Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Fair and Honest Reform

Josiah Rediscovers the Torah
I have noticed in discussions with Lutherans who once were my colleagues and fellow-conspirators in the LCMS :-) that our conversation seems to get "stuck" a lot. We end up posturing ourselves against each other. For instance, "A single visible Church of Christ on earth is a theology of glory," or "the Fathers normally read that Scripture as thus and thus." Boiled down, this sort of conversation amounts to "As Lutherans we believe such and such," and "The Orthodox have always believed such and such." You see, it's just posturing. Perhaps a better way to describe it is identifying lines of demarcation, something essential if two sides are going to learn to deal with one another in any constructive way.

It seems to cause no small bother to some of these Lutherans that the Orthodox Church has (relatively speaking) theological unity and peace, a common way of life, and has maintained a belief that there is one Church of Christ (one communion fellowship) that has always been Christ's Church since Pentecost, and always will be until Christ returns. These are the most prevalent reasons cited by such Lutherans to explain why some of their own would be tempted to convert to Orthodoxy, or even finally make that conversion.

But this is wrong. Now I must speak for myself. Other converts are welcome to use the combox to speak on their own behalf. What tempted me to look towards the Orthodox Church? The following encouragement came from outside sources, either directly or indirectly:

  • In seminary I was assigned to write a paper on a Christian church group I knew nothing about. I chose the Orthodox Church. After graduation I began to feel that I had not given Orthodoxy a fair shake, and it was unsettling to me. I wanted to go back and look at it again.

  • My own church body was a spiritual disaster, and my participation in it was becoming unconscionable. No other Lutheran body within reach offered anything better. Therefore I was willing to examine Orthodoxy, especially when invited to do so with other Lutherans by other Lutherans. I hoped to a) discern if Orthodoxy was basically Lutheranism (it isn't), and b) at least give Orthodoxy a fair chance on its own terms.

  • Some Lutherans I know (who did not nor do I expect to convert) expressed a kinship with Orthodox theologians, clergy, and books. This piqued my interest.

The following are things that I initially discovered that encouraged me to look deeper:
  • The Orthodox value the sacraments similarly to Lutherans.

  • Orthodox theology is highly eschatological - meaning the future reign of Christ is constantly happening now and being applied now.

  • Orthodoxy maintains historical continuity, in doctrine and practice. In layman's terms this means they can demonstrate that they are believing and doing the same things the first Christians were doing.

  • The Orthodox Church is very liturgical. Not only is there no contemporary revival-worship, but their rich liturgical practices are accompanied by a sensible theology. Liturgy in the Orthodox Church involves all the previous points made above in this list.

Upon some deeper investigation I found that the Orthodox:

  • Do not believe we earn our salvation by works. See the video in my previous post for an excellent explanation of salvation in Orthodoxy by the Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoyev.

  • Believe the Pope of Rome is the reason for and source of error, schism, and protestantism in the West. The Orthodox reject Papal Supremacy.

  • See everything in Christological and Pneumatological terms, more so than the Lutherans. Everything is about Christ, and everything is influenced by the Holy Spirit in the Church.

I also noticed right away that the Orthodox have their own way of thinking about some things that the Lutherans normally considered "settled" or "refuted from Scripture" when dealing with others like Roman Catholics or other Protestants. The Orthodox have their own unique explanations regarding (to name a few):
  • Scripture and Tradition

  • The Fall of Man

  • Free Will

  • Intercession of the Saints

Here I would like to point out that Lutheran theology arose by seeking to reform Western, medieval, scholastic theology. It examined theology in that context. It searched the Scriptures with that theology and its frameworks in mind. Even in referring itself to the teachings of the Fathers, Lutherans read them from within this Western, medieval, scholastic context. Lutheran reformation theology developed by listening to the theology of the Roman West, living in its practices, and finding something askew. Dialogue and debate ensued. In the end the popular, liturgical, and sacramental practices of the Roman West were judged according to the arguments and theologies of those in the West. This is how Lutheran theology begins.

While it is often assumed by Lutherans that they have done nothing but resurrect the lost theology of the Bible, in fact the very act of trying to recover assumes an investigation. The reform did not involve Luther, a Bible, and a blank piece of paper. Rather, it was to be a reform of existing Christendom, with special attention given to teaching nothing new - hence the multitude of references to patristic sources. Thus Lutheran theology is a reform of the medieval West, and a response to Western papal theology and practice. This reform is often increased to include not only the medieval West, but even all of Christianity after St. John the Apostle wrote the last book in the Bible.

It must be pointed out that Lutheran theology is something developed from investigation and argument. This investigation and argument did not include the Orthodox East. What of the Tübingen theologians who corresponded with Patriarch Jeremias II? I'm afraid that was not the same as the original reformation efforts. The Tübingen theologians wrote not to determine what the true Christian teaching really is (as was done when the first reformers investigated matters for themselves against the errors around them), but to gain the support of the Patriarch against the Pope and to convince him that the Lutherans had discovered the real truth. Patriarch Jeremias II had no interest in being converted to a reformational theology away from the unreformed and unchanged theology and practice of Orthodoxy.

So again I point out, Lutheran theology is something developed from investigation and argument. Some of Lutheran argumentation against the Pope came from the practice of the Orthodox East (e.g. see Melanchthon's defense of Eucharistic sacrifice in the Apology). Yet today's Lutherans say to the Orthodox, "We alone have the truth - you are wrong and need a reformation." Never have Lutheran theologians said, "Whoa, our conclusions about the Truth have been reached in exclusion of the Orthodox Church. Yet we're telling them they are wrong and need to submit to our beliefs in order to have the real Christian faith. We need to backup."

A Lutheran who truly believes in the principles behind the Book of Concord ought to give Orthodoxy a fair chance. That does not mean he should automatically submit to Orthodox practice and belief. It means he should choose to be open to the way of life, to the spiritual teaching, to the theology, to the heart and soul of Orthodoxy - to let Orthodoxy fully present itself to the Lutheran (which takes time) so that the Lutheran can discern, can test the spirits, and see for himself as Luther believed he had regarding the Pope and Western theology and practice of the day.

For the whole point of the reformation was to return the Church back to its Apostolic roots - not to make a new Church, but to heal the Church. In examining Orthodoxy one has to discern patiently many things over some time in order to determine if Orthodoxy itself is the real return to our Apostolic roots.

This is what I did. This is why I did it. I did not learn to hate Lutheranism. Rather I learned to love Orthodoxy as the fulfillment of my Lutheran goal: to return and abide in the Apostolic, Scriptural, Historic, Eschatological, and Liturgical root of Christianity. Some do not come to this conclusion. My conversion or another's non-conversion should not detract from the simple need a Confessional Lutheran ought to have - the need and aim behind the Augustana itself: to return to our Apostolic origin for healing and re-forming.

In coming to Orthodoxy I found that Christ Himself, through His Spirit, is doing the re-forming: He is re-forming me through His cross, healing me through His sacraments. I also found that the things that annoy my Lutheran friends (a single communion fellowship that has always been Christ's Church, theological peace, etc) are things that were not selling points at all for me (the visible Church point was very hard to swallow), but ended up being things that I came to believe because all of the internal stuff about repentance, the cross, the sacraments, spirituality, etc., convinced me themselves that this is the Truth, and in turn that Truth showed all the rest to be true (including the Visible Church part).


Tim said...

Good post.

I am inded attempting to let Orthodoxy talk for itself. But, it is hard. Especially since even though a good portion of how I think and what I believe matches Orthodoxy, I still have my own background and mind-grid (so to speak) that keep wanting to interpret things in a different manner.

Anonymous said...

Many of your points are some of the same reasons I left the LCMS and joined Holy Orthodoxy. One of things I love about the Orthodox Church is the peace of mind and soul it brings me, and the lack of desire to confront non-Orthodox about doctrinal issues.

While I was Lutheran, I actually found myself somewhat sickened by the often combative nature of those (including myself) who sought to defend Lutheran teachings against non-Lutherans. I did not feel the peace of Orthodoxy there, and despite being a somewhat combative armchair theologian myself at the time, I found you catch more flies with honey.

It became clear to me that the true Christian faith is a life in Christ, not a defense of head-knowledge, presented as doctrinal talking points. Only Orthodoxy was able to take what I professed as belief and move it from my head into my heart. It became a living thing within me. I could not say the same thing about Lutheranism.

There is a great post on such zeal over at this blog that is worth reading:


Ezekiel said...

Ben, an interesting post to be sure, and, as you may know, one that I certainly resonate with!

David's reply struck a note: one of the great contrasts between now and "then" (when I was a "confessional Lutheran) is that I'm a whole lot more relaxed. Seems we were always writing another paper or defending another point or longing for an age that I don't think ever existed in the relatively short life of Lutheranism.

I find myself praying for others a good deal more, and not having to "win" the current argument or discussion.

And I'm so often reminded of the statement made by +KALLISTOS that indicated that the Divine Liturgy remained and was served through all kinds of things!

I still wonder and am awed when I read the Holy Fathers ... and the offerings of contemporary Elders and ascetics!

Glory to God for All Things!

Deacon Benjamin Harju said...


I know what you mean about being more relaxed. Not only do I feel this way, but it's visibly noticeable in every single convert I knew from before and know now. Every single one.


I know what you mean about the "mind-grid." It makes it hard to avoid begging the question. Hang in there. God makes things clear in time. Clarity often manifests when we try to practice the faith - clarity about God and about our own deficiencies. But it comes, and then we start to learn the depths of what that word "salvation" is really all about.

Anonymous said...

what comes to mind for me here after reading this post was Fr. Hogg's quick blog post from a while back that said something to the effect of "The Church doesn't need Reform - I do."

Tim said...

Mr. Harju-

thank you for your kind and encouraging words. Despite the fact that I want to just zoom through everything, I am trying to process things one day at a time. In God's good time, He will lead me where I ought to be (and how to think!).

123 said...

Another great post, Ben.

My first exposure to Orthodoxy as a faith took place September 1994 when I accidentally bought the Way of a Pilgrim. Then nothing until I accidentally bought Dancing Alone in June 1996. I wasn't received into the Church until January 2001.

These things take time.

Ezekiel's comments about prayer over argumentation I think are important. The answer my spiritual father gave to my question about the Theotokos was to assign me to read the Small Parklesis (Supplicatory Canon in the Jordanville prayer book) every Wednesday, i.e., she's answer my question. Doing is learning, but getting comfortable with attempting any doing is difficult.

The other advise my spiritual father had given had two parts, both important: Take your time, but, remember, it's later than you think.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yup, another great post, Ben! I look forward to more like this.

Tim, what you are experiencing is SO FAMILIAR - that famous or infamous 'paradigm shift'...

David, the whole West has been trained in cogito, cogito, cogito, head knowledge. We all have a struggle to let that be transfigured into heart knowledge, haven't we?