This post is part of the No Longer Sola Series.
I have been asked why I spend so much time picking apart Lutheranism. The answer to that is quite simple. Picking apart Lutheranism is what I did. I have framed much of my writing in this way is because my goal, while it is all still fresh in my mind, is to give anyone interested in my journey a look at what was actually going on in the time leading up to my departure from the Lutheran Church.
What I mean is that, I spent years picking apart Lutheranism because I was looking for a reason to stay. I wanted to stay right where I was and where I had been raised. I didn't go looking for Orthodoxy, but in a very real way Orthodoxy found me. There wasn't anything worldly or practical to be gained by "Going East". I was happy right where I was. I wasn't eager to upset relationships, expectations and my entire life. I needed to dig deep enough to prove that the flaws of Lutheranism were not flaws in its foundation, but additions and subtractions to its structure that could theoretically be mended.
But no matter which angle I took, I could not escape the inherent flaws I was beginning to uncover. Lutheranism wasn't a house totally built on sand, of course. If everything had totally crumbled, who knows, I might have ended up out of the Church entirely. Praise be to God that Orthodoxy had been revealed to me before any such thing could have happened. The common ground between the two churches was a bridge that brought me to the other side, safely within the bounds of Christendom.
I found Orthodoxy at a time in my life where I had embraced Confessional Lutheran theology with my whole heart, before I even knew I needed such a bridge. I had first learned about a deeper Lutheranism in high school when my mother suggested a Lutheran radio program called "Issues Etc". My dad was talking about the things he was learning in his classes at Concordia Seminary, which I found very interesting and Issues Etc was like a seminary education available for free. At a time when I desperately needed spiritual nourishment, I soaked it in.
As I went through college I continued to listen religiously to Issues Etc and began taking theology classes at Concordia University, St. Paul. I initially went to CSP because I wanted to be a Lutheran Classroom teacher and specialize in history and all that jazz. At CSP I was drawn to the more liturgically oriented things. I loved the traditional prayer offices in the evening and whenever I could I would go to University Lutheran Chapel over at the University of Minnesota, which had the most elaborate liturgical life of any Lutheran Church I had ever seen.
As time went by I switched from an education major to the pre-seminary track. I felt a strong call to study and become a pastor. In my language and theology classes I learned the faith with a greater depth. In particular I loved the classes dealing with Church History and the confessions.
Growing up I knew that the LCMS had two seminaries. One in St. Louis, where my dad had went, and one in Fort Wayne where everything evil came from. I jest, but sometimes I had the impression that, like Biblical Nazareth, nothing good came from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne.
After I started the pre-seminary track I just assumed I'd apply to St. Louis. However, CSP subsidized a trip for pre-seminary students to visit both seminaries and we were encouraged to visit both, regardless of where we ended up deciding to apply. After all, both seminaries are in mission together, and it would be good for future pastors to at least have seen both once.
Many of my favorite guests on Issues Etc where either professors at Fort Wayne or had attended CTS, so I was looking forward to it. We made the long drive from St. Paul to Fort Wayne. I remember we arrived on a foggy night, turning off the main road onto the campus. We were suddenly out of the city and in what felt like a forest. Emerging from the wooded area the fog covered the campus initially, but gave way to reveal a stunning statue of Martin Luther, a blue lake and a small community of brick buildings, with the chapel at the pinnacle.
My initial thought was exactly this: "This must be what it feels like to go to a monastery." I was surprised by my visit to Fort Wayne. Whereas I had previously had the impression that everyone at Fort Wayne was angry and hated everything, I discovered on my visits that they never complained about St. Louis or anything in the Synod. The focus was on what they could do to form a man to become a pastor, the focus was the chapel and the worship life of the campus.
My visits with St. Louis were different, almost an assumption that everyone would go there, kind of taken for granted. I even remember one time a representative of the seminary talking to us pre-sem guys and saying that if we wanted to be able to serve anywhere in the Synod we'd go to St. Louis because some places in the LCMS would not work with guys from Fort Wayne.
I ultimately decided to go to Fort Wayne, before I ever really thought about Orthodoxy, because it was a little more affordable than living in St. Louis and I felt like I could get just as good of an education, maybe even a slightly better one in terms of history and traditional worship.
The reason I share all of this back story is to show that the very things that I was embracing , what I considered to be an authentic, deep understanding of Lutheransim, I found present in Orthodoxy. Except, in Orthodoxy, these things were more intact; there was a fullness, as is often said.
The Lutheran confessions taught me to appreciate theological heritage. It taught me that sources before the Reformation actually mattered to our theological thought process and that Lutheranism ultimately claimed to be the continuation of the historic, catholic faith in the west. Orthodoxy claimed this for itself in the east.
I knew both Lutherans and Orthodox didn't agree with the claim of the Papacy to have jurisdiction over every Church and Christian on earth. I noticed in my study of the confessions that the Lutherans sometimes appealed to Orthodox fathers and other practices of the Greek Christians as proof that the Papacy was going astray from what everyone had agreed upon.
The Confessions are similar in function to what Orthodoxy calls Holy Tradition. Both treasure and lift up the Holy Scriptures as God's Word. Orthodoxy takes liturgy very seriously and doesn't mess around with it. The confessional Lutheran approach I had come to embrace placed the same importance on a reverent and robust approach to the divine service. The bridge was being built.
I grew up using The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH). We used both the Communion and non-Communion orders of service, the Supper being offered about twice a month. Moving to St. Louis and then to St. Paul and Fort Wayne I encountered congregations that offered weekly communion and emphasized a more regular "Word AND Sacrament" approach to worship which I resonated with.
Orthodoxy always offers the Eucharist at the divine liturgy and in encountering her I saw the same premium placed on the centrality of the Supper and the liturgy as a rich, scriptural way to worship. Indeed both the Common Service in Lutheranism and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom can rightly say that the bulk of the service is an immersion in the words of Scripture itself.
After finding Orthodoxy, the differences between the two churches were disconcerting, and compelled me to pick apart both doctrines in an effort to make sense of what I was seeing. The pieces that were the same were comforting to me. And when I found fuller expressions of what I already believed, those attracted me. But as I have been told many times, those attractions are not enough to give up your confession of faith. And so, I had no reason to leave as long as I could prove that the perceived errors I had found in Lutheranism during my years of study, were simply accidental to the faith.
As I painfully picked apart the confession of faith I had clung to my entire life, I realized that it wasn't what I thought it was. I will be forever grateful that when this realization came, I had a safe place to land. The points of convergence I had found kept me looking at Orthodoxy. To me, it was the fulfillment of all that I loved best about Lutheranism.