Many Lutheran laymen and pastors are fascinated by Eastern Orthodoxy, and the stories of Lutherans “going East” are abundant. They have a type of conservatism, a venerable stability, a great respect for tradition, and a conservative moral mindset. But the real draw is to leave the incessant, tedious doctrinal divisions of the West for the liturgical-based theology of the Eastern church.
I contend that some high church, conservative-appearing Lutherans are basically Eastern in thinking already (evidenced by the fascination with infant communion and the blind devotion and adoration of optional liturgical forms), so to fully commit is not a huge leap. This new school of confessionally-minded Lutherans eschews doctrinal clarity and precision for liturgical niceties and describes adiaphora (external things things neither commanded, nor forbidden by God in Scripture) in mystical, absolute terms. Actions and tradition take precedent naturally over Scripture’s teaching of grace and justification by the Gospel, to these new-age Lutherans—doing and seeing replaces speaking and hearing.The first paragraph is, in my view, a good assessment of the attraction to Orthodoxy. It is deep in history and appears, at least, to be mostly unaffected by the doctrinal divisions that have plagued the West. Though I am not sure that this last statement is true. Some of the folks who have headed East have found that this is not only a tradition with distinct and deeply entrenched cultural and ethnic divisions but also doctrinally somewhat divided. There were those not too long ago who suggested such eloquent voices for Orthodoxy like Ware, Schmemann and Meyendorff and even, perhaps, the whole school of St. Valdimir's represented a different Orthodoxy. But not being Orthodox (Eastern, anyway) I cannot attest to the claim. The point only that the appearance of a united doctrinal communion and its actuality are, as we all know, not quite the same thing.
Indeed, Lutheran suffers from nitpickers and individuals who insist that Synods, theologians, and even Confessions are not all that important and should not be weighted with much authority and that only Scripture alone can convince. I think this is a foolish overstatement. Of course it matters what the Synod says, what its teaches and our Lutheran forbearers taught, and the Confessions say. Why else be Lutheran? But it is also true that the decisive authority is reserved for Scripture alone. Though here, it would take an idiot to suggest that Scripture is so convincing that every doctrinal argument and dogmatic controversy can be settled in a church body by saying Thus saith the Lord. Would that it would be so but it is not. It is not for Lutheranism in general and it is not for the Missouri Synod. It is not a failing of the Word but our failing as sinful people.
But the second paragraph refers to things that have no real basis in fact. Yes, there are individuals who have left Missouri, indeed, Lutheranism! I would be curious to know how they could be classed together as a unified or homogeneous bunch as to have the character of a group. I know one who is Orthodox but uses a Western Rite and others who have not been ordained and others who have left their new home in search of still greener pastures and others who have found a home in and are happy having swum the Bosporus. I do think that those who left shared a seriousness with regard to worship, a deep sensitivity to the lex orandi lex credendi expectation, a fear that the claim of Augustana to be catholic in doctrine and practice has given way to a Lutheranism as a brand of theology and liturgy, and a longing for unanimity and unity through time and geography. Only a fool would suggest that you can find such an idealized identity in WELS, ELS, or LCMS and I would suggest that it cannot be found in Rome or Constantinople either.
The part I believe is anecdotal and not accurately reflective of reality is this: This new school of confessionally-minded Lutherans eschews doctrinal clarity and precision for liturgical niceties and describes adiaphora . . .in mystical, absolute terms. Actions and tradition take precedent naturally over Scripture’s teaching of grace and justification by the Gospel, to these new-age Lutherans—doing and seeing replaces speaking and hearing. I find it not credible to suggest that there is such a school much less to substantiate the charge that this school prefers doctrinal ambiguity over liturgical uniformity. Every confessionally minded and liturgical concerned person I know in Synod is adamant about the desire for and the very need for doctrinal clarity with liturgical integrity. After all, this is the day in which worship where anything goes and solemnity live side by side in Missouri, when some Missourians are having virtual communion while others are maintaining the fullness of the Divine Service, and some Missourians are advocating methodologies of church growth that fly in the face of our Confessions while others insist that nothing less than the full confessional identity will help us grow at all.
The main article by Harris is something else and needs its own treatment by someone much more familiar with and able to compare Rome and Constantinople but the introduction to this article in CN is worth its own harder look to see if the charge made can stick. The last line of the intro is worth its own judgment and I would ask you to weigh in: Fort Wayne seminary graduates, even some of my own classmates, having not been grounded on the entire body of Lutheran orthodoxy have been especially susceptible to the kinder, gentler heretical “orthodoxy” of Easternism. If what the editor says of the seminary failing to ground those studying to be pastors in the entire body of Lutheran orthodoxy is true of Ft. Wayne, then it is even more true of St. Louis. And this is where I say I do not see it. I do not believe it. It has not been my experience -- either with the pastors who have been formed by the Seminary over the years and the faculty, many of which I count as long-time friends. No seminary is perfect and no candidate is as fully prepared as they might be and it is impossible to ascertain from even three years of academic training and one year of vicarage whether or if someone will drift away from the pledges made at ordination. But I say it is an unfair and unsubstantiated charge against one of the most faithful institutions and learning communities of the Synod!