Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Responding to Fr. Burnell Eckardt's "Temptations"

It continues to interest me how my former colleagues in Lutheranism try and try to deal with the Orthodox faith, but without really getting anywhere. I mean here those who recognize in Orthodoxy something different enough to lead well-informed, pious, and serious-minded Lutherans to walk away from the Lutheran Confessions, their congregation(s), and Lutheranism in general. No doubt this is a scary thing to behold, or at least very unsettling. And it has not happened but once or twice, but is happening continuously. The Lutherans who either have stayed or are unwilling to consider Orthodoxy at all are put in an uncomfortable position. They are left to defend their Lutheran beliefs against a tide of former pastors and/or colleagues that have proclaimed, "We have seen the True Light, and It is in the Orthodox Church!" Actually, it is not so much that they must defend against the converted as they must defend against the appeal and magnetism of Orthodoxy itself.

Recently I read a reprinted post by Fr. Burnell Eckardt, a man I truly like and was thrilled to spend time with at the 2007 LCMS Convention in Houston (before my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy). Fr. Eckardt struggles with the same difficulties most Lutheran pastors I have met struggle with: to find what about Orthodoxy that is so wrong or out of place - enough so as to set before the world a clear reason for Lutherans no longer to need to feel so attracted to the Orthodox Church.

I'd like to outline Fr. Eckardt's post from Gottesdients Online:

I. Looking for Unity
A. Hopes for a reunification between Eastern and Western Christendom.
B. Lutherans in America have struggled in a similar way among themselves.

II. Confessional Lutherans and Orthodox Christians agree with "how" unity is achieved.

III. Largely the source of temptation for Confessional Lutheran pastors to become Orthodox is the desire for theological unity.

IV. The East itself demonstrates that the West is the wrong place to be:
A. by pointing to how the West is so divided in itself
B. which comes from having rejected the consensus of the Ecumenical Councils
C. and in their place adopting Papal supremecy.
D. Thus the Western divisions prove that everyone needs to run back to the East.

V. This Eastern criticism is just the old post hoc falacy, which wrongly assumes:
A. temporal succession implies a causal relations,
B. i.e. because you broke with us, therefore you have no unity among yourselves.
C. It boils down to flawed Western thought by the East's estimation (says Fr. Eckardt)
D. Yet easily as admissable is the idea that the West is so assailed because the devil is most threatened by the West.

VI. Controversy has forced the West to become sharper and more prepared than the East.
A. The Reformation gave the Augsburg Confession,
B. precision and clarity unsurpassed regarding faith and justification,
C. and overall great confessional clarification.

VII. The process of the Reformation was the same as the Ecumenical Councils
A. Tribulation led to the formation of the Nicene Creed.
B. Tribulation led to the formation of the Augsburg Confession.
C. Thus the West's struggles have made it better prepared to struggle in the second millenium.

VIII. Filioque controversy
A. The East doesn't like it because it's an innovation
B. The West found it useful against the Arians
C. The East won't consider it to have any theological truth because it's an innovation
D. There are reasons to go beyond the Ecumenical Councils.
E. The East points out that the Third Council forbids changes to the Creed.
F. The East won't admit into the discussion theological reasons for changing the Creed.

IX. Lutherans part ways with both Rome and the East on the Councils
A. Only what agrees with the Scriptures is accepted
B. Nothing is accepted in addition to the Scriptures
C. Councils, Confessions, Creeds, etc. are accepted only in theology, never more.

X. Most damaging about Orthodoxy is that they believe they are the Visible Church of Christ on Earth.
A. The Orthodox have always stuck to their guns on this one.
B. In Reformation times, Orthodox told the Lutherans to either conform to Orthodoxy or leave them in peace.

XI. People capitulate to the East because they:
A. have a tradition that is harder to gainsay than Rome's
B. they did not pass through a "Middle Ages" as did the West

XII. For Lutherans the Unity of the Church lies in her marks.
A. Christ's divinity was marked in His cross, believed without seeing it.
B. The Unity of the Church likewise is marked by the cross, believed without always seeing it.
C. The stuggles of the Church have produced confessional stamina and refinement.

XIII. Temptations to go East are understandable, but should be rejected.
A. The East has a lot going for it
1. Peace
2. More pristine Creed
3. Visible unity
B. But we need to stay where we are and keep fighting as we have been.
C. The lack of peace, the religious infighting, the schisms, the heresies, and the rest are just part of bearing the cross of Jesus. So just keep fighting.

Fr. Eckardt has tried to color Orthodoxy as lacking theological sensitivity, while in turn he colors the West as theologically strong and virile from all of its infighting. He suggests that the Orthodox are hung up on formalities, but the West is willing to dig into the theological "meat" that will be needed in this second-millennium (actually, it's the third millennium now: 0-999 is the first, 1000-1999 is the second, etc). He suggests that Orthodoxy has an external beauty and tranquility that is tempting, but that the West - especially Lutheranism - knows the cross and lives by that cross.

Fr. Eckardt says of himself that he once looked into Holy Orthodoxy for himself, but rejected it. Given his description of matters here, I can only wonder if it was actually Orthodoxy that he looked into or some uninterested party's casual review of Orthodoxy's interactions with the West. There is the vague outline of Orthodoxy's silhouette here, but nothing that actually describes Orthodoxy in and of itself. If Fr. Eckardt's article serves as your first in-depth analysis on Orthodoxy and its appeal to Lutherans, then let me say loud and clear that you've been had. Fr. Eckardt is smart and means well, but Orthodoxy is not about smarts and good intentions, but about things of the Spirit and the power of God to save. His entire approach is off. He has approached first with his intellect things that are first grasped with the heart and the spirit.

All of this is to say that the allure of Orthodoxy lies in something else than what Fr. Eckardt describes. This article is naught more than a smoke-screen to keep wandering those who are thirsty for God in a dry and parched land, all the while calling it the cross and salvation.

Do the Orthodox know the cross? Yes; the cross is our daily life of repentance given in Baptism. It is our incessant struggle in the Spirit against our own passions - i.e. the damage we cause in ourselves by sin. But the cross is infinitely linked with the resurrection, in that God pours out His Grace (the Holy Spirit) to supply us with the strength to struggle profitably and the healing that comes from our struggle in faith, hope, and love.
1 Peter 1:22-23, "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, ..."

Orthodoxy is characterized by her spirituality, and her spirituality is characterized by ascetic struggle, a.k.a. the cross. Our entire existence in Christ is one great Passover from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from bondage to freedom. Fr. Eckardt has touched upon none of these things in Orthodoxy, but has pointed his Lutheran hearers to those aspects of Lutheranism that encourage one to struggle and persevere in Lutheranism.

I submit that Fr. Eckardt is encouraging his hearers to struggle in a non-helpful manner, to beat the air aimlessly. He concludes by telling his hearers to accept the warfare that tears their souls apart, to accept the lack of peace, to not look for unity, to think of a different sort of church than the One attested to by the authors of the Creed (go research their writings if you don't believe me), and to ignore the lack of a common way of life in Christ among them as being just the difficulties of bearing the cross.

There is no resurrection with this cross. Fr. Eckardt does not point to a Paschal cross, at least not as Orthodoxy knows the cross always to be a Paschal cross. The cross he speaks of in this context does not offer healing or purification or strength against the passions for the believer, but rather locks the believer in stasis, neither growing nor shrinking. Christ's suffering purified our sins and gave us Life in His resurrection, a dynamism of growth in the Holy Spirit. In the Orthodox Church we struggle in ascetic suffering in Christ, thus engaging and growing in the purification of Christ's cross through active faith. In Orthodoxy we suffer in Christ, and thus grow through God's Grace into the fullness of Life - the likeness of the One who calls us to participate in His own glory. Our cross is a Paschal cross, i.e. a purifying cross - the cross of salvation.

Lutherans do believe in a cross of salvation, one that saves from sin and unites to Christ. I think this is why so many Lutherans are giving Orthodoxy a real chance, on its own terms. There is in Orthodoxy - even from the superficial level of outward appearances - that sacramental, liturgical, biblical, historical, non-papal, and eschatological Christianity that all good Confessional Lutherans are hungering for and strive for. Remaining in stasis, frozen complacently in heterdoxy (I refer here to the mix of beliefs that is the LCMS), is a big flashing warning sign to many that they are now beyond the wood of the cross and instead lost in the crowds of the unillumined. While this alone is no reason to join the Orthodox Church, God be praised that for some it is a reason to begin looking at her with more sensitivity.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.


Deacon Benjamin Harju said...

Having read through the comments on Fr. Eckardt's post, I must say that Perry Robinson is my new favorite person. He actually answered every challenge in Fr. Eckardt's attack on Orthodoxy. He compiled things I've read across many books and articles - and many things I never knew.

Dixie said...

I completely agree with you. He is truly exceptional. I like his style of getting as close to primary sources as possible and how he sweats the details. It is just a great pleasure to witness his work.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I got into this article with a Lutheran pastor friend of mine for some "edifying" discussion. In the end, he told me (as an Orthodox sympathizer/inquirer?/whatever I am) that I had listened to too many Orthodox "geniuses," bought into a theology of glory and romanticized the Orthodox church.

It always comes back to this concept of Orthodoxy being a theology of glory. A unified, liturgical, episcopally structured, non-papal church that is better than Lutheran "heterodoxy" is a cognitive impossibility and thus, a theology of glory. I mentioned that's the same way homosexuals end all discussion - claiming the challenger is "homophobic."

Posts like the Gottesdienst one bring much to light. Perry's educated defence shreds all attacks. Orthodox continues to compel educated, faithful Lutherans. My biggest struggle now is that I don't know what I am anymore. Am I Lutheran or am I Orthodox? Pray for me!

Emily H. said...

We will remember you in our prayers!

Deacon Benjamin Harju said...


Exactly. You put it very well. Most Lutherans just don't believe that the goodness of Orthodoxy is possible. They read about it in Scripture, but think that it belongs to a long-ago time, or think it will have to wait until Christ returns.

No one is saying that the Lutherans need to forsake the cross. In fact the cross must stay central if one is to be Orthodox. It's just that the Orthodox don't believe in a merely forensic cross with merely forensic effects - as evidenced by 2000 years of examples.

Part of the blame here belongs with the Orthodox. We have had a hard time speaking to the Lutherans in a direct way that addresses their concerns.

While improving that would help, the core issue is faith. Most Lutherans just don't believe it's possible. I went through that. I got to a point where I realized that the only reason I couldn't accept what Orthodoxy was saying was because I was unwilling to believe - not because their theology wasn't scriptural or consistent with the Fathers or liturgical, sacramental, or eschatological. Once I got beyond that hurdle, everything started to change for the better. (I didn't know it was for the better, because it was hard and hurt and seemed like the biggest calamity, but through this cross God brought me to the Orthodox Church, all the while teaching me about His cross.)

DebD said...

Benjamin you said "Most Lutherans just don't believe that the goodness of Orthodoxy is possible."

Oh such true words... sadly, I find it is impossible to really tell someone how wonderful and comforting Orthodoxy is. I've said this before, but it's like trying to tell someone what it's like to be in love. Words are inadequate and until someone actually comes into the embrace of Orthodoxy they are only "looking at from an intellectual distance" (I think that was your words in the com-box.)

And yes, faith is really at the core. It is a leap of faith that we all must take. Some are not ready or willing or just don't see it as necessary. I don't believe that any amount of arguing will help (and often it hurts). I'm with Fr. Stephen F. and Archamandrite Melitios Webber on that one.

The other thing that comes to mind whenever I read a non-Orthodox argument against Orthodoxy (which is rare-see above) is that Orthodoxy is the faith of the martyrs. For 2000 years people have laid down their lives for this Faith of the Fathers. I'm sure there are some martyrs within the Lutheran tradition but, with the exception of Bonhoeffer, where are they??

123 said...

A convert Athonite I know once said that it was the continued, contemporary martyrdom of Orthodoxy that was a major instigation to his conversion. I think it was for me, too.

Even the frustrations in Orthodoxy today are primarily due to either the Turkokratia or Communism, directly or indirectly. It's hard to remember that martyrdom leaves its mark on those left behind, confessors and their families and friends suffer not only physical scars, and both dhimmitude and soviet totalitarianism has left a mark on Orthodoxy. There's a theology of the cross in practice, not just in pious platitude sitting in comfy Midwestern parsonages.

Daniel said...

Today most Orthodox Christians in the U.S. observed a Strict Fast on the occasion of the Commemoration of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. This fast is observed, even if it falls on a Sunday. That is a participation in a Paschal Cross at its best! Today for our fellowship meal after Divine Liturgy, we shared nuts, fruit and water as we together savored in this sweet sorrow.

Fr. Daniel Hackney, St. Ananias Orthodox Mission, Evansville, IN