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).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Salvation in Christianity: the Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoyev

The following video records Fr. Daniel Sysoyev describing salvation. Fr. Daniel was martyred recently.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Accused again: Theology of Glory

As a friendly reminder - first to myself, and then to others who are either bothered by the accusation, or who are levying the accusation:

When a Lutheran levies the charge against the Orthodox that we are just a Theology of Glory, this says nothing of any value or substance. This is a Lutheran term that has meaning only if one accepts the whole of Lutheran theology. This is frequently used to avoid discussion and helpful dialogue, especially by those flustered with Orthodoxy. And lately it is a term, when applied to Orthodoxy, that expresses unbelief in Orthodoxy on the basis that Orthodoxy has visible unity among her churches, relative theological peace, a common way of life in Christ, and has for 2000 years held to a belief in one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that exists simultaneously in the invisible heavens and visibly as a communion fellowship on earth - and has for 2000 years.

So let's remember: levying the charge of Theology of Glory against the Orthodox only really means, "They aren't Lutheran, no matter how great they seem to so many Lutherans (especially the hordes that are converting all over the place)."

For more info, here's an article I wrote a while ago. If anyone can recommend something else on the topic, please leave a link in the comments.

If we can get past the frustration (which is to be expected, surely) and the attempts to shut down dialogue, perhaps we can move on to things of faith and piety. God willing we will be able!

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.