The doctrine of justification, which I believe basically comes down to Christians being able to give to one another, when they are afflicted, the confidence of faith through the Promise, i.e. through Christ. Absolution which trusts in the Words of God and simply takes them at their word, as would a little child. THIS is what I am concerned gets mitigated in much that I have read or heard from EO. Perhaps I am wrong, and if so, I would love to learn more about EO who have dealt with this topic.

Ben, you said, in a moving passage:

“This is one of the key differences between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy. As a Lutheran I was taught to distrust experience. Orthodoxy knows Christ as an experience. What holds Orthodoxy together? It's not the monks, or the clergy, or the laity, or the councils, or the Scriptures, or the Fathers, or any of that. Rather, there is a common experience of Christ in the Holy Spirit that strikes through history like a flame, around which all the above swirl to give witness in their proper place - in promotion of this experience of the faith, and in defense of the experience of this same faith… Orthodoxy is itself an experience.”

I understand the appeal to this. I certainly sense this when I read the early Church fathers – although I connect them with Luther and Chemnitz (and Weedon!) as well. One area where I think EO may have an advantage over Rome is that it seems they might have more room for “outside the system” prophets. In which case, I submit Luther can be seen in this way. I think when we are talking about deepest penetration of God’s judgment of men – and the sweetest and most comforting response to that terror, that nothing compares with Luther’s insights. Yes, he may have “Western” categories, but he also deals with very “human” categories, don’t you think? I would guess that what Luther writes about the comfort of the Gospel is something that even an EO very sensitive to “Hammer of God” can I.D. with!

Finally, to this:

“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.”

I say: “Amen!” I am unafraid. Perhaps you, having examined these matters deeply, can help me on this journey.

You again: “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.”

Again, I agree with your last sentence strongly. Yes, we are affected by sin, but I think that in this quest it is not the “noetic effects” of sin that we should give our attention to, but the importance of evidence, of being able to observe, examine, define, diagnose “from the outside” this body of the church. The issue of whether the Word or Church comes first I think is also a bunny trail. Of course, we know the Word (Person) of Christ comes first, creating the Church, which gives us the Word. I concede this, as I don’t think it is a real issue. The nature of this Church however is that it is constantly driven back to the Scriptures to check its experiences, like the Bereans. This is what the Pillar of Truth does, for the faithful have always, since Abel, had the “rule of faith”, to lead them.

“a difference that is discernible from within and not on the outside.”

Again, why not both? It seems to me that anything less is anemic, in spite of what our current experience may be telling us.

Thanks for reading this Ben.

In Christ,
Nathan

Nathan said...

This is what the Pillar of Truth does, for the faithful have always, since Abel, had the “rule of faith”, to lead them.

...may be unclear. This, I think, is better.

This is what the Pillar of Truth does, for the faithful have always, since Abel, had the “rule of faith”, which through the Promise ("these are about me") has guided them back to the Spirit-inspired prophets and the scriptures they wrote. Here we discern not only Christ, but ourselves and the rest of His body - as best as we can - as God would have us do.

orrologion said...

I have always been a Lutheran who has questioned my Lutheranism. I have always been exploring what Christians of other confessions, particularly Orthodoxy (and I treasure the chance to talk with those who are further along the paths to conversion in these other fellowships), have to say.Answering questions about Orthodoxy from those that know Lutheranism and it's 'mindset' and terminology is exactly what the Lutherans Looking East list was created for. You are welcome to join and parcticipate in whatever way and to whatever end you wish. A link to the list homepage is on Ben's own homepage sidebar, and here:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LutheransLookingEast/

Blessed Easter Week to you.

Benjamin Harju said...

Nathan,

You make a good case for intellectual investigation. My original post, again, is about comparing experiences, not so much saying that Eastern Orthodoxy isn't to be investigated intellectually (after all, that is how I investigated it, which led me to where I am now). What I am comparing is that part which goes beyond external intellectual investigation. That does not mean that Orthodoxy lacks anything that can be thought about or discussed. It simply means that at its core there is something inexpressible (though that doesn't keep foolish people like myself from trying).

And my point in saying that Lutheranism is not an experience speaks more about its origins than about whether or not a Lutheran Christian has any experience of the divine. Lutheranism's origins established its modus operandi, which is to begin always and subsist by a gathering and arranging of certain facts and laws from the past experience of the Biblical writers. For the Lutheran, the Christian experience is always a dialogue with the written, past experience of certain writers (i.e. the Bible), mediated from then until now by man's intellectual powers, and then reconstructed based on the findings of one or many. From here a person is permitted a certain range of experience of the kingdom.

Much has been accomplished through this approach. Just look at fine congregations such as St. Paul in Hamel or Zion in Detroit or Redeemer in Fort Wayne. However, in the face of Orthodoxy such an approach is revealed as artificial. Why? Because the experience of the Biblical writers has continued unbroken in Holy Orthodoxy down through history to this very day. This is something you can investigate, but even if you figure everything out intellectually, that doesn't mean you will believe it.

On a personal note, this is where I found myself at one point. I had intellectually grasped how Orthodoxy and Lutheranism were different (one of my original goals) and where they were the same (i.e. theological overlap). At the end of this road there was nothing else to do but to believe one or the other. It was once I stopped telling God how things should be, and instead started asking - truly asking - that I came to be converted. After my initial conversion I was able to see what my intellect could not have ever known.

So, while Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy both have an experience of the kingdom or the divine, that does not mean they have the same experience. They simply do not. Your very approach and way of conceiving the question is what leads you to see them as the same. I say this because you say, "The Church is no longer undivided like it once was..." This simple statement alone betrays both your very logical prejudice and that you (like so many) don't know what it means for Orthodoxy to be the Church. I should have included this in my two-part breakdown of experience. Option 1 says what you say about the Church. Option 2 knows something completely different.

Nathan, if you really wish to know about Orthodoxy, then we can talk about all of it - what can be seen from the outside and what is known from the inside, what can be learned and what must be experienced, etc. You are certainly welcome to email me privately. I also encourage you to at least read the post archive on Lutherans Looking East, if not actually join. Most people do not quickly get to the heart of Orthodoxy when they investigate, because we all bring so many of our own pre-conceptions about everything. It takes time to deal with all of that, and it is a bit different for each person. All that being said, the invitation is open - to all.

Nathan said...

Ben,

Thanks for your thoughtful words. I will try to let them stew for a while before responding again.

Thanks again,
Nathan

Nathan said...

Ben,

OK, enough reflection. : )

You speak of “that part which goes beyond external intellectual investigation”, and I certainly don’t want to discount this purported “inexpressibleness”, which can nevertheless be thought about and discussed, with comments about “smells and bells” or “burning bosoms”. I want you to know that already as early as 2001 I had purchased my EO study Bible, attended several services here or there, visited with a priest (former Lutheran), read Schmemann’s “For the Life...”, read the book about the EO/Lutheran dialogue about the AC, started listening to almost every episode of “Come Receive the Light” (2003), started long email conversations with Byzantine catholics, and much, much more (of course, ever the questioning one, I have also been attracted, at one time or another, to Evangelicalism, Reformed theology, and Roman Catholicism). Also, I think that “I stopped telling God how things should be, and instead started asking - truly asking”, but God has chosen to not give me the kind of experience you have had. In short, as a Lutheran who feels that it is his duty to better understand my EO Christian brethren and explore their lives and experience, I know that I can’t possibly claim to having “done enough” or done it “with all my heart” of course… : )

Here is a big question: if I concede, for the sake of argument, that the Orthodox Church (let's assume all the jurisdictions are in full communion with each other, which I am not sure is the case) is the fullest expression of the visible church on earth (more so than the Lutherans, for example, who I will concede for the sake of argument have deleted or at least minimized things...) is it conceivable that it, at large, could, like the “church” of Jesus’ day (with its cold response to John the B, and its outright denial of its Lord), and therefore still be susceptible to error, not necessarily present in their most commonly accepted and used liturgical and devotional practices, but in their intellectual reflections upon what those practices mean? If not, why not? Or does this kind of question necessarily betray a lack of knowledge about “what it means for Orthodoxy to be the Church”, that necessary “something completely different” that only those inside know?

More: If so, just how might this kind of experience be different from an evangelical, who, having left the Lutheranism of their roots, expresses themselves in a similar way (but in a simpler way, about simpler things, of course). Is it more like the charismatic experience except it is more intellectual and profound, having a strong sense of history? Do you place confidence or surety upon your experience, or does your experience give you confidence or surety, or are both of these formulations true in some way?

I ask this because I tend to think that Lutheranism's origins were not so much based on “beginning always and subsist[ing] by a gathering and arranging of certain facts and laws from the past experience of the Biblical writers”, (resulting in Christian experience based on dialogue with these sources), but rather came about in the midst of the experiences of Christians (particularly Luther, who found others who could I.D. with him) in the everyday liturgical, devotional, and moral life of the Church of that time, which drove persons back to the Scriptures for answers (others went beyond the “Conservative Reformation” of course). Regarding the bit about “mediated from then until now by man's intellectual powers, and then reconstructed based on the findings of one or many”, I am not sure exactly what you are saying. Is there any understandable way that the Spirit’s work among EO theologians be distinguished from these more [artificial?] means? I think the key is in your contention that “experience of the Biblical writers has continued unbroken in Holy Orthodoxy down through history to this very day”, and I would like to learn more, understand more, about this.

Ben – thank you ahead of time for any help you can provide.

In Christ,
Nathan

Nathan said...

My remarks above should say:

...is it conceivable that it, at large, could, like the “church” of Jesus’ day (with its cold response to John the B, and its outright denial of its Lord), still be susceptible to error...

orrologion said...

[Could the Orthodox Church] be susceptible to error, not necessarily present in their most commonly accepted and used liturgical and devotional practices, but in their intellectual reflections upon what those practices mean?Yes.

The Church Herself is without error, or is trustworthy and true, the Body of Christ Himself. This is most fully recognized in her dogmas and the lex orandi (the Typikon or rule of worship).

My late bishop, the renowned canonist Archbishop Peter (L'Huillier), would often say of erring Orthodox theologians, bishops, even Patriarchs: "He is stupid. It is his opinion. He knows nothing of canon law". (You have to imagine it in a frail, quivering French accent, which takes the bite off of it.)

Whereas in Lutheranism there is the Book of Concord and other revered texts that detail all of the teachings of the Lutheran Church - dogmas - the Orthodox have actually 'dogmatized' very little - that which the Ecumenical Councils have decreed. Most everything is left in the Holy Tradition bucket, and these Traditions have varying 'authority' - the liturgical tradition is highly authoritative, but still not dogmatized. Even with highly authoritative teachings, economia and pastoral discretion is allowed for the sake of salvation ('the sabbath for man, not man for the sabbath').

In a situation like this, you can imagine that there is a great deal of room for theologoumena (theological opinion). Part of this is pastoral: we are all maturing in our faith (even bishops) and need to be able to work through our thoughts, grow in understanding, etc. We can't be held to account for some stupid thing we said 10 years ago, 50 years ago, etc. Another part has to do with the fact that the Faith is not systematic 'right answers', but a Person we have a relationship with. Just as Christ grew in stature and maturity, so, too, His Body, the Church, as it wends its way this side of the Kingdom. There are new situations, new heresies, new discoveries, new culture and new languages with new and different ways of understanding and knowing. The Church attempts to apply the common tradition, the Spriti underlying it, to these new and different circumstances through reflection. Inevitably, we make mistakes; repentance of error in such circumstances and/or obedience to the mind of the Church covers over all ills. Sts Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine (bishops) were humble before the Church's opinion regarding their potential errors, Patriarch Nestorius and the Priest Arius were not. Just as we are sustained even while we continuing fall, so, too, has the Church been sustained and preserved by the Holy Spirit as it has suffered heretics, persecutors and less than ideal attempts at traditioning on the Faith.

...let's assume all the [Orthodox] jurisdictions are in full communion with each other, which I am not sure is the case...They are. The Orthodox Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, Czech Lands and Slovakia, America, Sinai, Finland, Estonia, Japan, China, Ukraine, and Ohrid are all in communion with one another.

Various autocephalies (independence) and autonomies (partial independence) are not recognized by all parties, but their 'validity' as Orthodox Christian churches is accepted, e.g., the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America is recognized only by Moscow, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, and the Czech Lands and Slovakia; the autonomy of the Church of Estonia is only recognized by Constantinople.

There are small splinter groups of Orthodox in various places. The largest bulk are the churches that split of due to the Calendar change in the early 20th century, but these are all highly fragmented between each other, even - more than Lutherans! There are also the Russian Old Believers - also highly fragmented internally - that split off in the 1600s over reforms that brought Russian practice in line with then contemporary Greek practice (e.g., sign of the cross with 3 fingers instead of 2; a different spelling of the name Jesus; standardization of service books, etc.) There is also a 'autocephalous' splinter group of the Ukrainian church that claims independence from both Moscow and Constantinople. There are very few parishes of either of these splinter groups in the US, though there are some here and there, so it is good to at least be aware.

There are also churches that claim the title Orthodox for themselves, but that split off from the Church after the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. They are often referred to as Oriental Orthodox, or the Nestorian (the Assyrian Church of the East never accepted Ephesus) or Non-Chalcedonian Churches (Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite Syrian, Ethiopian, Eritrean). Some Byzantine or Eastern Rite Catholics will also sometimes use the term Orthodox.

Nathan said...

Christopher,

Thanks for your post. Please know I will read and digest - not sure when I'll have time to comment again: hopefully by Friday aft, but we'll see.

Again, thank you.

Ben, did you sic this big dog on me? : ) (just kidding)

~Nathan

Benjamin Harju said...

Nathan,

I have come to be where I am at through a similar investigation process as you - though without the Byzantine Catholics :-) I do not wish to say that you are missing something you should have hit upon. I would rather encourage you to keep looking. In my journey I eventually came to know for myself what I was missing. Once I came to see what I was not getting I realized that I just didn't believe it in the first place. By God's grace that changed. In the end, everything I have to say here should not be received as a definition of Orthodoxy - even if it sounds that way or even would be correct that way. Rather, take what I say here as encouragement to keep looking for yourself, so that you may find it yourself. It is as Rdr. Christopher said above: Christianity is a relationship with a Person.

Regarding your big question: there are always those within the Church who hold to wrong ideas or who make mistakes. The essence of the Church is not to be a perfect Church, but to be perfectly Church. Rdr. Christopher takes up your big question better than I ever could.

Rather than try to tell you what the Church is, I think it's important for a person to continue to ask questions and figure it out. Only by earnestly seeking will a person come to know the Church (even if that's not what he was after - like me - but only wanted Christ Himself). I will give you a hint, though: In the end of my search for Christ I ended up finding the Church, because she is Christ's Body, not in a metaphorical way, but truly His Body through the Eucharist. If you are tempted to think of the Church and her visibleness as jurisdictions, or a polity, or an agreement of doctrines, then stop. These things follow from the essence of the Church. The essence is Christ Himself, and this entails a visibleness because Christ truly became man and has a Body. The one Body is both visible and invisible because this Body exists through the single, continuous unity around the Eucharist, both in heaven and on earth. To say that the Church is not one is to say Christ is torn into pieces. To say that the Church is broken is to say Christ is broken. To say that the Church is invisible is to say that Christ only has a spirit-body, which then entails that the incarnation was only a spirit-body - because these are not two separate bodies, but one and the same Body. (Spirit-body is not the same as a spiritual body.)

I recommend you start by looking here and here. Review your Christology, and then carry it through into your ecclessiology.

Nathan said,
More: If so, just how might this kind of experience...Response:
You should ask someone with more experience than me. :-)

Nathan said,
I ask this because I tend to think that Lutheranism's origins...Response:
The Christians of Luther's day had many things that were still appropriately Christian. However, it was also apparent that much of what had come down to them was not healthy or appropriate. Knowing no other way than their own skewed tradition (skewed because of Rome's schism), they had nothing else that they could feel was reliable other than Scripture and their own ability to see what was in the Scriptures carried forward in history. They did much good, but they were not able to restore what was lost, because the schism was not healed. By schism I do not mean merely the formal breaking away, but the loss that such a breaking away meant for Christianity in the West. What was lost was the experience that the Biblical writers had in Christ, which has continiued unbroken in Holy Orthodoxy down through history to this very day. Certainly the Reformers were able to pick up some of that experience, but not all, that is, not the wholeness of Christ Himself alive in His Body. Where they were at in time and space they were only able to send letters to an Eastern Patriarch, when what they needed was much more than that.

Nathan, God bless your inquiring. Continue to read, to ask questions, and visit Orthodox parishes. If you begin to get serious about Orthodoxy, be sure to include your wife in the journey (if you have one). Whether she is willing or not, a person must give his better half enough time and space to either inquire with you or to get used to the idea that you are changed. After all, isn't this the way Christ deals with us?

orrologion said...

Nathan, sorry to have across as a 'big dog' being set on you. You are asking very good, very big questions, so this dog of a Christian is just trying bark what little help he can.

Blessed end of Easter Week to you and/or blessed Great & Holy Friday, Saturday and Pascha if you will be able to visit an Orthodox church for any of the services - there are a lot (3 Friday, 1 long one in the morning on Saturday, 1 long one before and after midnight tonight, and 1 Sunday afternoon [the shortest of the year, in fact].)

My joy, as St. Seraphim of Sarov said year round to all, Christ is risen!

Nathan said...

Chris, Ben,

Greetings in Christ.

Thank you so much for the kind words. I hope and pray that I can still ask very good questions.

Ben:

“In my journey I eventually came to know for myself what I was missing. Once I came to see what I was not getting I realized that I just didn't believe it in the first place. By God's grace that changed.”

I got you Ben (I think) - I just don’t seem to be able to “get it” as easily as you. : )

I think that I want Christ and hence want His church. I think that I am not “tempted to think of the Church and her visibleness as jurisdictions, or a polity, or an agreement of doctrines” (Ben) – no chance. When Ben says, “To say that the Church is not one is to say Christ is torn into pieces. To say that the Church is broken is to say Christ is broken. To say that the Church is invisible is to say that Christ only has a spirit-body”, and when Christopher says the “Church is the Body of Christ Himself” and when Pastor Fenton says, “The Church is not a creation of creeds or confessions. Neither is it an organization of those who hold certain truths to be self-evident. Rather, the Church is a living organism—Christ Himself animated by the Holy Spirit in the lives of the saints and faithful”, I say “Amen!” (Surprised? I was in seminary for a while and wrote a paper called “Being the Body”, as I felt that these kinds of understandings above were not necessarily antithetical to Lutheranism, though they certainly were not a focus of it either and needed to be talked about more…)!

And yet, as Ben pointed out: “there are always those within the [E0] Church who hold to wrong ideas or who make mistakes”. In other words, there is *a sense* in which we, with our fallen eyes and lives (unlike through the “eyes” of the Holy Trinity, which we are to imitate in faith: “…the Church is seen to be no different than Christ: of the Father animated by the Spirit; mortal yet immortal; receiving sinners and living with sin, yet holy and perfect; flawed yet infallible; suffering yet glorified. But above all, the Church is seen to be one. Not one by virtue of what will be, but one in being and in truth” – why does this quote from Fenton remind me of the Lutheran doctrine of justification, albeit applied to the body as a whole? : ) ), view and experience the body as broken, as many even in the EO Church are not being “perfectly church”, correct? Add to this your observation, which I commend: “What was lost [in Churches of the Reformation (Rome too?)] was the experience that the Biblical writers had in Christ… Certainly the Reformers were able to pick up some of that experience”, and this adds force to views that would humbly[!]question your approach I think.

I too, believe we should pray: “And unite all of us to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit” ; that we "ought to make a distinction between non-Orthodoxy and heresy" ; should recognize one communion of bishops [pastors] to whom the faithful have been sacramentally attached; and that God alone *knows* where the limits of the Church are. Further, I too assert that “Neither are [the organizations called church] some sort of outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual fellowship of believers” (Fenton). No chance. It’s the body, though some in it are false brethren (Luther to, conceded that the Pope was a part of the body, albeit as a wart and/or pustule : ) ).

So here is my question: how does all of this necessarily discount the Lutheran Church? I have heard from the EO, “we know where it the church is, not where it isn’t”, and that seems to be the sense that I get from the EO approach to this matter.

But when it comes to wisely trying to discern which bodies are in and which are out, why take this approach? Can you better help me understand why the EO appear to take his/her stand on this proposition? Is this not a very non-apophatic thing to do? : ) I.e, though we can know with Luther that most simply (*eyes of a child*), the Church is the sheep who follow their shepherd's voice, can we really say “we know where it is, not where it isn’t?”. Seriously, why not the opposite: “we know [exactly] where it isn’t, not [exactly] where it is”? When Pastor Fenton writes: “[the Church is] human in the same sense that Christ is human—in a discernible, visible body”, I know what he is saying *and actually agree*, but this gets more difficult when we are dealing with the admittedly “discernible, visible” *corporate* body (which yes, is somehow one with Jesus in the flesh) as distinct from a “discernible, visible” person. Though we may easily recognize the truth of these words, can we just as easily really grasp what it means as we try to lay out more fully what they truly mean? Does not Christian humility require this? Why am I not wrong to think that this is reaching for a kind of certainty that we have not necessarily been given? (unlike passages of certainty like in I John 5:13 and Romans 5:1, which clearly is given).

It seems to me that we don’t determine ourselves to be Church, but rather recognize it – by our mutual conversation and observation of what we believe, teach, confess, and practice.

May God give me the grace to be humble about my errors… I’m not wanting to “consciously oppose universal church doctrine.”

Love in Christ,
Nathan

Nathan said...

By the way, back early next week...

~Nathan

Benjamin Harju said...

Nathan,

A couple things:

1) it's not that "many even in the EO Church are not being “perfectly church”," but that the Orthodox Church is not a perfect church. Many within her are not being perfectly churchly. But she herself is perfectly Church.

2) When I suggest that the Reformers picked up "some of that experience," here "some" should be taken in the sense of coming to know Christ through the hazy barrier of a great distance. While one can find a sense of intimacy in this, it is not to be passed off as the true intimacy of knowing someone directly.

3) You said, "So here is my question: how does all of this necessarily discount the Lutheran Church?" What or which Lutheran Church?

When the Orthodox say they know where the Church is, it's because they know whom they have fellowship with around Christ in the Eucharist. The Church and her canonical boundaries are determined by the Eucharist. This is not so among Lutherans. If their ecclesiology depended on the Eucharist as it does for the Orthodox, then Lutherans could never have ceased to celebrate the Mass on a weekly basis. Rather, the Eucharist among the Lutherans is seen as something that supplies supportive grace to the sheep, who are considered the Church just for being sheep.

In Orthodoxy the Church's essence is Christ. The sheep who hear His voice are gathered into one fold (the Church, the Body of Christ). These sheep themselves are not the fold, but are gathered by the Shepherd into one fold. The Lutheran Confessions lead astray on this point. To be a sheep is not to "be Church" as I've heard many Lutherans say. To be a sheep is to be a sheep. However, a sheep needs to be gathered into the fold. Otherwise it is a lost sheep, even though it is a sheep. And being outside the fold is a much different experience than being in the fold.

Jews and Gentiles together are gathered into one fold around their one Shepherd. In this world that is the gathering of one communion fellowship around the Eucharist. This is what it meant by "one Eucharist." All things culminate in the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is our culmination into Christ. Even Baptism culminates in Holy Orthodoxy directly into the Eucharist - no matter your age.

"The Lutheran Church" (as you put it) or other Protestant groups are not "in" (as you put it, again), because they are not in the fold - the one fellowship around the Eucharist. They have their own fellowships around their own centers, which have resulted in their own particular beliefs that depart from the Faith of the One Fold. Even if some (RC, Anglicans, Lutherans) gather often around the Lord's Supper, they still have at their center something other than the Eucharist (Pope, most Bible books**, ???) Does that mean these bodies do not contain sheep? No. It may be that we will see such sheep gathered in on the Last Day by the hand of angels.

Does that mean the Orthodox care nothing for the written Word or the preached Word? No. The Word in Scripture and the Word that is proclaimed is the Word who is the Eucharist, and it is the Christ whose flesh is real meat and whose blood real drink that teaches and calls and invites to follow and partake of the wedding feast. I like to think of things in terms of "where does this ultimately lead..." What is in Scripture and proclaimed and read leads to the Eucharist, because Christ came to set up His kingdom within each of us, that in Him we may be one, as He and His Father are one in the Spirit. It all leads to knowing Christ through a personal union, which is possible for us by Grace because of His Personal Union - the Incarnation - which is the saving power behind His blessed Death and Resurrection for us. It all leads to the Eucharist, just as the inner relationship each is called to have with Christ is likewise shown, actualized, and determined by the Eucharist.

In order to answer your questions better, please answer one for me. What would it take for this "Lutheran Church" you mention to enter into communion fellowship with Holy Orthodoxy? What would it take on the Lutheran end? On the Orthodox end?

___________________

**I'm not so much pointing at the rejection of the Apocrypha as Scripture among Lutherans, but at their unique classifiers (homologuemena, antiloguemena), by which some books of the Bible are not necessarily authoritative for them - much to the surprise of the average layman!

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

To me, it is always the theologians of glory who run to the East...and away from the Cross.

Nathan said...

Ben,

Thanks for the comment. Will digest and post again, God willing, on Tuesday.

In Christ,
Nathan

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Beisel,

Thank you for your opinion. Rather than openly speculate at what specifically leads you to your conclusion, I will instead say this: there has been nothing but the cross for me in my journey to Orthodoxy, as all of my close friends are very aware. I have lost nearly everything in following after my Lord Jesus. But I have followed willingly, because I see that the whole picture in Orthodoxy - beyond my rather narrow comparison here - is saturated with the cross and resurrection of Christ my Lord.

I invite you to do more than name-call here, Pastor Beisel. If you have the inclination, please spell out your concerns. I truly enjoy your terse quips, but I'd like to think you wouldn't go to the trouble of reading and commenting here if you didn't have something more substantive to say.

Nathan said...

Ben,

First, since this is so long, here is an abstract of what follows:

-To say a communion is “perfectly Church” is a difficult concept, and it almost sounds like the Lutheran idea of “objective justification” applied to the Church at large, and needs much further clarification.

-“The hazy barrier of a great distance” is not unique to non-Orthodox.

-Given their clarity about sin and grace, it is very likely that Satan would be eager to convince Lutherans that they are not “true Church”.

-If “The Lutheran Church” needs to be in quotes, why, given the fractured nature of EO, should it not be put in quotes as well?

-If Lutherans say they want their theology to be centered on the Lord’s Supper, as the main sign and source of our unity in Christ, why insist on telling them they are wrong? Yes, perhaps they have had a real lack of awareness for just how important this meal is, but should we not rejoice if they nevertheless want to hold to this truth, however shallow their faith?

-I am still a little fuzzy on the “fold” concept. Is it, roughly, “The Church *and her canonical boundaries* (doctrine) …[as] determined by the Eucharist”?

-The Lord’s Supper is the most profound, great, and intimate expression of that Gospel, which is what the whole of our theology is based on.

-When it comes to knowledge about the Church, other than “the sheep who know their Shepherd’s voice” (pure Word and Sac), an apophatic approach that makes clear where the church is not – and makes the Gospel more explicit - is more reasonable.

-I am eager to talk about “what it would take” to have reunion
The more nuanced, detailed (argument and evidence), *long* version follows. : )

~Nathan

Nathan said...

Ben,

A glutton for punishment, eh?

Thanks again for your time and sincere attempts to help me better understand. I must admit that when you say that the EO, or Orthodox church, is herself “perfectly Church”, this is a bit difficult to understand in earthly terms, I think, what with all the conflicts that arise in the churches from time to time, its many sins and failings, etc. It seems to me that one must almost be “Lutheran” in the way that one views the Church (not so much any one individual before God) to “get” this, i.e., using God’s “glasses” is required to see the Church as perfectly pure and righteous for Christ’s sake, as we know, in some real sense, it really and truly is. I simply accept this as you say, but simultaneously do not think I can say “we know where the church is, but not where it isn’t” (as some EO, not necessarily you, say) as this does not seem to me quite right. Again, I suggest that when it comes to where the Church may be found, a more “apophatic” look at the realities we experience as Christians living in a fallen and disintegrating world is perhaps more appropriate.

I will lay out this “apophatic” view that illustrates how “we know [exactly] where the church isn’t, but not [exactly] where it is” at the end of my message, but lest I create confusion by causing persons to think that I am most interested in emphasizing that I don’t think we can recognize where the Church is in an *absolutely strict and certain sense*, let me start by addressing the issues that you brought up.

First, I think it likely that there have been many who have, miraculously, come to know Christ through “the hazy barrier of a great distance” in *EO* churches as well, not because of the Church’s liturgies, but because authoritative persons they have heard who interpret the Church’s Scriptures, prayers and liturgies have done so in a way that mitigate and obscure true, comforting Gospel content, whether it be the doctrine of justification (the crux and point of which I will say is: actively persuading others who are afflicted that in Christ, *they have God’s forgiveness* for all their sins – and hence, life and salvation – even as they tremble), or even the Name of Jesus itself (think Mt. Athos controversy, c. 1913). Again, this is not to say that those EO churches that have these issues are not true Church, but that a failure to believe, teach, confess rightly (which is the conscious reflection of that which we receive and pray in the liturgy) are among the sins those holding to the Rule of faith experience and recognize (and say, “hey – I don’t think I would say that is heresy, but it seems like it might be out of bounds… I better ‘get Berean’ on this or that statement…”)

I think that our particular churches’ (EO and Lutheran) ignorance of, lack of agreement with, and very evident estrangement from one another in regards to these things are no more sins that change the Church’s oneness – its one-flesh-ness in the Person of Jesus Christ – than any other sin in the body. As for the person who from very young has known God (“I am Jesus’ little lamb”) and the people of God who love Him and participate in at His table, I think it is only as get older, more “rational”, cynical and jaded that we do not even see those fellow believers among whom we dwell in our congregations as “true Church”, Christ’s true body, sensing a lack of spiritual intimacy with them as perhaps we do (and sometimes prompting “grass is greener” moves). I believe that experiences like those above have more to do with our unbelieving hearts and rationalizing tendencies than *really knowing* that “something is missing” and we are not a part of the “One True Church”, which must be looked for elsewhere. Satan’s deceptions are manifold, and in this day, I see no reason to think that he would not be eager to convince those who preach the Gospel most purely that they lack the status of “True Church”.

I don’t think that the Lutheran Church needs to be put in quotation marks, since as Christopher acknowledged above, there are fellowships very similar to the EO, even claiming to be EO, that have broken fellowship with the “true EO” as well. I do believe that the faithful local Church I know myself to be a part of and that I know is in fellowship with others around the world is indeed “true Church”, as when I look in the Scriptures and the Fathers to “get a witness” (or to test, as my mood may determine : ) ), it does indeed resonate with the Word of God as I experience it in my local church, and those churches in fellowship with it. Though there “must be divisions among us” Paul encourages us to agree with one another (as he did, think about him seeking “the right hand of fellowship” [not simply, uncritically, submitting to the authority of the pillars, without which he would have ceased to be “True Church”] in Galatians) and we know that, by the grace of God, there are others with whom we agree, and whom we have fellowship with around Christ and the Lord’s Supper, which is indeed the main sign and source of our unity in Christ, (and is also, of course, the richest and most intimate preaching and of the Gospel, which brings faith to those who hear it, and is the power of God unto salvation, of which we are not ashamed). Of course we hope and pray that this agreement could be expanded, that more folks would rightly discern the body (dual sense), but much damage has been done, and barring miraculous circumstances, I think this will take time.

Ben, when you say things like, “the Church’s essence is Christ”, and “All things culminate in the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is our culmination into Christ”, and “What is in Scripture and proclaimed and read leads to the Eucharist, because Christ came to set up His kingdom within each of us, that in Him we may be one, as He and His Father are one in the Spirit. It all leads to knowing Christ through a personal union, which is possible for us by Grace because of His Personal Union - the Incarnation - which is the saving power behind His blessed Death and Resurrection for us. It all leads to the Eucharist, just as the inner relationship each is called to have with Christ is likewise shown, actualized, and determined by the Eucharist” I don’t think most serious Lutherans (the Issues ETC-kind) would disagree.

And when you say, “If their ecclesiology depended on the Eucharist as it does for the Orthodox, then Lutherans could never have ceased to celebrate the Mass on a weekly basis”, two questions come to mind: a) why do you think celebrating on a weekly basis is sufficient, a good “minimum” (by what Scriptures, Fathers, councils, etc)?, (genuine question here) and b) given the possibility for error and sin to assail the Church, how can you so easily come to the simple cause-and-effect conclusion that you do? Is it not entirely possible for the Church to lose sight of an explicit understanding of the thing that sustains them the most, while still being sustained by that which they do not fully grasp or realize? For many of us, of course, even if we don’t begin to understand the Lord’s Supper like we should, being the “mystical” (note: I do not think this excluded the flesh, body, physical) body of Christ is still inseparable from the Lord’s Supper, for, *we are one because we partake of one loaf*, which is Christ’s body itself. Perhaps we could say that the Christian who feeds on the bare Word of God alone apart from this intimate, fleshly, union is indeed “outside of the fold” (He who does not eat my body and drink my blood has no life in Him), as you say, though not necessarily without hope. I would submit that these folks have “come to the feast” and are in the wedding hall, though they are delaying sitting at the table to eat for this or that bad reason to which Satan has them bound (knee-jerk anti-Romanism, rationalism, etc.)! It is indeed strange and disturbing that one would get into the wedding hall and not participate in the feast offered therein – hopefully they won’t eventually find themselves without a robe. On our part, we must fight the devil’s deceptions and see these men and women, who we often can’t not but recognize as brothers and sisters in the Lord, as victims of a great and terrible lie.

Could you talk more about how I might better understand what the “fold” is, i.e., how it is distinct from the Shepherd himself, or the Eucharist, or celebrating the Eucharist? (Am I right to assume that the fold, the one fellowship around the Eucharist, might also be said to be “The Church *and her canonical boundaries* (doctrine) …[as] determined by the Eucharist”, in some sense?). I don’t meant to be the kind of person who thinks that all of this can be “nailed down” so to speak, but perhaps you might have some analogies that might shake me up, wake me up? : ) If the definition above is sufficient, I would submit that serious Lutherans are similar, and that our doctrine, is really is based on the Eucharist, although not as explicitly as perhaps it should be.

As to what the center of our theology is (by the way, didn’t distinctions among the value of the various Scriptures being used in the Church start in the East?), I would say that it is simply the Gospel, understood “narrowly” and “broadly” and most simply as the Name of Jesus, which, rightly understood, is indeed God Himself, and that the Lord’s Supper is the most profound, great, and intimate expression of that Gospel. I have often reflected upon how a) I think our Church is wrong to not give communion to infants (we are to naturally grow into the reason and understanding the Scriptures say is important, this passage is not there to keep children away), where the EO are right ; and b) how little I am aware of how the Lord’s Supper sustains and strengthens our faith and the fullness of our lives in Christ. There have been times when I have been more conscious of what I am dealing with and what it does, but I think we cannot even begin to fathom the magnitude of this gift, which of course, we cannot even begin to imagine the Christian life without.

Now, back to my “apophatic approach” about where we know for a fact the Church isn’t. I think it is simultaneously a *Gospel-proclaiming answer* to the question, and a humble one, if an approach that is perhaps somewhat unique (novel?!) can be considered humble.

The Church militant is *not* where any of the following are explicitly confessed, taught, and freely received (believed) *without exception*:
-God is not “triune”: i.e. he is not one God existing as three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
-Jesus is not the one mediator who reconciles God with fallen man.
-Jesus did not assume human flesh: he is not true God and true man.
-The good Creator is the good creation and vice versa.
-As regards our standing before God in judgment, we have something that we have not received from God (i.e. we make something of ourselves before Him that we may stand), and God does not desire that all repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.
One could add more (like putting bits from the Creeds in there), but I think that if one denies the incarnation, one will deny the meaning and power of the cross; if Jesus’ full humanity and divinity is denied, the resurrection and its meaning will be denied; if they will not accept the initial reconciliation in Christ, they will not accept the final reconciliation (final judgment); if one denies that God is the creator, separate from His creation, one will deny His power (and love); etc. Further, in addition to Augsburg and Smalcald’s definitions of the Church (which are pious definitions those who know themselves to be Church confess, propose [Jensen]) and the apophatic stuff mentioned above, one could also propose “taxonomies” of the Church, with categories like “sacramental heterodox”, “non-sacramental heterodox”, “heretical churches” (Nestorians, Arians), “monotheistic communities” (Jews, Muslims), “pagan communities” (with ones that hide this and those that are upfront, those that are hedonistic and those that are more aesthetic, etc.). These should not be understood in a “is this category an ‘essence’ or not?”, but rather starting points for vigorous fraternal discussion (I confess I wonder whether Rome these days would even be comfortable with my apophatic statements – I hope that they would)

Regarding your final questions: “What would it take for this "Lutheran Church" you mention to enter into communion fellowship with Holy Orthodoxy? What would it take on the Lutheran end? On the Orthodox end?”, I do want to get to answering this (and have been hoping that we would eventually get to this for a while though we hardly speak for our representative communions in any authoritative sense), but I would like to get your response to this last message first, if you would be so kind to oblige me. If not, that’s OK to – I’ll still talk even if you are done talking. : )

In Christ,
Nathan

Nathan said...

Luther, commenting on the relationship between God, Christ, and Christendom said "The natures are different and yet they are one whole being; although the nature of the deity is different than the nature of Christendom, yet just as the Father and Son are one divine being, so Christ and his Christendom are one Christian being." 70 Luther (WA 28, 187), quoted in The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1965. p. 1689

Ben, by the way, I won't be commenting here again until next Monday (one must discipline one's self with this stuff! : ) ) - so take your time in responding. I am not going away, because I have the truth on my side. : )

Nathan said...

Ben,

Re: "I'm not going away, because I have truth on my side. :)"

A good friend pointed out to me that: "it could be understood that you're simply trying to score points and defend Lutheranism rather than seek after the truth--which I believe is your intent..." and I concur. such was not my intent, though it could be read that way. The fact is, is that I really appreciate your attitude which mirrors mine, I think: "there is nothing to fear from the truth".

Nathan said...

Whoops.

"such was not my intent..."

that is, to "score points".

~Nathan

Benjamin Harju said...

Nathan,

You wrote:
-To say a communion is “perfectly Church” is a difficult concept, and it almost sounds like the Lutheran idea of “objective justification” applied to the Church at large, and needs much further clarification.Response:
That the Orthodox Church is perfectly Church is something to be believed or not believed. One has to learn what this is in God's terms, which (again) is why it is a matter of faith. To see for yourself what this is, I suggest you try to grasp Orthodoxy on its own, without first making it live up to Lutheran standards. Learn Orthodoxy, then compare.

You wrote:
“The hazy barrier of a great distance” is not unique to non-Orthodox.Response:
Yes it is. Orthodoxy does not have to reach back into history in order to construct itself anew or start over. Rome does not do this, either, even though they have perverted the tradition. But Lutheranism is defined by this method. Sola Scriptura is the embodiment of this method. That was my point.

You wrote:
Given their clarity about sin and grace, it is very likely that Satan would be eager to convince Lutherans that they are not “true Church”.Response:
Lutherans are not as clear on sin and grace as they'd like to think. I suggest you re-begin your investigation into Orthodox theology starting here. You might like Meyendorf's Byzantine Theology.

You wrote:
If “The Lutheran Church” needs to be in quotes, why, given the fractured nature of EO, should it not be put in quotes as well? Response:
Because the Orthodox Church is not fractured. It is one communion fellowship. Those outside the fellowship are outside the Church - as far as we can tell. Perhaps God, in His Grace and mercy, can see how their separation from the Church is not total or complete - but I speak now of individual Christians in these erring/straying bodies. The bodies themselves are not "Church," because there is only one Church - and it's not merely invisible in the world.

You wrote:
If Lutherans say they want their theology to be centered on the Lord’s Supper, as the main sign and source of our unity in Christ, why insist on telling them they are wrong? ...Response:
Some Lutherans say this nowadays. Many don't. Who am I to believe? The Lord's Supper was always important to Luther, and congregational unity always centered around it. But you and I are not talking about congregational unity. We are talking about unity on a world-wide scale, between congregations, jurisdictions, and the like. And in this sense there is no "Lutheran Church," because there is no single communion fellowship. Or if there is a "Lutheran Church" in the world, then the Eucharist is incidental to the nature and unity of Lutheran ecclesiology.

You wrote:
I am still a little fuzzy on the “fold” concept. Is it, roughly, “The Church *and her canonical boundaries* (doctrine) …[as] determined by the Eucharist”?Response:
You are getting warmer. The scriptural word for Church is ecclesia. It means gathering. Christ speaks of there being one flock, into which all His sheep must be gathered. This is the Church. The canonical boundaries are not simply doctrine. It's more than that, though obedience to the Truth is a must. The visible Eucharist and the findable, single fellowship gathered around the Eucharist is the Church, the gathering around the Shepherd. This gathering is the home of the Holy Spirit on earth. This gathering is the Body of Christ. This gathering is the pillar of Truth. Lutherans, not having this single communion fellowship, have defaulted to the next best thing, and drawn their conclusions from there. And, sadly, many Lutherans recast history to fit into the new-normal they have now.

You wrote:
The Lord’s Supper is the most profound, great, and intimate expression of that Gospel, which is what the whole of our theology is based on.Response:
You'r getting warmer...

You wrote:
When it comes to knowledge about the Church, other than “the sheep who know their Shepherd’s voice” (pure Word and Sac), an apophatic approach that makes clear where the church is not – and makes the Gospel more explicit - is more reasonable.The Church is not that the sheep know the Shepherd's voice, but that knowing they are gathered to Him in the world's one Eucharistic fellowship. It is not possible to break from this fellowship and to set up the Eucharist apart from it, because the nature of the fellowship is derived from Christ in His Church (i.e. in the Eucharist). Of course, God can work where He will. The point is that while we acknowledge the possibility of exceptions to the rule, we also admit that God has not informed us as to when and where those exceptions are in effect.

You wrote:
I am eager to talk about “what it would take” to have reunionResponse:
I only asked this to better understand where you are coming from.


Nathan, at this point you sound more like you are ready to learn about Orthodox doctrine. Try to pick up Byzantine Theology, or maybe Gilquist's Becoming Orthodox. The questions you are asking can be answered only to a point. You will have to delve into Orthodox doctrine, and then you will find it easier to take a second look at these issues. I say this only because you seem to keep approaching the issue with Lutheran theology. Orthodox ecclesiology is understood best within the matrix of Orthodox theology. For me, I went around in circles a few times like this before I got anywhere. Again, it was a matter of dealing with my own presuppositions that I didn't know were there.

I don't think there's anything more I can do to help you at this point. I really think you should take some time to read and get more experienced insights (like on Lutherans Looking East). Good luck to you.

orrologion said...

Nathan,

Regarding all your questions concerning the boundaries of the Church in Orthodox theology, I would suggest you download and read "The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church" by Patrick Barnes for an introduction to the way Orthodoxy looks at such things. The entire book is available here for free download:

http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/non-orthodox.pdf

Patrick gives a more 'traditional' view of the boundaries of the Church, but his bibliography and text should at least reference other opinions that may be more 'open'. I personally subscribe to his POV, and this is more of the standard line in Orthodoxy around the world and in its major centers (Athos, etc.).

Nathan said...

Ben,

You said:

“That the Orthodox Church is perfectly Church is something to be believed or not believed. One has to learn what this is in God's terms, which (again) is why it is a matter of faith. To see for yourself what this is, I suggest you try to grasp Orthodoxy on its own…”

Ben, I *have* been trying to do this for a while now – it is not easy, I hope you understand. For my part, I do believe the Church, the mystical body, is, in some sense, actually Christ’s visible body on earth, and that the Father sees it as pure and holy in His Son. I am curious – do the EO have an opinion on the phrase “communion of saints” (seemingly distinct from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church) in the Apostle’s Creed? It seems to me that the EO would say the saints in heaven are a part of the Church, though not the militant one. Evidently those who are outside the true visible Church on earth, if they would finally be saved, would be a part of the Church in the next life… does that mean that they would have also necessarily been a part of the Church in some sense in this life as well, though hidden – or no?

Ben:

“Orthodoxy does not have to reach back into history in order to construct itself anew or start over. Rome does not do this, either, even though they have perverted the tradition. But Lutheranism is defined by this method. Sola Scriptura is the embodiment of this method.”

Ben, I think you know that “sola scriptura” is useful shorthand, which does not really do justice to the nuance involved here. From my perspective, as I have illustrated, the Lutheran approach to Scripture clearly can not and does not exclude a “rule of faith” present in those who are driven back to the Scriptures to confirm and re-affirm that rule, although this is often not made explicit. I don’t think there was an effort to “construct itself anew” as we call it the “Conservative Reformation” for a reason.

Ben:

“Lutherans are not as clear on sin and grace as they'd like to think. I suggest you re-begin your investigation into Orthodox theology starting here. You might like Meyendorf's Byzantine Theology.”

It is on my list of books I would like to read – I’ve read parts (I have read Gilquest’s book and much, much more). I do know some who have read it though, and though impressed by Meyendorf’s scholarship, would certainly take issue with what he says.

Ben:

“Because the Orthodox Church is not fractured. It is one communion fellowship… The bodies themselves are not "Church," because there is only one Church - and it's not merely invisible in the world.”

I simply cannot share your firm confidence of this. I’m sure neither can those who think they are the “true EO”, but whom you exclude. With all the certainty about who is Church present among the EO and some in Rome – so confident of the errors of their opponents – and seemingly putting a greater premium on their inner experience of being the Church than any external evidence which we can all observe, make sense of, and discuss – at least we will not be able to say that God and God alone has done a great, great miracle if most of those estranged (not just both “lungs”) are re-united before the Final Appearing! I agree that the Church is not fractured in God’s eyes, just as He sees me as pure and holy in His Son (and because of this, the remnants of sin are beginning to be purged daily). I think not only the Scriptures, but even the Fathers (though not using the language of forensic justification, for I do not believe such language was made necessary until later on, and I am greatly saddened that many in the EO communion do not seem to consider what has happened in the West as being relevant to themselves, considering their utter confidence that such are no longer the Body of Christ in any real sense), direct our eyes elsewhere when it comes to our being confident – at this present moment (for “now” is the time of salvation) – of being in a secure relationship with the Triune God and those in fellowship with Him, namely the Promise which is ours by faith.

Ben:

“We are talking about unity on a world-wide scale, between congregations, jurisdictions, and the like. And in this sense there is no "Lutheran Church," because there is no single communion fellowship. Or if there is a "Lutheran Church" in the world, then the Eucharist is incidental to the nature and unity of Lutheran ecclesiology.”

Honest question: On what basis, other than your confidence (faith?) that your Orthodox communion are right and others claiming to be “true Orthodox” are wrong (in other words, this seems to, in some sense, really come down to doctrinal boundaries: “this is out of bounds”), do you affirm that there is a single communion fellowship among Orthodox? If you take this tack, it seems to me that there is a single world-wide Lutheran communion as well (LC-MS and those in communion with them), in a matter almost perfectly analogous to the “true Orthodox” communion, although it is smaller. But since when has size counted in the Kingdom of God?

Ben:

“The visible Eucharist and the findable, single fellowship gathered around the Eucharist is the Church, the gathering around the Shepherd. This gathering is the home of the Holy Spirit on earth. This gathering is the Body of Christ. This gathering is the pillar of Truth. Lutherans, not having this single communion fellowship, have defaulted to the next best thing, and drawn their conclusions from there. And, sadly, many Lutherans recast history to fit into the new-normal they have now.”

Ben, I’m still a bit unclear about why we do not have this “single communion fellowship” you speak of, by which I mean “persons, congregations, and larger fellowships (synods) who recognize others, after sharing conversation, as being a part of the true visible body of Christ, to whom we must offer the right hand of fellowship” - although it is smaller (larger “breakaway” groups, sometimes majorities). I fail to see why you, or other EO, are so confident they cannot be included in “the pillar of truth”.

Ben:

“The Church is not that the sheep know the Shepherd's voice, but that knowing they are gathered to Him in the world's one Eucharistic fellowship.”

Ben, obviously, the sheep know the most profound, great, and intimate expression of their Shepherd’s voice to be that which He speaks and gives at the world’s one Eucharistic fellowship, which will reach its apex at the Final Appearing and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. I do not believe that we have broken from this fellowship and “set up the Eucharist apart from it”, but rather that we have always had it. I think we are a true visible Church body (which, again, yes, has a divinely ordained and ordered external hierarchy which cannot but have spiritual implications – this, I think, is the problem with other “conservative Lutherans” view of the office of the ministry) gathered around Word and Sacrament, but that perhaps, we might discover through conversation, that we are only a part of *the* true visible body of Christ. Again, we know exactly where it isn’t, but not exactly where it is… This is not to say that we must never “avoid them!” (Rom 16), but that discernment is called for. But considering your a priori experiential conviction that you now alone have the true Church, I am at a loss as to what I could say to you to reconsider this view.

Ben:

“Nathan, at this point you sound more like you are ready to learn about Orthodox doctrine…. You will have to delve into Orthodox doctrine, and then you will find it easier to take a second look at these issues.”

Ben, I have been doing this for a while – and I actually believe that Christian charity does not allow me to stop looking at these issues (I have never stopped, so I won’t be taking a “second look” : ) ), and I don’t want to simply dismiss your “The questions you are asking can be answered only to a point” point. But when you say that you only asked me “what it would take” *only* in order to better understand where you are coming from, I would humbly submit that this may be a problem (eliminate the “only” and I would not say this). To say that I “seem to keep approaching the issue with Lutheran theology” seems strange to me, because I have tried quite hard to understand “Orthodox ecclesiology… within the matrix of Orthodox theology”, by dwelling in the words of those who speak for EO – and I will try to continue to learn… Perhaps giving myself fully to it in a “leap of faith” is the only way for me to understand? Well, I think I’ve given plenty of reasons why I am not ready to make such a leap. I guess I think I’m aware of the role presuppositions take in conversations like this – perhaps more so then you were with yours, which you freely admit you didn’t know were there. For me though, to come back to the beginning of our conversation though, the only way for persons to make any progress in these kinds of conversations (which are not really like the Ecumenical movement, since I am probably more like Sasse) is to admit to the fact that while all of us have our presuppositions, evidence external to our own personal experiences truly is a key issue – and God means for it to be, for He ours is an eventful faith, as Pastor Wilken points out. It is only evidence from the outside that can free us up, convince us, to look into the possibility – to question - that our mother’s pure love for us may be what we thought it was.

From Father Gregory’s blog:

“Martin Guerre was a 16th century Frenchman who disappeared after having been accused of stealing grain. A few years later, a man appeared in the town, claiming to be Guerre. He deceived many, including Guerre's wife. But during one trial the real Martin Guerre reappeared, and the impostor was eventually executed.

While the false Guerre could relate many stories from the true Guerre's life--in some cases, remembering details that the real Guerre had forgotten--his rhetorical brilliance could not cover the ultimately-discovered reality that he was not, in fact, Martin Guerre. Words about his "past" could not, in the end, substitute for fact.”

http://frgregory.blogspot.com/2008/02/is-church-institution.html

Indeed. So let us seek the truth.

I say we dare not cut this link – the importance of evidence which can completely disrupt the internal frameworks that guide us (formed in us either more cerebrally or more emotionally), *for our God has chosen not to do things in corners… * I will, as I believe is my duty, continually “come and see” – but in the end to reserve fellowship for those who bring the message of Christ, as did the Apostles, and only then to speak of the Church… The cart must not be put before the horse. Though these are certainly yoked together, I submit we think rightly when we say that the Church offends the world because of the exclusivity of Christ *before* we say that Christ offends because of the exclusivity of the Church. The scandal of particularity starts and finishes as the cross, because we have nothing else to talk about. : ) But I think you would agree with that.

Christopher – thanks for the link – I will take a look at it – and will post here again next Monday if you are interested in my initial feedback.

Love in Christ,
Nathan

“It was because she clung to Him who alone is truth, allowed His Word to judge everything she taught and submitted herself to Him, Truth Incarnate, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is not that her saying so makes things so; it is that she speaks the words of God faithfully.” – Pastor Weedon

Nathan said...

that our mother’s pure love for us may be what we thought it was.

should be...

that our mother’s pure love for us may NOT be what we thought it was.

-Natham

Nathan said...

Christopher,


Thanks so much for the link to Barne’s book. It is very informative, to be sure.


I am trying to get a handle on those things that seem to make the EO and Lutheran views distinct.


I’m not done yet (I’ve carefully read though and digested the first 48 pages and only skimmed the rest), but I’d like to lay before you some things that I would be interested in getting your feedback to - as to whether I am correctly understanding, stating, these things.


First of all, although both EO and Lutherans believe that Christ is present in the Scriptures and creates Christians through His Word wherever it is heard, here are what to me seem the underlying presumptions:


L: We are at least part of the true Church, and believe Word and Sacraments administered in the right form (i.e. true words: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) will create faith and make the true Church. It is theoretically possible that we may recognize others as being “truly Church” through dialogue.
EO: We are the true Church and others are not, and we have the only valid sacraments, as we alone have the ecclesial grace to administer them rightly (right intention). It is impossible to presume that others could potentially be recognized as being “truly Church” through dialogue.


From this, we get some of the following different views:


L1: Those who are baptized into Christ (see above), know Him by faith, and endure in this faith, are now or at least will be a part of the true Church, despite “felicitous inconsistencies”.
EO1: It is possible that those heterodox who obviously love Christ may attain salvation by their practice of Christianity. The question of their eternal destiny should be left open as the God of Love may place them in His Heavenly Kingdom (but see p. 55: “God will have mercy on them” – I think we need to have a clear answer about God’s mercy regarding those “Christians” [or even pagans?] who don’t have a chance to realize the truth of EO: “may” or “will”?)


L2: Recognize a baptism that is correct in form as efficacious and valid when persons confess Christ rightly in faith. If a person was baptized where it is possible or likely that the pastor’s, their’s, the congregation’s, or the “denominations’s” intent was to deny the true presence and intention of the Triune God (He *is* His Name, and He is there in the Sacrament to be gracious to sinners, no matter what our interpretation of His Name or actions), a person may be re-baptized if they are concerned about its validity.
EO2: Recognize a baptism as effective when a person enters the EO church, as the form (Apostolic triple immersion in the Name of the Trinity) and intention (to be a part of what the person perceived to be the true church) is then filled with Ecclesiastical grace and given its effectiveness.


L3: While not denying the importance of pastoral judgment, or economy, given the “certain charismatic quality” seen in heterodox rites (since this is obviously not on the same level as paganism), we believe there are situations where any pastor should recognize sacraments as being valid – namely, when a person who was baptized in the right form (“pattern of sound words”) confesses Christ (rightly, not a “false Jesus”).
EO3: An EO priest or bishop decides to “make valid” a heterodox baptism (due to his determining that there was not only an acceptable form but intent as well), and generally speaking, it is not fitting for another priest or bishop to oppose him in his judgment (at least if they forcibly overturned it?) – even if one was very familiar with a situation – because of the practice of economy.


Have I understood this correctly? Maybe I got EO3 wrong? (let me know!). In any case, I would like to look at L1 and EO1 a little bit more closely, because I find these differences in particular to be quite interesting and important.


I will be looking further into the idea of a patristic consensus that the Church began with Abraham (footnote 72). I tend to think, with Eusebius, that “Abraham himself back to the first man, were Christians in fact if not in name” (p 41), primarily because of “a profession of piety toward the one and only God over all”, through “the knowledge and the teaching of Christ” (p. 41). In other words, there were “Gentile and pagan Saint” because they knew God by faith, or trust, just as Hebrews 11 says. As Barnes says, “Eusebius’ use of the term ‘Christian’ for those who were virtuous and professed faith in God helps to guide our thinking about those believers separated from the Church”. The key of course, is that the Lutherans want to put the emphasis on faith, which simultaneously obtains all and yet “naturally” grows into all (and from which true virtue derives), whereas the EO want to emphasize virtue (and not necessarily a virtue, or righteousness, which is an evidence of faith in the true God, but one more generically defined, as open to all to accomplish or attain).


According for Barnes, it is a persons “character”, a person’s virtue, that “anticipates their faith”. It is likely as a reward for a person’s conduct that a person attains the faith. All of this is likely connected to “the human side of faith… the human efforts which can be expended in religious activities whether one’s beliefs are right or wrong (p. 27, footnote 54). The gift of grace is for the virtuous, and it is in this sense that these outside the Church are “one of us” – that is, “in heart”. So again, certain pagans are “one of us” (the Church) in heart, by their character, or virtue, which anticipates their faith, which is their reward. Although it is only EO baptism that totally renews human nature and opens up the way for potential communion with the divine by indwelling of the Spirit (i.e. illumination as opposed to mere enlightenment), nevertheless, not only for heterodox, but also for pagans, EO may conclude that because of their character, the God of Love may possibly place them in His heavenly Kingdom (but see p. 55: “God will have mercy on them” – so what is it?) Of course Acts 10:35 says that “in every nation he that feareth Him… is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:35)… Lutherans would see these men who are accepted as really possessing the name “Christian” not primarily by their righteous deeds (these are the fruits which identifies them as being of faith), but by a faith, born in fear and trembling, in the one true God. Such produces real virtue. The weaknesss of this faith would be that it is not explicit – the true believer has not yet actually been recognized and identified with the Church, the community that explicitly proclaims faith in Jesus Christ.


Here is my question: how does a person come to know God? It seems to me that the EO would say that persons like Noah, despite not being a part of the Church (which they suggest started with Abraham) knew God. I am guessing that he is not seen as being a part of the Church, or assembly of the saints, during his earthly life, but only afterwards in heaven. This seems strange to me. I think for Lutherans, persons are “one with us” (the Church) by the “circumcision of the heart”, which is a faith in the Triune God that anticipates an explicit Christian faith. As Chrysostom says, they that before Christ’s coming pleased God are “one body” because they knew Christ. More: “Now what is this one body? The faithful throughout the whole world, both which are, and which have been, and which shall be”. (p. 41, footnote 72). It seems a given that a man like Noah knew God and is a part of the Church triumphant. On what basis can we assert that He was not, in some sense, also a part of the church militant, Christ’s body, while on earth as well, although he may not have been recognized as such by all (the other two of the “Three Hierarchs”? – for it seems Chrysostom is questionable here, and Eusebius surely is)? Do we want to say that Noah only became a part of the body at death? If so, it would seem that something other than “knowing God” (think of marriage here, the intimacy implied – surely this is not just “falling in love”!) is that which organically unites us to the Church – namely simply death itself…


All this said, I sure hope that you or Ben would find time to engage me on this. I certainly am eager to learn more and will keep trying to discover the truth. There is no doubt about it: there is evidence “out there”, which on the face of it at least, would and should compel and persuade me, to take a second look.


And yet… I hope that you can say the same.


Love in Christ,
Nathan

orrologion said...

If I may be so bold, I would suggest that your most recent comment is best suited as a number of separate posts to the Lutherans Looking East list on Yahoo!Groups. That forum is specifically geared to answer questions and to receive input from a wider cross-section of Orthodoxy than me and Ben (as well as a wider cross-section than our understanding of Lutheranism). You can join the list by visiting the homepage at:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LutheransLookingEast/

Email me personally at orrologion at blogspot dot com if you have any problems.

orrologion said...

Duh, my email is not at blogspot. My email is orrologion at gmail dot com.

Those are all very good questions, so I hope you share them with the LLE list. I'm a blowhard know-it-all that has no business talking about Orthodoxy in any sort of definitive way.