Skip to comments.The Journey Home: A Lutheran Pastor becomes Orthodox
Posted on 03/21/2006 9:24:08 AM PST by redgolum
My wife and I were born into Lutheran homes, and we were baptized as infants in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Both of our families were active in their Lutheran congregations, and both of us were raised in traditional Lutheran homes.
At the age of about 13, when I was confirmed, my pastor suggested that I consider becoming a Lutheran pastor. Id never even thought of this before. My education began in High School, continued through Junior College and Senior College, and culminated with four years at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I left the seminary in April of 1972, and was ordained in that month. Karon and I were married in 1968, and our daughter Tracey was born in 1972, son David was born in 1976, both in Cedar Rapids Iowa.
As a Lutheran pastor, I served parishes in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Troy, Michigan, and finally in Glen Carbon, Illinois. The first and last parishes were traditional, in that the Lutheran Liturgy was followed, and Christian growth and training was based the Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. The church in Troy, Michigan followed church growth techniques of various protestant groups and abandoned even the historic liturgy and teaching of the Lutheran Church.
In the last two decades of my ministry and life as a Lutheran, I was very much concerned that the deposit of truth be maintained. My parish in Glen Carbon was liturgical and celebrated Eucharist every Sunday and on feast days. I offered Confession and Absolution, although not many received this. I encouraged daily disciplined prayer, and as I grew in my understanding of the Fathers, encouraged reading and studying them.
However, within Lutheranism, particularly the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Confessions of the Church were given lip service, while practically speaking they were abandoned. Although Confession and Absolution were part of what Lutherans confess, the official church body didnt require the practice. Increasing, any semblance of the historic western liturgy gave way to pick and choose when it came to worship. Rather than seeing improvement in these things, or any sort of repentance, things were glossed over. A number of my colleagues and I became very much concerned that Lutheranism, in particular the Missouri Synod, was akin to the Titanic. Everyone was always waiting for the next convention or the next administration to fix things, but it didnt get better.
It couldnt get better because when one asks wrong questions, one gets wrong answers. And where truth is obscured or made relative, there can be no freedom, but only a constant movement here and there. Prayers and Liturgy are replaced by high sounding doctrinal discussions which leave the people behind and which are aimed only at scoring points. And this is not what the Nicene Creed means when it says one, holy, catholic and apostolic. That phrase of the creed has always been very important to me, and to a number of my colleagues. We believed that this Church was visible (not invisible, some idealistic hoped for reunion), alive, well and as our Lord Christ says: the gates of hell did not prevail against it.
We wrestled with the fact that seriously reading the Confessions of the Lutheran church indicated that there really shouldnt be a Lutheran church at all: for the Reformers were demonstrating that they were actually one with the ancient church. Indeed, it is clear that they would hold to the ancient fathers, to that which the Church had handed down. Their claim was that Rome had ceased doing that thus a call for Reform!
Three plus years ago, our small group began discussion which included Orthodox of the Antiochean Archdiocese, among them Fr Gordon Walker, one of a group of people from Campus Crusade for Christ that discovered the Fathers, formed an orthodox church body, and then discovered that there was an Orthodox Church, the ancient Church. We wrestled and prayed. Initially, although we certainly found large areas of agreement, we were pretty much convinced that Lutherans could still function.
Our prayers and study continued, amidst the crumbling Lutherans. All of us were very much concerned that the Office of the Holy Ministry (the Priesthood) was more often than not not seen as ordained by Christ and given to His Church. Pastors were defined as those selected to carry out things given to every Christian to do. They were literally hired and fired. All of us were very much in the minority in our church body regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. Most treated her ever virginity as a pious opinion, in spite of the fact that the Church East and West confessed and taught this from the apostolic times.
Lutherans are run by a congregational polity. This is to say that a local congregation has autonomy and can do pretty much as it pleases. Indeed, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is a voluntary assembly of congregations, NOT the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And as such a body, it really has no bishops. It even uses language that says that every pastor (priest) is a bishop directly contradicting the teaching of the Fathers and the Church through the ages.
I have wrestled with these things increasingly in these last years. Ive seen the church body in which I was raised split into many warring factions, its polity becoming a corporate giant concerned with survival and success as the world counts such things. Where was the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?
And then, in February of 2005, our little group held a retreat at Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI. I was overwhelmed as the Sisters sang the hours, beginning at 5 am, lasting until 7:30 am. I was touched by the Spirit at meals in which idle chatter was non-existent, and during which Fr. Roman Braga read from St Maximos the Confessor. And in evening discussions, this man who had survived Soviet solitary confinement and called it a blessing radiated the quiet peace and love of Christ. We were all deeply moved as Archbishop NATHANIEL spoke with us at an evening banquet. He treated us with love and respect and spoke of Christ and His Church in a way that Id never seen in any President or official of a Lutheran Church Body. It was shortly after this that for me, my journey to Orthodoxy changed from if to when.
Indeed, one of my parishioners, the man who is now my Godfather, said to me on more than one occasion in the last half of 2005 (after he returned to the Church), You are Orthodox. How can you continue to serve at a Lutheran altar. Karon and I were talking (it was probably mostly me at that time) in June already about my increasing discomfort with what calls itself Lutheran.
And then, at Greek Fest this past September, I met Fr. Dumitru. He and I clicked as they say. Indeed, I felt a closer kinship to him than I did to many of my Lutheran colleagues in office! What a joy that meeting was!
Now the question was when. Through some rather harrowing experiences in the fall of 2005, my lovely wife and I determined that the time had come to leave our Lutheran heritage for Orthodoxy. I wont say much about that time, except that it became very clear that Lutherans have no proper bishops, and that pastors are treated by so many as hirelings. It also became clear that God was moving: He provided very supportive, loving and loyal families (I hope that many of them will soon join us), and the Church has now received us. Fr Dumitrus Welcome Home after our Chrismation on February 6th brought tears of joy and relief.
The Church has indeed survived the onslaughts of hell! And despite the follies and foibles of sinful creatures, the Divine Liturgy continues to give faith! You can be certain that the Church remains in her Heirarchs, Bishops and Priests concerned and sworn to guard the deposit of Truth! Never take that for granted! For here, Christ is in our midst.
We have seen the true Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity, for He hath saved us.
FYI ping to the three of you.
That's why I left Lutheranism 12 year ago and didn't look back. When the ELCA came within a hair of approving homosexual "marriage" in 1993, I said "I'm gone."
From the LCMS website:
Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church puts some traditions on a par with Holy Scripture, while the LCMS regards Scripture alone as the final authority for faith and life.
The Eastern Orthodox Church views salvation as a process by which the Christian becomes more and more like God through a combination of faith and love, while the LCMS believes that a person is saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Justification is a declaration of God's grace, not a "process" involving a person's sanctification.
Differences exist regarding the number and nature of the sacraments. It teaches that no sacrament is valid unless administered by a properly ordained priest.
The Eastern Orthodox Church believes itself to be the true visible church on earth.
Differences exist regarding the nature and practice of the liturgy as "divine service." The Eastern Orthodox church practices veneration of and intercession to certain saints and angels, and encourages the veneration of "sacred" images and icons.
Thank you for a lovely story.
I have been in "deep lurk" mode on FR, not posting, since Lent began. But I came across this thread and will interrupt my Lenten non-posting to comment here.
I happen to know the author of this article, "Ezekiel." He was a fellow LCMS pastor until recently, and I filled in for him at his church several times.
While I agree with many (not all) of his criticisms of the LCMS as it is today, I do not agree with his renunciation of Lutheranism itself. I do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. What "Ezekiel" does not address is the central article of the Christian faith, namely, justification. Eastern Orthodoxy is not clear on this, and that, if nothing else, would prevent me from "going East."
Greeting Pastor Henrickson,
It is good to have your input. What I thought unusual is that in my experience LCMS Lutherans usually swim the Tiber not the Bosphorus while ELCA Lutherans usually swim the Bosphorus or join the LCMS (would this be "swimming the Rhine"?)
This is based on past experience.
Just like Catholics usually swim the Thames and become Episcopalian.
Have a blessed Lent.
Where did you land? Just curious, as you might recall Dr. Haas of Bioethics fame became Catholic and his nephew (who I know) becamse Orthodox...both came from the ELCA (or their predecessor bodies).
Just curious is all
I concur, as a Catholic naturally I'd love to have you all over on my side of the river, but I recently met a woman (ELCA) who's brother went WELS over the liberalism issue.
Interestingly enough she attended an Episcopal Church because of the full Communion agreement despite there being an LCMS Congregation two blocks from this particular Episcopal Church.
So do you "swim Lake Michigan" if you become WELS?
EO's justification is simply synergistic as traditons and hierarchies are elevated to equality with the Spirit.
Although it is not widely known in our Western world, the Catholic Church is actually a communion of Churches. According to the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be "a corporate body of Churches," united with the Pope of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity (LG, no. 23). At present there are 22 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church. The new Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, uses the phrase "autonomous ritual Churches" to describe these various Churches (canon 112). Each Church has its own hierarchy, spirituality, and theological perspective. Because of the particularities of history, there is only one Western Catholic Church, while there are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Western Church, known officially as the Latin Church, is the largest of the Catholic Churches. It is immediately subject to the Roman Pontiff as Patriarch of the West. The Eastern Catholic Churches are each led by a Patriarch, Major Archbishop, or Metropolitan, who governs their Church together with a synod of bishops. Through the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Roman Pontiff works to assure the health and well-being of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
While this diversity within the one Catholic Church can appear confusing at first, it in no way compromises the Church's unity. In a certain sense, it is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity. Just as God is three Persons, yet one God, so the Church is 22 Churches, yet one Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this nicely:
"From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God's gifts and the diversity of those who receive them... Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity" (CCC no. 814).
Although there are 22 Churches, there are only eight "Rites" that are used among them. A Rite is a "liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony," (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 28). "Rite" best refers to the liturgical and disciplinary traditions used in celebrating the sacraments. Many Eastern Catholic Churches use the same Rite, although they are distinct autonomous Churches. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Melkite Catholic Church are distinct Churches with their own hierarchies. Yet they both use the Byzantine Rite.
To learn more about the "two lungs" of the Catholic Church, visit this link:
The Vatican II Council declared that "all should realize it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve, and foster the exceedingly rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern churches, in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition" (Unitatis Redintegrato, 15).
To locate an Eastern Catholic Church in your community, follow the following link:
A Roman rite Catholic may attend any Eastern Catholic Liturgy and fulfill his of her obligations at any Eastern Catholic Parish. A Roman rite Catholic may join any Eastern Catholic Parish and receive any sacrament from an Eastern Catholic priest, since all belong to the Catholic Church as a whole. I am a Roman Catholic practicing my faith at a Maronite Catholic Church. Like the Chaldeans, the Maronites retain Aramaic for the Consecration. It is as close as one comes to being at the Last Supper.
The Journey Home is a TV program on EWTN. Hosted by a former Methodist minister, the show features primarily former Protestant ministers who share their stories of becoming Catholic.
You Lutherans are of course fa,iliar with Jaroslav Pelikan. He has steadfastly refused to discuss his "conversion", but he did say this:
"I sort of discovered that I'd been speaking 'Orthodox' all my life. And so I didn't convert. To convert is to change. And I didn't change. I simply discovered the continuity that had been there all along."
Over the past couple of years here on FR, I have been surprised at the level of Orthodoxy I perceive in the theology expressed by various Lutherans on these threads and to a greater extent I have been impressed with the sincere desire to discover and learn about "O(o)rthodoxy" in both theology and praxis among Lutherans who have been exposed to the innovations of seeming large sections of modern Lutheranism. This brings me to my two final points.
"While I agree with many (not all) of his criticisms of the LCMS as it is today, I do not agree with his renunciation of Lutheranism itself. I do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Pastor, you really should read the correspondence between the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Lutheran Divines at Thubingen in the 16th century. Your comment about throwing the baby out with the bath water is ironic to say the least.
"What "Ezekiel" does not address is the central article of the Christian faith, namely, justification. Eastern Orthodoxy is not clear on this, and that, if nothing else, would prevent me from "going East."
Pastor, with all due respect to you and your laudable reticence to engage in discussion during Great Lent, before you make a comment like this, you really should read the Fathers, in Greek like Pelikan if possible. You will come to understand the meaning of the word justification as the Church has always understood it rather than the contrived anti medieval Roman Church innovation the Reformers came up with. You can start with +Ignatius of Antioch and move on to +Irenaeus of Lyon and if you want to avoid anything past the 3rd century, finish up with +Athanasius the Great on the Incarnation.
An Orthodox ping.
Sorry, R. I meant to say thank-you for the article. I suspect that this minister will find in Holy Orthodoxy something quite different, and immeasurably better, than what he thinks he has or will find. :)
Any comments from your WELS experience?
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