Thursday, July 10, 2008

Orthodox Intentions?















The following comes from a response to a post found on Father Hollywood's blog. Father H. is responding to Fr. B's concern that the Orthodox are actively, intentionally proselytizing (sheep/shepherd(!) stealing) amongst Lutheran flocks (and other liturgical, sacramental flocks as well). Father H. is "bang-on" -- they are being dishonest. Call it strategizing, marketing -- it's deceptive, and intentionally so -- angels of light.

Dear Paul (Beisel, that is):

As a convert to Lutheranism via the Augsburg Confession, I'm just not affected one way or the other by the doubts and the hand-wringing of the Saxon immigrants. I see Lutheranism as a confession that transcends America and the LCMS. Countries and synods come and go. The whole "validity" thing just isn't one of my "buttons."

My beef is that I can't get straight answers. I know we are using different terms in different ways, in different contexts, and this "talking past one another" makes communication difficult. But still, if there really was a desire for dialogue (and not simply monologue), we could get beyond this impasse.

Now, my Orthodox brethren aren't going to like what I have to say here, but 1) I'm just being honest, 2) This is my blog, 3) Those who "dish" ought to be able to "take" as well, 4) I don't mean any of this personally, and 5) I could be all wrong, and I'm willing to be proven so - but all that has been "proven" in this thread is that I've not been critical enough of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Again, prove me wrong, and I'll change my mind.

Here is the reason behind my beef about not getting straight answers: the Orthodox treat us as brother Christians. When they leave Lutheranism, they all, to a man, gush about how Lutheranism taught them the Gospel, taught them the Scriptures, showed them the liturgy, Christology, etc. They rave about this pastor and that professor, etc. In some cases, we have Orthodox priests (former Lutherans) like Fr. Hogg admitting that the Holy Spirit works in Lutheran churches (but when pressed, he doesn't say the Spirit is doing anything in Lutheran churches other than drawing people away from the Lutheran churches...), or like Fr. Fenton speaking of "Holy Eucharist" and the work of the Holy Spirit in Lutheran churches.

I have heard several Orthodox Christians (some priests, some lay, and some former Lutheran converts to Orthodoxy) speak of us Lutherans (at least in private conversations) as part of the Christian Church. Maybe they have it wrong, but some of these people are pretty learned theologians. Maybe it's a "felicitous inconsistency". But I believe these people are sincere.

But look at the *in*consistency: Many Orthodox admire C.S. Lewis and openly call him a Christian (though he, like us, followed a heretical schism of a heretical schism, was unbaptized, never had absolution nor any sacrament his whole life long). Orthodox churches even belong to the WCC and NCC, take part in all sorts of ecumenical endeavors, speak at Lutheran retreats and symposia, sponsor ecumenical schools that include non-Orthodox Christians as faculty and administration, as well as take an active part in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

But what has been confessed here is that the Orthodox do not recognize our sacraments (including baptism), our clerical orders, our status as Church, nor even our standing as Christians (they say they actually "don't know" - even though they who claim to be exclusively the ground and pillar of truth led by the Holy Spirit have had 500 years to figure it out, I mean that's 25% of the elapsed time since our Lord's resurrection, how much time do you need?). But they will, at least to our faces, grant us that they "don't know" if we're Christians or not, rather than call us "heretics."

If we *aren't* Christians, they should either "mark and avoid" us or call us to repentance lest we be condemned to hell - they certainly shouldn't be entering all sorts of ecumenical arrangements and pretending that we are brother Christians.

If we *are* Christians, they should acknowledge us such even if we are in some kind of "impaired communion" or even in some kind of schismatic relationship to the the Church.

Now, I did get someone (Christopher Orr?) to admit that we are followers of a heretical religion, and Fr. Hogg spoke of Lutheranism as a "hairesis" - but we as individual Lutherans have a great loophole - we can't be heretics because we don't qualify to be charged with heresy under Orthodox canon law (kind of a "venue and jurisdiction" issue). If we are followers of a heretical religion, are unbaptized, and are outside of the Church, how can someone say they "don't know" if we're Christians or not?

I think the Orthodox, in order to survive in the West, has to "play nice" with the (non)-Christians in their community. They can't come out and say: "You people aren't Christians" - since that would be a turn-off for the millions of potential converts.

Orthodoxy has a "marketing problem" in that sense. They need these heretics to convert to Orthodoxy, but if you call them heretics, that will chase them away. I think there's a little strategizing going on here, and I don't think it's very honest.

Also, I don't believe Orthodoxy is nowhere near as homogeneous as our Orthodox friends want us to think it is - and I think the confusion over what to do with Lutheran baptisms and the resulting individualistic episcopal retroactive hocus-pocus that's called in to deal with it is a result of this confusion and division that the Orthodox would have us think is only in *our* communion.

I've had several Eastern Orthodox priests (none on this forum) explain to me that the Western Orthodox have an intrinsically inferior liturgy, and that WO is really just a "stepping stone" to the East. Once again, it is almost a "marketing strategy." They'll say it to a Lutheran, would they say it to Fenton?

I just don't like being sold a bill of goods. I get the impression that someone is playing a shell game and trying to pull a fast one. But when you ask to see what's under the other shells (just to see if you're being greased), you're told: "Uh, ahem, that's not the right question", given a pat on the head and told to run along and read a book, or are given a quotation that sounds more like the wisdom of Master Po in a flashback scene from Kung Fu than an answer to a simple question.

I really get the impression that many Orthodox apologists feel they have to present themselves as cocksure, but I think a lot of them aren't quite as sure as they would like us to believe they are.

I also think there is great confusion among the Orthodox about our status. But I think they need to convince us that we need to doubt our sacraments and the Holy Spirit's work in our midst, while not driving such a wedge that they can't drop in once in a while for a "sales call."

I honestly don't understand why so many people who leave the LCMS and Lutheranism continue to spend so much time hanging around us. Not all do (Fr. Fenton doesn't seem to care what I or Paul McCain or William Weedon have to say, and good for him - I don't think he should care). I like Fr. Hogg personally, but I still have no idea why he cares a whit what any of us have to say about Orthodoxy or what awful things go on in our churches (if the Orthodox are correct, then the jiggers, the wine going in the trash, and who's in communion with whom are no problem anyway - since there's no church and no sacrament in the first place). He left it behind. He has a new flock. He has a new life and a new vocation. Unless he's trying to "rescue" some of us (what we might call "sheep-stealing" but what the Orthodox would call "evangelizing the non-Christians with the True Faith"), who cares?

I used to be a Baptist, but there isn't a single Baptist blog I even visit, let alone invest a lot of time commenting on. It's not even on the radar screen for me.

Of course, Jack Cascione is the worst. Here's a guy who left the LCMS, but his entire life, it seems, is all about researching, writing, and leading a one-man crusade to "fix" the synod that neither he nor his congregation belong to. Jack needs to collect stamps or take up woodworking or something. He's become a "stalker" and it's not healthy.

I think some of our Orthodox friends are running the risk of getting into the same rut.

Talking for the sake of mutual edification as Christians is a good and noble thing - but that's not what is going on here from their perspective. I think Paul McCain is right that this is about trying to bring about conversions - and I wish our Orthodox brethren would be up-front about it.

14 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

We Orthodox make no bones about wishing everybody would become Orthodox. (Don't you think everyone should become Lutheran?)

The complaint about not being able to get a "straight answer" is inaccurate, however. The straight answer to that question is, "We don't know." And I provided it numerous times.

But I think, from the context of his remarks, he means he can't get a consistent answer. Some of the Orthodox say one thing, some say the opposite.

That's right. That's just the point I tried so hard to make: there is no consistent answer. The Church has not spoken on this matter. That leaves each one of us free to form our own personal opinions, and some do, and some of these personal opinbions are quite strongly held. But consistency there is not, so far. No consensus, no teaching of the Orthodox Church, no "official", consistent answer; just personal opinion. The only thing we all admit is that in the end, we just do not know.

I'm given to understand that this is offensive and I apologize if that is so. But I can't help or change it.

I'd I wanted to use subterfuge, for the purpose of sheep-stealing, I would say, "Of course you are Christians! You name the name of Christ, after all! What KIND of Christians you are is the only question, but Christians, definitely."

But the truth is, this is something I hope without knowing for sure.

Luckily for us all, I'm not the one whose job it is to sort all this out.

orrologion said...

That was a painful conversation due to the obvious hurt felt by many on the Lutheran side, but personally, too, for being judged duplicitous, dishonest, diabolical, conniving, etc. - a host of things lacking in best construction (my favorite phrase of Luther, and desperately lacking in intra-Orthodox dissension).

As to the last point, I likened my desire to 'dialogue' with fellow religious people (there aren't all that many in my personal and professional circles in NYC), especially with religious people whose perspective I can even understand, i.e., Lutherans. Having a 'God talk' with an LCMS Lutheran is far different than with the average hipster Buddhist, agnostic, spiritual dabbler, ECUSA, UCC, PCUSA, UMC, Evangelical or Charismatic CHristian. I guess, perhaps, we are too close (especially the patristic and liturgically minded of the Lutherans) to be friendly - like crosstown rivalries in high school sports.

The other image I used was the multireligious family of David Bentley Hart. David is an Orthodox theologian, 2 brothers are Roman Catholic and Episcopalian priests; I think their parents are Orthodox. This is a family that has not shunned one another after the 3 warning of heresy, and I am sure they discuss theology over turkey at Thanksgiving. I view my friendly conversations with Lutheran friends - and I guess I made the mistake of thinking it's possible to be friendly with non-coreligionists online, or at least on their blogs - over religion. Then again, I didn't commit to seminary, I don't make a living as a minister, I don't make those sacrifices. Perhaps I am just a dilletante with a religion hobby, and perhaps that is too light minded for trivial online banter. Do the Frs. Hart each wish mom and dad and brother Dave convert to their faiths? I bet they do. I bet they wish the Frs. Hart would see the light and become Orthodox. But, that isn't the sinister undercurrent to all of their interactions, and I bet it isn't the diabolical subtext of their conversations regarding faith, the church and the fathers, church history, the lack of a common theological paradigm and trying to cross that bridge, etc.

But, I'll wear the horns if they're needed. You don't know me, really, so perhaps it is safer to assume the worst. Considering the fact that I have very good relationships with everyone in my generally pious family (RC, WELS) and I am the only Orthodox, and considering I am married to a nominally RC woman, work for a Hasidic Jew and have spent most of my life around non-believers and non-Christians (many actively so)... well, I'm not afraid to talk faith, but I am also a pretty agreeable and friendly guy who genuinely wants to understand, to discuss, to learn, to be challenged (come get coffee with me in NYC sometime - I did with another LCMS pastor and he hasn't resigned, converted, started using incense or anything; not interested at all in Orthodoxy and has never returned an email. I'm not a Svengali). Then again, maybe others have all the answers and I don't - maybe that lack is why I've fallen for such a backwards, semi-pagan aesthetic masquerading as Christianity, i.e., Orthodox Christianity, maybe it was my willingness to understand others was what predisposed me to the infection of heterdoxy, works righteousness and the glittering traditions of men in all their worldly glory (ahem, the Turkish and Communist yokes?)rather than a theology of the cross.

We disagree on more than enough already; we don't need to make things up. There is no conspiracy and Lutheranism (thank God) is not so weak as to need bugaboos and strawmen lurking around every electronic corner.

orrologion said...

Sorry, I should have proofread that, but I think the point is clear.

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Anastasia asked: "Don't you think everyone should become Lutheran?"

This question hits on one of the key points of contention: My answer is "no" and "yes". Lutherans will allow that there are members of the Church in heterodox communions -- so our missionary zeal is not directed at those we perceive to be Christians in other denominations. In a spirit of smarminess Lutherans have been heard to say "You don't have to be Lutheran to get into heaven, but when we get to heaven we'll all be Lutherans." When I enter into theological discussion with members of other Christian fellowships, I hold the assumption that they, individually, are members of the Una Sancta. The model is something like Paul reasoning with the Jews, trying to convince them from their own Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah (and all the related doctrine that goes along with that). I know that you and the Orthodox do not agree with this. In reality, when Lutherans and Orthodox come to the table with two very different, incompatible, understandings of Church, I think the discussion is over before it even gets started. We’re using the same words with widely different meanings, and it’s much, much more than semantics – we’re talking about the ontological reality of the Church, the body of Christ – visible, invisible; static, synthetic; etc.

I’m thinking now that where my lament comes in has to do with the Orthodox understanding of the Church – I knew that the Orthodox believed themselves to be the one true visible Church, but so does the RCC, the Anglican Church, etc. Even the Lutheran Church has claimed this at times. Everyone thinks they’re the true Church! But at least in polite conversation, often even in more heated theological discussion, I have found these other communions to operate with the same assumption I described above – still recognizing that the other was somehow, if only by the grace of God (not that there’s any other way), they are still part of the Church. I had assumed that this would be the case with the Orthodox – so, I am surprised that the Orthodox (at least some of the more verbose bloggers) actually carry their belief that they are the only valid incarnation of the Church to the logical end that, regarding the salvation and sacraments of believers in other communions, the best they can offer is the agnostic “I don’t know”.

Though Lutherans will certainly state “I don’t know” in regard to “how” Holy Mysteries are / occur (e.g. The Holy Trinity, The Real Presence, election, etc.), trusting in the performative/creative power of the Word of God and the Gospel we can see that there are true Christians and therefore true members of the Una Sancta in heterodox communions. A baptism is a baptism (assuming the Trinitarian formula and the proper application of water), not because of a particular ecclesiology, but because of the Word and promise. Our churches share some common creeds (confessions) (with or without the filioque) which are anything but agnostic, but are clear, precise statements of what the Church believes / confesses. The Lutheran Church in particular has a number of confessions which clearly and precisely state what our belief / confession is concerning a great number of important issues. “I don’t know”, as this phrase seems to be used by a number of Orthodox bloggers, becomes little more than a convenient trump card to end the discussion rather than to delve into the Scriptural and traditional foundation and basis for the doctrine in question. I suspect that is because there is no Scriptural foundation, or there is a questionable and weak foundation, and because Scripture is just one authoritative source equal to the tradition of the church, trumped by the church when convenient or simply interpreted away.

Probably the most disturbing use of “I don’t know” was your own answer to the question: “How do you, individual Orthodox believers, feel about your own salvation? Do you feel that you are saved, now, (understanding that you must remain in faith and repentance) and in this find comfort to persevere to the end? Or, do you live daily in uncertainty about your own salvation? If the latter is true, then does this not somehow lessen the work of Christ in His sacrificial death for your sins and the sins of the world?” You answered “While I have faith in Christ, I don’t have faith in my faith”, or “I don’t know.” This is saddening as it diminishes the atoning work of Christ on the cross and makes Him a liar when He cries out “It is finished”. You can believe that you are saved if you believe that Jesus’ death was for you, in your place. You don’t need to worry about faith for tomorrow, faith for today is all important. How much faith? I think the parable of the mustard seed is a great illustration for that; or the little children who “believe in me”. What about the final judgment? Well, the Gospels describe that in terms of separating the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the tares – the point being, at the judgment, sheep are sheep, goats are goats, etc., already; the Good Shepherd is simply doing the sorting. I believe that I have been judged a sheep when Jesus cried out “It is finished”. Today, I believe; today I am saved. I am not agnostic about my salvation. If I believe, that is entirely due to the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and to His glory; If I am damned, that’s entirely my fault. Lutherans exult in faithful confidence, because our salvation depends not on us in any way, but solely on Christ and His promise fulfilled. This is why the doctrine of Justification is often called the central doctrine. Now Orthodox like to say “Ah-hah! For us the Trinity is the central doctrine.” But that’s uncharitable foolishness. Lutherans do not pit doctrines against each other – what’s more important, Baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Give me a break.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The objectivity of God’s salvific work in Christ Jesus is the source of this certainty and comfort. I’m truly sorry that you “don’t know”.

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Christopher,

I think that most Lutherans do indeed enjoy a vigorous theological debate. However, recent discussions have devolved to the Orthodox stating in effect "Well, we're the Church and you're not" -- of course, this statement is more honest and forthright than is "We don't know." How can we continue to talk after such a gauntlet has been thrown down? Lutherans are willing to grant that Orthodox are Church, that Orthodox sacraments are valid and efficacious, while the Orthodox cannot reciprocate. Surprisingly, perhaps, I have not observed this to be the case when talking with Roman Catholics.

Further, the dominant number of Orthodox bloggers engaging Lutherans online convey an unbecoming smugness and self-righteousness only worsened by the fact that a number of them are former (and recently so) Lutheran clergy. Are these men and their posturing the best face for Orthodoxy in America?

Regarding yourself, I have no personal grudge or hard feeling for you. As you yourself have written "I don't know you." You certainly live up to the Tolkien reference that serves as a banner on your blog ;-> Coffee in the city? Perhaps, one of these days. And my own halo is supported by my horns.

orrologion said...

Well, I try to live up to my handle. You are correct. As the Vice Chairman of my former firm used to quote his wife saying, "Gerry, when you've said all you needed to say, you keep saying it."

Thanks for the clear explanation of your thoughts. Very good.

I would note, though, that in a 2007 document the RCC recently clarified its stance that while the Orthodox, Armenians, Copts, etc. are 'church' in some impaired way, Protestants and "Other Christian denominations, it argues, cannot be called Churches in the proper sense because they cannot trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles." (See 'Vatican text angers Protestants', BBC News, 10 July 2007). In political, social and hazy ecumenical situations this fact had in years past and by various individuals speaking their own rather than the RCC's mind have sugar coated this position. The Orthodox Church's stance is quite similar, as can be seen in its practice.

The point you bring up about baptism, especially your own qualification, is important. You state what to Lutheranism are the 'minimal requirements' and thus would not accept the baptism of those self-identified 'Christians' coming from groups that do no baptize either with water or the invocation of the Trinity. That is the Lutheran goal post, so to speak, whereas Orthodoxy merely moves the goal post back further requiring other things.

Your reference to Scripture is also pertinent, but given the paradigmatic difference as to Authority and Source in Orthodoxy distinct from mainstream Western Christianity since the Reformation, this is not a 'slur'. Tradition is understood differently in Orthodoxy than it was by the RCC, which the Reformation was fought against, and tradition includes Scripture itself, as well as its proper interpretation (far more open to types and allegories beyond simply the examples used in the NT, and actually including the NT as well as the OT as the source of types), the traditions passed on by word of mouth (per Paul to the Thessalonians) and the continuing, miracle-orking action of the Holy Spirit in the Church of today as it was in the 'developing' Church of Acts.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Than you, Pastor, for your detailed and thoughtful reply, to my questions, which helps me to understand a lttle better.

We’re using the same words with widely different meanings, and it’s much, much more than semantics – we’re talking about the ontological reality of the Church, the body of Christ – visible, invisible; static, synthetic; etc.

True

I’m thinking now that where my lament comes in has to do with the Orthodox understanding of the Church – I knew that the Orthodox believed themselves to be the one true visible Church…

Not quite. What we believe is that Christ is the Church. We, as members of Him, are thus only derivatively members of the Church. The Church is Christ, and Christ includes all who are in Him.

, but so does the RCC, the Anglican Church, etc. Even the Lutheran Church has claimed this at times. Everyone thinks they’re the true Church! But at least in polite conversation, often even in more heated theological discussion, I have found these other communions to operate with the same assumption I described above – still recognizing that the other was somehow, if only by the grace of God (not that there’s any other way), they are still part of the Church. I had assumed that this would be the case with the Orthodox…

Now here comes a dilemma. Pr. Beane (mistakenly!) regards the “I don’t know” as a false politeness to mask some underlying conviction he thinks we have that you are definitely not Church. You regard the same “I don’t know” as impolite.

Well, polite or impolite, it’s just the truth. Should the truth be masked for the sake of politeness? Sometimes, perhaps, since charity trumps all. Masked, spoken in love, but never denied. We were asked outright, a direct question. What could we tell you except either our own, personal opinion or, as I did, the Church’s agnositic stand?

– so, I am surprised that the Orthodox (at least some of the more verbose bloggers) actually carry their belief that they are the only valid incarnation of the Church to the logical end that, regarding the salvation and sacraments of believers in other communions, the best they can offer is the agnostic “I don’t know”.

Again, the Church is not us. We aren’t the Church; Christ is. He just lets us dwell in Him.

But apart from that quibble, what do you think we ought to have done or said differently, and why? (I can’t suppose you are advocating illogic.)

we can see that there are true Christians and therefore true members of the Una Sancta in heterodox communions.

I wish I had the same joy. But I can’t see it. I can only fervently hope and pray it.

A baptism is a baptism (assuming the Trinitarian formula and the proper application of water), not because of a particular ecclesiology, but because of the Word and promise.

This doesn’t help, though, since we believe the “proper application of water” is triple immersion.

Our churches share some common creeds (confessions) (with or without the filioque) which are anything but agnostic, but are clear, precise statements of what the Church believes / confesses.

The filioque, though, turns out to make all the difference in the world. It changes everything. Maybe I’ll see if I can’t find something well-written on-line that explains why. Or maybe I can figure out how to explain that on my own blog, not wishing to use yours for that purpose.

The Lutheran Church in particular has a number of confessions which clearly and precisely state what our belief / confession is concerning a great number of important issues.

Important issues in which your confessions disagree with the Orthodox teachings.

“I don’t know”, as this phrase seems to be used by a number of Orthodox bloggers, becomes little more than a convenient trump card to end the discussion rather than to delve into the Scriptural and traditional foundation and basis for the doctrine in question. I suspect that is because there is no Scriptural foundation, or there is a questionable and weak foundation, and because Scripture is just one authoritative source equal to the tradition of the church, trumped by the church when convenient or simply interpreted away.

I”d be glad if I could disabuse you of that suspicion.

First, the “I don’t know” pertains to only one topic and that is whether any individual outside of Orthodoxy belongs to the Church in some way so far not revealed to us. I can’t think of any other issue to which it applies (except, in a sense, to the salvation of anybody at all, including myself; see below).

Second, the “I don’t know” unfortunately does pretty much end that particular conversation, simply because, as I noted, there’s a limited amount one can say about something of which he is ignorant! We could, of course, continue to discuss the pros and cons of the question, citing evidence in favor of some of the non-Orthodox being Christians and evidence not favoring that opinion. But to what end, since the final answer is still going to be, “I don’t know?” I think the only result of that would be to get more feelings hurt.

Thirdly, for the Orthodox, Scripture is never “just one authoritative source equal to the tradition of the church, trumped by the church when convenient or simply interpreted away.” Holy Scripture is the single most important witness to the Holy Tradition. It is never to be dismissed or trumped. For example, nothing, for us, trumps Romans 8:29.

As for whether any particular doctrine is read in or interpreted away, that of course depends upon your point of view. There is the Church’s point of view and countless others.

Probably the most disturbing use of “I don’t know” was your own answer to the question: “How do you, individual Orthodox believers, feel about your own salvation? Do you feel that you are saved, now, (understanding that you must remain in faith and repentance) and in this find comfort to persevere to the end? Or, do you live daily in uncertainty about your own salvation? If the latter is true, then does this not somehow lessen the work of Christ in His sacrificial death for your sins and the sins of the world?” You answered “While I have faith in Christ, I don’t have faith in my faith”, or “I don’t know.” This is saddening as it diminishes the atoning work of Christ on the cross and makes Him a liar when He cries out “It is finished”. You can believe that you are saved if you believe that Jesus’ death was for you, in your place. You don’t need to worry about faith for tomorrow, faith for today is all important. How much faith? I think the parable of the mustard seed is a great illustration for that; or the little children who “believe in me”. What about the final judgment? Well, the Gospels describe that in terms of separating the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the tares – the point being, at the judgment, sheep are sheep, goats are goats, etc., already; the Good Shepherd is simply doing the sorting. I believe that I have been judged a sheep when Jesus cried out “It is finished”. Today, I believe; today I am saved. I am not agnostic about my salvation. If I believe, that is entirely due to the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and to His glory; If I am damned, that’s entirely my fault. Lutherans exult in faithful confidence, because our salvation depends not on us in any way, but solely on Christ and His promise fulfilled. This is why the doctrine of Justification is often called the central doctrine. Now Orthodox like to say “Ah-hah! For us the Trinity is the central doctrine.” But that’s uncharitable foolishness. Lutherans do not pit doctrines against each other – what’s more important, Baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Give me a break.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The objectivity of God’s salvific work in Christ Jesus is the source of this certainty and comfort. I’m truly sorry that you “don’t know”.


Oh, it really isn’t as bad as all that! I not only believe, I also experience and know I am saved today. The question pertains only to my ultimate state. Will I hang on to Christ, or will I ultimately reject Him? Will I be found to have accepted Him intellectually and emotionally but not in practice? Will I be among those who for now are IN Him, but are ultimately cast out? (John 15:2) If I say I definitely will follow Christ all the way, do I really know that for sure, or am I simply repeating Peter’s presumption and bravado? Even St. Paul does not count himself to have apprehended, but presses forward to the prize, etc.

But a proper answer to this question requires a whole post of its own, and as I have no intention of abusing your hospitality, I will keep this in mind for an upcoming post on my own blog.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Fr. Jon,

I'm probably the smug and self-righteous guy you have reference to. Fr. John Fenton doesn't post a lot. I have been, lately. I'm not aware of other former Lutheran clergy blogging much at all. Worse, God knows I have nothing to be smug and self-righteous about.

You wrote, "However, recent discussions have devolved to the Orthodox stating in effect "Well, we're the Church and you're not" -- of course, this statement is more honest and forthright than is "We don't know." How can we continue to talk after such a gauntlet has been thrown down? Lutherans are willing to grant that Orthodox are Church, that Orthodox sacraments are valid and efficacious, while the Orthodox cannot reciprocate."

Rx: Please listen carefully. I, for one, am not saying

(1) "We are the Church and you are not."
I'm saying,
(2) "The Orthodox Church is the Church and Lutheranism is not."

Please note: Sentence (1) has, as its subject, a group of individuals. Sentence (2) has, as its subject, a body. That makes all the difference in the world. The Orthodox Church is not so much a body of believers as it is the Body of Christ.

If I say, "Lutheranism is not Church," it does not follow that I am saying, "Pr. Ellingworth is not a Christian."

To use an analogy you're surely familiar with. On election, you say, "God chose some people for salvation." The Calvinist says, "Then God chose others for damnation." You answer, "No; God doesn't choose anyone for damnation." Just so, concerning the corporate entity entitled Lutheranism, we say, "It is not Church." But we are not saying, "Therefore, you are not Christian." Nor are we saying, "You are Christian." We are saying "We don't know." We have hope, to be sure; but we are simply saying that we have not been given to judge those outside the Church (remembering that "Church," for us, means the Orthodox Church).

Does this make sense?

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

Father Hollywood said...

The Orthodox definition of the Church breaks down when they allow that there are, may be, might be, could possibly be - Christians outside the Church.

Many will enthusiastically consider C.S. Lewis a Christian - an unbaptized Christian, a Christian who has never had absolution, a Christian who is outside the Church (which flies in the face of St. Cyprian: "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" (outside the church there is no salvation).

To confess that any non-Orthodox might be a Christian, might have salvation ("Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church" says Fr. Georges Florovsky) - is to allow that some non-Orthodox are in the Church.

But to state that only Orthodoxy is Church is to deny the Christianity and salvation of all non-Orthodox so-called Christians.

Press them for a straight answer to this conundrum, and you get the same answer as our Lord in Mark 11:29-33.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

We can give you a straight answer to that supposed conundrum, too. Nor does the definition of Church ever break down.

Let me know if you're ever in a mood to hear about it.

Sbdn. Lucas said...

Fr. Hollywood,

The parallel you draw with the Mark 11 passage paints the Orthodox in a disingenuous light. Is that your intention? It seems Fr. Gregory, Anastasia & Rdr. Christopher have all been trying to say the same thing--the fact that we have to play the M card here ('mystery') does not mean that we're trying to be sophistic or dishonest. You do not seem to agree, so there must be something of a paradigmatic breakdown in our conversation. For the sake of understanding, please indulge me. We say:

P1 The Orthodox Church is the Body of Christ, the Fullness of the Faith

P2 We do not know the heart of, and consequently cannot judge, any one person outside the Orthodox Church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:12,13)

P3 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent

C We must be silent regarding any person outside the Orthodox Church

I expect you do not agree with P1 as stated. That aside, where do you disagree with the structure of our paradigm as such? I hope this is read this in the light of conversation, not debate or polemics.

Pray for me, the sinner;
Sbdn. Lucas

Acolyte4236 said...

Rev. Ellingworth,

The fact that Lutherans may not proselytize those outside its confines seems to me to be a function of Lutheran theological commitments about the nature of the church. It is unclear to me why the Orthodox are to be judged by theological commitments that they do not hold. Orthodoxy doesn’t view itself as a denomination, a different manifestation of the same type of thing. As for the examples with the Jews, I can’t see how that is a comparable situation. The Lutherans were never in formal communion with the Orthodox.
Even though we have different views it doesn’t follow that the conversation is over before it starts and this is so for a number of reasons. First, it is still possible to remove stereotypes from each side and each side has them. If we are ever going to be able to explore the possibility of mutual recognition, then we have to dialog to remove misunderstandings and get clear as to exactly what our views are. Second, it may be true that between our views there is no neutral starting point, but this in no way implies that the ground upon which we both stand is theologically neutral ground. It may in fact be the case that things in one view are actually at home and owe their allegiance so to speak to another.
As far as I know the Anglicans have only claimed to be a true church, but never the true church. As for the status of schismatic and heterodox individuals, the teaching of the church found in people such as Augustine to Cyril is that the baptism of schismatics and heterodox (depending on the heresy) becomes valid and is filled in by the fullness of grace upon reception into the Orthodox Church. They may profess Christ and have a genuine belief in him to some degree or another and their practices may in fact be where and how God reaches them to that degree, but they are at least schismatics. So I would ask Rev. Ellingworth if he thinks there is a real state of schism say between the Lutherans and other bodies.
I for one treat professing Christians from other bodies as professing Christians and at best schismatics. This does not mean that I think they are mean people or inherently immoral or stupid. It means that I think they are mistaken and in a very real sense separated from the Church. This does not mean that they cannot in this life or the next be reconciled to Christ.
While Lutherans may trust in the power of the Word regarding the practices and rites of other bodies, this is a function of Lutheran theological commitments and so I am not sure why the Orthodox are being faulted for not being Lutheran.
While our churches share some common creedal professions, we do not hold the same understanding of them. While the Lutherans like historic Anglicans have been closer on some points to Orthodoxy, they have remained at a significant distance at other important points. As I stated previously, the traditional belief has been that the baptism of schismatics or heterodox is not valid until they are received into the church, even if it is done with a Trinitarian intention and water. This is not just a Cyprianic outlook but can be found in a number of fathers, east and west.

I am not sure what the appeal to “feelings” concerning my own salvation is supposed to do and I am somewhat taken aback to hear it from a Lutheran. Perhaps that has more to do with my exposure to Lutheranism via people like Rosenbladt who tend to emphasize the objectivity of the gospel to a great degree. In any case, I think I am a Christian and I love God. I have a great hope that I will endure to the end and that God will continue to be merciful to me. Asking other questions or rather polemical assertions about lessening the atonement of Christ really doesn’t move the Orthodox reader. Simply because we don’t accept a Lutheran outlook on assurance, faith, and the forensic nature of justification it doesn’t follow that we thereby diminish the atoning work of Christ. Christ’s work is not lessened by my sin, assuming it is sin to have the views you impute to the Orthodox. In any case what this shows is that we don’t view the “mechanics” of soteriology in the same way, specifically with regard to the atonement. Faith for us is not an instrument whereby we are extrinsically united to God. Our notion of union with Christ is intrinsic and more intimate. We become partakers of the divine nature. For us the notion that there is a created righteousness between us and God reminds us too much of Arius’ need to have a created intermediary between God and creation.
If the Orthodox call the Trinity a central doctrine, it doesn’t follow that they are pitting doctrines against each other anymore than Lutherans are when they are say that sola fide is a central doctrine. We would rather say I suspect that the Trinity and the Incarnation are fonts of all other doctrines rather than being “central.”
The Orthodox believe in the objectivity of the work of Christ, but objective for us doesn’t mean extrinsic but rather denotes a deep and intrinsic penetration of creation, recaptilating it, re-creating it and even taking death into himself to triumph over it and not just for us, but for all of creation. Christ’s work is objective because it is cosmic. Christ is the redemptive black hole of redemption-no one can escape his power.
It is true that we do not reciprocate concerning the validity of sacraments, but let us be fair here. The Lutherans do not reciprocate with the Baptists or the Reformed, let alone the Pentacostals. The Lutherans have not considered the Baptists and the Reformed true churches for 500 years either. While the Baptists have been happy not to acknowledge the Lutheran bodies as true churches, the Reformed have held their arms open wide, leaving the Lord’s Table open to the Lutherans for a long time and the Lutherans have cited differences in Eucharistic Theology and Christology as a basis for refusing this invitation. Well the Orthodox cite the same basis for not recognizing the Lutheran bodies as true churches.
As for the “gauntlet” being thrown down, I suspect the confession of ignorance is an attempt to be as charitable as Orthodox theological parameters will allow others here to be. It is not a gauntlet, it is an expression of charity. As for Rome, they don’t reciprocate either with respect to Lutheranism. And if it makes you feel any better, we don’t formally recognize Roman orders and sacraments either.


While it may be true that people on line are smug, people on line are smug period regardless of confession. So to be fair just look at Paul McCain. The man is the definition of “smug.” For the record I am not a convert from Lutheranism and have never been Lutheran

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

For me, personally, when I say, I do not know," it is not a form of charity. It is simply the sober truth. I'm entitled to my perosnal opinion, of course, and that may be very strongly held, but in the absence of the Holy Spirit's revelation to the whole Church, my opinion must not be confused with knowing.

In my personal case, there isn't even such an opinion, either. Or if there is, it changes daily.

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Dear Acolyte, thank you for your thoughtful and thorough post. You have taken my concerns, questions, and criticisms seriously and have answered in like manner.

As the reoccurring theme of these recent Orthodox - Lutheran blog wars has concerned the nature and essence of the Church, I believe that you have nailed the crux of the contention: Orthodox and Lutherans have categorically different and incompatible understandings of the Church. We don't speak the same language and we don't mean the same things when we do.

It is because of this reality that I bemoan "the conversation is over before it starts". Oh, sure, we can keep on talking seeking to better understand each other -- but the reality is that we are talking about something that is absolutely essential, the Body of Christ, and who's part of Him and who's not. If the Orthodox will not recognize that Lutherans are part of the Body of Christ (while Lutherans will grant such to the Orthodox), then the relevancy and value of further talk is greatly reduced.

You make a good point, however, that since the Orthodox hold a different understanding of Church than the Lutherans, then the Lutherans should not expect to judge the Orthodox (or vice versa) by Lutheran (Orthodox) theological commitments. Again, the two views are categorically different and incompatible.

However, this is all but symptomatic of a greater categorical disagreement concerning the nature, essence, and authority of the Holy Scripture. Again, Orthodox and Lutherans will often use the same language but mean very different things by the words they use and likewise draw very different conclusions.

A Lutheran will say that Scripture is normative (the highest rule) of all doctrine and practice. An Orthodox would have to say something different, involving the Church. [I really don't want to begin a full blown blog war over the relationship of Church and Scripture] All I'm trying to say is that for the Lutheran any teaching about the Church is normed by Holy Scripture as the first and final rule. Now this does not exclude a role for tradition, mind you, but tradition is normed by Scripture. Yes, I know that the Orthodox do not understand Church and Scripture this way -- categorically different and incompatible understandings.

You asked me to answer if I think there is a real state of schism between Lutherans and other bodies. Well, please understand that I must answer you as a Lutheran, with a Lutheran understanding of Church: Yes, there is real schism between the "denominations". What does this mean?

Here I may write some things that seem different than the typical Lutheran response, but as far as I know I'm within the boundaries of confessional, orthodox, Lutheran doctrine and tradition (Lutherans, feel free to correct me if I've strayed).

1. The Church IS the body of Christ and He is the head of His body.
2. The Church, as the body of Christ, is both spiritual and physical (flesh and blood).
3. Individual believers are members of the Body of Christ, not churches per se. 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of the Church in this manner. Yes, Paul was writing to one Church at the time, a Church that had not yet by division been rent asunder -- but Paul's language goes two ways at the same time: 1) The Body of Christ is first and foremost Christ's *actual* body -- it is His and it is external and preceding those who will be incorporated into it. In this regard Paul says that individuals are members of Christ's body. 2) Then Paul refers to the whole Corinthian congregation as the Body of Christ. I don't believe that these two expressions are contradictory but rather indicate a distinction between the true Body of Christ (His person) and those believers (individuals) who will become members of His Body by incorporation (they were not His Body, now they are). This is usually where the terms *visible* and *invisible* Church come in; but these terms have been the source of confusion between Lutherans and Orthodox in recent discussions.
4. Though schism is most certainly undesirable, ungodly, and sinful, it is, nevertheless, the reality, the very fruit of sin. It is the work of satan to divide the Body of Christ and thereby conquer were that possible. Lutherans, with their unique Theology of the Cross expect this in humility and repentance. The Truth always divides; and sinful man will always seek to find truth in himself or in a false god of his own making. Ultimately, for this Lutheran, the body of Christ is found exactly where Christ says it is, in the Holy Eucharist where He says literally "This IS my body". I certainly do not find the Body of Christ in so-called denominations. The true Body of Christ on earth can only be found in the gifts of Christ (His Word and Sacraments) and those who receive them in repentance and faith.

I know this is likely to start more discussion than to wrap things up. Also, I'm certain the Orthodox readers are more confirmed in their belief that this particular Lutheran is a heretic.

A final word on *feelings*. I don't know where I might have written or suggested that *feelings* have anything to do with one's salvation, but since I have peppered the internet with many posts and comments, I can't deny using the word in a way inconsistent with my beliefs. I assure you I remain steadfastly Lutheran on the issue of feeling and emotions having anything to do with faith, belief, or salvation. I maintain the objective nature of salvation and that man is passive in conversion. However, emotions, feelings, and actions are the result and fruit of faith that necessarily follow conversion. That one may not always feel *saved* or experience *joy* does not effect the objective reality of the atoning work of Christ.