Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Inevitable Consequences

What's this all about?
If you're confused, read the original conversion announcement.

I think it's important to read comments on a blog. I know when I write a post, I try to focus on the thing I want to say, and not get side-tracked. The comments, though, are a great place to talk about things the post missed, or just to talk about related things. Some of the best parts of a post are the comments that follow.

Not everyone's comments are alike, though. Since announcing this humongous change that my family and I have chosen to undertake, we've gotten a lot of good feedback. Sure, you're always going to have some people who want to call you satanic, uneducated, evil, or conniving. I've had that happen, as have others before me. But, thankfully, most people have been very human and very Christian.

One comment I've heard does ring true: when a pastor converts, it upsets the people he leaves behind. Very true. Many of us observed this some years ago when notable Lutheran pastors decided to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, and in some cases brought some of their parishioners with them in the process. I may not have attempted to bring anyone with me, much less even told anyone about my discernment that I didn't have to, but that does not change the fact that the people I left behind most likely will be upset, confused, and possibly disillusioned.

I know that my former parishioners were told about my conversion shortly before I announced it. I am told they were shocked. And I can only imagine what else they must be going through. There isn't much I can do about that part. I have tried very hard to keep my discernment into Orthodoxy separate from my responsibilities as a parish pastor. My inquiry (and now conversion) into Orthodoxy has to do with me and my family, not the parishes I served. But in the end my final choice to convert destroys the separation I had held in place. Questions naturally arise from this.

What about all that I did as their pastor? What of the baptisms, the Lord's Supper administered by my hand, the forgiveness of sins dispensed "in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ"? If anyone is concerned, look to what you believe. For the Lutheran these things depend not on the man's character, nor what he does with his future, but upon the divine call. If the man had a divine call, then that is where the Lutheran puts his faith.

What of all that I spoke? What of my preaching, teaching, catechizing, etc? Check me against the Scriptures, if there is doubt. Consult the Book of Concord that I once pointed to. It's all there. I took from Luther whenever I could, relied upon official service books, used confirmation materials handed to me by the seminary, and even reformed ancient prayers to conform to Lutheran theology. And if anyone still has a doubt about anything I ever said or did, I will gladly point to the seminary class I learned it from.

Ah, but what of the icons? Last I was in the seminary bookstore, icon prints were still for sale (which is where I got my first one), and two icons hung in the chapel. Lutherans love icons (though not all Lutherans) as beautiful religious art. If this were not so, then when I published my use of icons in the basement chapel of one parish, where were the cries of foul from all the Lutherans?

I can only guess what my former parishioners must be thinking and feeling. It may be some of the above, it may not. I can only apologize for causing them suffering, and thank them for their love and kindness towards us when we were there. We still love and care for them very much. And I respect them. The contract was for Lutheranism, to speak humanly, and that is what I delivered, because when I was with them this was my true confession. Now that I am not their pastor I am doing something else. My suffering was perhaps the Lord's way of dividing us from where we were toward where we needed to be.

My district president and I have an agreement: I will not seek to cause disruption in the parishes I leave behind. I would have it no other way. Yet someone may ask, "If you believe in Orthodoxy, then why would you want to make people feel secure as Lutherans? Shouldn't you try to convince them to become Orthodox?" My answer: to do so would be to force it on them, and that is more danger than I think is good for them. I respect their convictions and their belief, for it was my belief, too, as their pastor. So my desire is that the congregations should heal from the loss of their former pastor, prepare for a new pastor (whoever he is, he will be truly blessed among them), and continue forward together in peace.

"Don't you wish them to embrace Holy Orthodoxy?" YES, of course I do. But, in my opinion, a person should choose to look with freedom. I wish everyone in all creation were Orthodox, but I will not force it on anyone if I can help it. I love my former parishioners and respect them, and in my final fatherly consideration of their souls, I don't think forcing them to look would be healthful for them.

If anyone from anywhere decides in their own freedom to look, that is their choice, and that is by far more healthful than being forced to choose (though still serious). Emily and I both stand willing to listen and to help out anyone, as do countless others who comment on our blogs and to whom we link, for we know there are many across the U.S. and abroad who are reading about what's going on and feel drawn to look into Orthodoxy for themselves.

Let me close this post with a conversation I had recently:

I was speaking with an inquirer. He was very excited about what he was finding in Orthodoxy. When he explained to me the reasons he had for coming into Orthodoxy, one of the reasons was because a pastor he knew had converted, and he had never known that pastor to be wrong before, so he too was going to join. The man who said this to me is a smart man, and a good man, but he had made a mistake that is easy for anyone to make. I said in reply to him, "It is certainly well and good to look into Orthodoxy because of your trust and admiration for this man. However, you should not come to Orthodoxy because of the faith of someone else, no matter what you thought of him. You should only convert to Orthodoxy if you come to believe it yourself." He agreed with me.

When a pastor converts as I have done, there are many people - his parishioners and plenty of others - who may be tempted to follow him because they trust him. However, this way leads to sorrow and loss of faith. Instead one should seek only the Lord Jesus Christ in all things. So respect or admiration can lead a person to inquire, but finding the Lord Jesus Himself is the only reason to truly follow, for it is He that we are called to follow as disciples, and He alone.

1 comment:

DebD said...

I was not even a pastor, but I also got a tearful "How could you?" phone call from a fellow church member. It must be triple fold when a pastor does it. I think there is just no way around it, sadly people will be hurt. I seems like you have tried to do it in the most gentle and kindest way possible. I commend you for that.