I left Lutheranism for Orthodoxy at an interesting time. I’m hardly the first pastor or layperson to leave the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod for Orthodoxy. This made my journey and investigation interesting because I got to hear, for years, the rebuttals from prominent Lutheran pastors like Will Weedon, Todd Wilken and John Pless. There are two key things that were typically brought up to help distressed Lutherans like me realize that they don’t want to abandon ship.
The first argument is that potential converts are pitting the Orthodox ideal against the Lutheran reality. I heard the assertion many times that the men who leave for Orthodoxy are leaving because they’ve been bewitched by greener pastures. They don’t know the real Orthodoxy, so they think they’re leaving for a Church with the incense swirling majestically around the Bishop in a candlelit Church with no problems. It is said that they unfairly compare some idealized version of Orthodoxy to the worst realities of Lutheranism.
I’m actually grateful I heard this assertion. It did make me pause and really consider, was I just running away from the fights that need to happen in the LCMS? So I dug deeper to find out if that was the case.
What I came to realize is that some of the problems in the LCMS weren’t just misapplication of doctrine, they were errors in the doctrinal foundation of the house that Luther built. There were problems that no debating or fighting or pushing through were going to fix. I have tried to document some of that in my previous posts on topics like the indifference toward Worship, Sola Scriptura and administration of Communion.
I didn’t expect greener pastures in coming to the Orthodox Church. I had listened and read enough to know many of the challenges besetting Her life both historically and here in America. And I also know that people are people - no matter where you go. The difference is that Orthodoxy is like a hospital with a full cupboard of cures for ailing man. Lutheranism was a hospital where the cupboard was not so full.
The second argument against Orthodoxy that frequently appeared was that the Orthodox Church has no Gospel. The descriptions of the poor men who left Lutheranism would always include the deluded soul going into a beautifully decorated Orthodox Church only to hear terrible preaching with “no Gospel”. In fact that was the number one thing I heard: I was going to a Church that did not have the Gospel. Why trade the Gospel for anything else, regardless of how beautiful it is?
That might be a valid point, what exactly is the Gospel and does Orthodoxy really not have it? If the Gospel means Sola Fide and Sola Gratia as Lutherans understand them according to their living tradition, then they’re right, Orthodoxy doesn’t have what Lutheranism has. But how does one know that Lutheranism has the right thing?
How does one know that the way Lutherans understand the term “grace” from the Scriptures is correct? Is grace understood correctly to be referring to a disposition in God? Is grace rightly understood to mean that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross has appeased the Father so that He can now forgive sins, whereas He could not before because He was just too angry and offended? That He only put away His wrath against us because He sees Christ and we are hidden somewhere? Is grace simply a proclamation that God has changed His mind about us while we remain unchanged?
I still have no real trouble with the words of the Augsburg Confession: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” I have the fullness of the Gospel rightly taught within the Holy Tradition of the Church. I am given the mysteries, and they are rightly administered.
Orthodoxy is just as real as Lutheranism, both can be messy, both are full of imperfect humans who make mistakes. But Orthodoxy does not make mistakes, she cannot err because she is the Divinely protected and sustained Church of Christ. The Church itself is perfect, even when the people inside of it are not.
Orthodoxy is the full Tradition given by Christ to the Apostles. Lutheranism had only part of that and cannot ever fully be that because her binding written tradition in the Book of Concord cannot be altered. It was not a successful return to the Orthodoxy the reformers sought.