"I have dreamed a dream, but now that dream is gone from me."
The above is a movie quote from Matrix: Reloaded. The character Morpheus uttered it in shock as he watched his ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, explode before his eyes, which was shortly after discovering that his hope in "The One" was a false hope.
I think of this line as I bid my final farewell to Evangelical Lutheranism.
However, I also think of another line from the same character, this one from the first Matrix film:
"Welcome to the real world...."
It's like being born, coming into Holy Orthodoxy, or like waking from a hard sleep. Everything you once knew or experienced before birth or while asleep is suddenly removed, but in its place is simply what is real and true.
Unlike birth or a dream, though, a person must choose to wake up or to pass beyond the birth canal. Even if he is utterly convinced it must be done, he must still apply his will wholeheartedly. He will not know what that waking or birthing is like experientially, and when it begins it can be quite frightening, because it can sometimes push you along like a current. But in this way God means to bring you from sleeping into waking, from dreaming into the real of His kingdom - what the world calls the Orthodox Church.
I have sent a letter to my district president, resigning from the roster of the LCMS. Because he had asked on more than one occasion about what led me to such a decision, I attached an explanation to the back of the resignation. I reprint it here:
The Reason for My Resignation
In short I have only one reason: my children. Where can I take my children, especially now that I am no longer a parish pastor? The entire Missouri Synod is ablaze with mistrust among its members, endless squabbling over power, and a seemingly unstoppable erosion of worship.
This last point alone is of serious importance, since the Christian faith is that of worship in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23-24; Athanasian Creed), and in the LCMS there are multiple competing worships. This reveals a deep-seated loss of and detachment from the redemption accomplished for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Where can I take my children under the banner of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod that their faith may not be eroded or grievously mislead by this chaos? It is useless to say that all this is simply the way things normally are, because the LCMS is a voluntary association, which means its members voluntarily continue on like this. There is nowhere in the LCMS where my children can be spared from a subjectified, and therefore false, example of Christ and His holy Church.
This much alone is enough for any God-fearing man to pluck his family from the flames and run to safety.
However, more than this lies behind my resignation. If I were to stay, it would only be long enough to advocate that the Synod be dissolved (for it is no synod at all, by definition of the term), or that there be a formal parting of ways. But instead I choose to resign, not only from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, but even from the Evangelical Lutheran Church itself, if there is such a thing.
For over a decade I have earnestly and sincerely given myself to the promotion of the Lutheran Book of Concord. I have thrown everything that I am and have into learning this confession from the best theologians, teaching this confession to all that I could, and defending it wherever possible. It has been my hope, especially during the past four-plus years as a parish pastor, to pass on through these Lutheran Confessions the faith once delivered to the saints by Jesus Christ our Lord through His holy Apostles.
Yet the sad condition of the LCMS and all American Lutheranism itself has led me to explore other options. I had hoped to find the faith detailed in the Book of Concord elsewhere, but I could not. This Confession overturned all other Roman Catholic and Protestant claims to truth completely. But there was one Church, one expression of Christianity that I had not properly engaged due to my own ignorance. That is the Orthodox Church. Better known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, my family and I have become convinced that this Church is without a doubt the very Church of Christ Himself (even though we did not set out to find such a thing). We desire nothing more than to be Christian; the Orthodox Church is the home of Christianity – both at Pentecost and continuously until today.
I had begun by looking for another Lutheran haven. That was a disappointing search. Yet what I found was more than I ever knew was possible. I have found the faith once delivered to the Apostles. I have found the Church described by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. I have found the home of worship in spirit and in truth – even in Spirit and in Truth – and that worship which fulfills the Scriptures. In fact, I have come to believe (for this is no mere intellectual game, but a matter of the heart and soul and serious conviction) that the Orthodox Church is the fulfillment of the Scriptures and their continuing in the history of the cosmos.
Much investigation, prayer, and discernment has gone into this decision. Though other pastors before me, having come to this same decision, have done otherwise, I have chosen not to bring my investigation and discernment regarding this matter into the parishes where I have served. Instead, I have continued throughout to lead them to embrace Lutheranism as I was taught it in seminary. I even left as much of a paper trail as I could so that it would be apparent to all that everything I gave them was Lutheran and congruous with the Lutheran Confessions. Originally this was so future ministers could continue the work after I moved on, and also so the people would know whether they were receiving genuine Lutheranism or not. I have had great confidence that doing this – even as I privately began discerning – was a drastic improvement over the half-decade of vacancy and uncertainty they lived with before my arrival.
I love the people I served in the Lord Jesus dearly. I am sad that I did not get to speak with them about my beliefs concerning Holy Orthodoxy, but I did not feel such a move would have been healthful to them. The Prophet Isaiah said of our Lord Jesus, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (42:3). How much more should I, His unworthy minister, take care with His sheep, to not force anything on them whether they were willing or not, and thereby do damage to their souls. Instead I go on ahead myself, so that all those who hear may have the freedom to inquire or not, to discern or not, to follow or not. The Lord forces no one, and neither do I.
It is true that I have suffered much personal hardship as of late. Rather than dissuade me, it has all tested my faith and brought me with great speed to the gate of Christ’s home in Holy Orthodoxy, like Lazarus begging covered with sores waiting for a kinder Rich Man. God be merciful to me a sinner! The Orthodox Church is the fullest expression of the catholic (universal) faith, and is truly the Body of Christ on earth and the gate of heaven.
I strongly hope and pray that every one reading this will take the time to carefully learn of this Church, and hear her according to her own words and meaning, and not according to our private expectations. It is not easy for we with Western ears, geared toward Roman Catholic vs. Protestant conflicts, to do this, but the labor is well worth it.
If Lutheranism were only compared against Roman Catholicism and the plentitude of Protestant denominations, it would win hands down every time. But never can Lutheranism compare to the Truth and faithfulness of Holy Orthodoxy, and the intimacy she holds with Christ our Lord. Words can neither do justice nor exhaust the greatness of Christ in His Orthodox Church, with the Father and the Spirit ever reigning, world without end. Amen.
In the Orthodox Church my children have the very best they could ever hope to have: communion with Christ in the fullness of His grace. No; it’s better to say that my children have what they should have as Christians. They have what Christ has won for them by His voluntary suffering, death, and resurrection to life. Anything else will just not do.
Benjamin L. Harju
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" [Rev. 21:1-2].
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.