Sunday, May 21, 2017

Orthodoxy attracts many converts. . .

His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, had some thoughts on the state of Orthodoxy in America and, in particular, some words about the many converts to Orthodoxy here. . .
Orthodoxy in the United States attracts very many converts from other backgrounds. I myself am a convert to the Orthodox faith. . . I was raised in the Anglican Church, in the Episcopal Church in the United States and I personally fell away from the Church, even from belief in God when I was very young, and then slowly I returned to the Church. My father is a scientist, so I was raised with an idea that you can either be intelligent or be religious. So I made a choice when I was very young and inexperienced: I'll be intelligent, not religious, but slowly, meeting people I realized that it is possible to be an intelligent and faithful person. I started studying more carefully the life of the Church and eventually [age 23] I discovered, mostly through people and books, the Orthodox faith and began the process of becoming Orthodox.
The typical stereotype too often pits intelligence against religion.  That is funny, odd funny no humorous, since many of the most intelligent people I can remember are very religious.  I think here of William F. Buckley and Richard John Neuhaus, among others.  Watch on Fox News when Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is on or read her in the Federalist and you will find a knowledgeable, intelligent, and articulate individual.  Among my peers I note too many to list -- people who are very intelligent, accomplished, and who communicate well -- who have found the stereotype to be wrong -- there is not a choice between intelligence and religion.  They go hand in hand.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to attracting converts is the myth that faith requires sacrificing your intellect.  In reality it is the opposite.  Intellect, if it knows anything, know its limitations.  The smartest person you know is the one who knows the limitations of his or her knowledge and ability.  St. Paul reminds us that it is the transformation of the mind with the eternal wisdom of the almighty Father that Christ has come to accomplish and not only the salvation of the soul.  God is not looking for us to leave our minds at the door of the church but neither should we presume to think that the only things that are real are those we can understand, comprehend, and, therefore, control.  It is precisely in the encounter with the mystery of God that we understand where wisdom begins.  The only thing God asks us to sacrifice is the foolishness of our presumption that we are gods, that we are good enough to take care of ourselves, and that life apart from our Creator and Redeemer is sufficient, reasonable, and satisfactory. 

Orthodoxy more than most confronts the curious with just such mystery, without trying to explain it or justify it or make it comprehensible.  Perhaps that is the key.  The convert may be looking for a rationale but we do not do service to the convert of the faith by trying to make the faith reasonable, by trying to answer every question, or by satisfying every curiosity.  We speak the Word, we bring them into the presence of the Most High, and God will do the rest.  It is interesting to me that the people with whom I have worked hard to explain away their objections to the faith tend not to stay.  On the other hand, those to whom I speak the Word and teach the faith without apology tend to remain.  Our itching ears and curious minds may be looking for some grand schema to make it all sensible, predictable, and controllable but God will not have it.  He meets us in the still small voice of His Word, in the still, quiet waters of baptism, and in the humble food of bread and wine in which He has hidden His flesh and blood.  To catechize means to teach the faith, not necessarily to explain it.  I sometimes have trouble with that.  As a parent I too often fell victim to the temptation that if I explained things in just the right way, my kids would do what I thought was right.  I should have simply told them what was right and left out the sermonic rationale.  Perhaps that is exactly what we ought to do with converts.  Instead of trying to explain away the mystery of God or entertain them into faith or make them feel that the faith is relevant, we stick to the Word, the catechism, and the Divine Service.


Carl Vehse said...

The tendency to long for or actually join the [Un]Orthodox Church or any of its variant sects demonstrates a spiritual and/or mental defect in such a person who proclaims to be Christian, especially if that person has been confirmed or ordained in an evangelical Lutheran church.

One would expect confessional Lutheran seminaries to have established procedures to diagnose and presumably treat (or weed out) seminarians who have this UnOrthodoxy syndrome (not to mention the excumenical Liberalism and the Papist syndromes). Yet there continue to be such untreated cases even within church bodies like the Missouri Synod.

Of more concern is whether such diagnosis procedures should also be applied to a seminary faculty and adminstration. At this month's commencement ceremonies for graduating Lutheran seminarians a LCMS seminary awarded an honorary doctorate to Romanist Anthony M. Esolen, and the other LCMS seminary has a recent history of having Romanists, heretics, and a now-deposed-and-nondenominational preacher featured in the seminary's Speaker Series, supposedly established to honor and promote the principles and theology of the Reformation.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

One time ago, while teaching Human Anatomy & Physiology at the college level (my second career) I was exposed to the concept of mystagogical theology, attributed to St Ambrose of Milan. My understanding of its application in my life as a parish pastor is that if we truly believe that the Holy Sacraments are Means of Grace, how can one who does not have the grace even begin to comprehend the mysteries of the grace granted in the sacrament. From that I adopted a somewhat radical (or so I was told) practice of administering the Holy Sacraments first and then catechizing the recipient about the incomprehensible mysteries of the grace of God. Admittedly, this was not received warmly by my brothers, but once I was able to share my rationale they warmed to the idea.

Connect this to your comments about not being able to explain the faith, we teach it. This "Eastern" mindset is welcomed amongst our Millenials who are not satisfied that we try to explain everything because there are no open questions....

Gotta go preach! God be with you all!

Anonymous said...

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16
Ironically, the Christian Faith is reasonable after all. Unlike false religions, it can be found by the academic and discerning eye in the recesses of world history, archaeology and geography and contradictions cannot be established by any scientific method, discipline, or philosophy. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the mysteries and paradoxes of the Bible and I don’t want God or His oracles reduced to something I can always figure out to my intellectual and rational satisfaction. That would make me uncomfortable, not satisfied.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

Carl Vehse said...

It's deja vu all over again! On his Wayback Machine-archived September 19, 2013, BareBulb blog Rev. Todd Wilken had this to say about paedo (infant/toddler)-communion:

"This is the third time it has come around in the last 20 years. In the mid-1990s I watched fellow pastors start with Infant Communion and end by converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. I watched it happen again about 10 years later.

"That is what is behind the push for Infant Communion, you know: a romantic fascination with Eastern Orthodoxy.

"The teaching and practice of Infant Communion cannot be found in the Lutheran Confessions. It doesn't come from Wittenberg; it comes from Constantinople. And, that's where it leads too.

"Sooner or later, those who insist on pushing Infant Communion will go East.

"They've already made up their minds. The rest of us are just waiting for them to admit it to themselves.

"The two pastors I dealt with directly in the mid-1990s started by arguing for infant communion from the Confessions. Of course, they had to completely redefine the terms.

"All along, they also insisted that they were not headed East. In fact, up until last monthly meeting they denied they had any plans to convert. Several weeks later, they both resigned their Calls and converted.

"A very similar pattern of arguments and denials was followed by the three of four men who pushed infant communion in the mid-2000s. They converted too.

"Nothing in the latest round of the debate has deviated from that pattern. TW"

And now it appears another round may be beginning, albeit from a St. Louis-colloquized member of the Synod.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Strickert/Vehse is filled with impatience and disdain for anyone and everyone who disagrees with him. He is the poster child for those in the LCMS who think it should be a purity cult more than a church. He does his cause more harm than good. He is rude and delights in judgment and condemnation.

Carl Vehse said...

Lutheran Lurker, your spewing of ad hominems shows utter contempt for Luther's LC explanation of the Eighth Commandment. You write nothing of substance against the facts I have presented above. Instead you devote yourself to your self-perceived but delusional telepathic ability in ranting about a person's thoughts and motivations.

BTW, the LCMS is not a "church," but a synod of individual and congregational Lutheran members.

Please go to your pastor with repentance, and seek his absolution and counsel for the rage you have demonstrated in your post. I forgive you.

David Gray said...

Strickert/Vehse/Who Knows apparently hasn't read Luther who was not above the occasional ad hominem. But in past usage Strickert/Vehse/Who Knows hasn't really shown a strong grasp of what an ad hominem is.

Carl Vehse said...

David Gray apparently hasn't read my second sentence because:

1. It is applicable to his (erroneous) first sentence.
2. It is applicable to his (erroneous) second sentence.

Pastor Peters said...

Hey people. . . comments are not moderated but that is no cause to be rude. Being blunt is not the same as being rude. Play nice even while you make your points. Mr. Strickert, it seems you are often the one whom people address as less than nice. It is fine to disagree and debate but there is no reason to be less than gentlemanly in it all.

Carl Vehse said...

Pastor Peters: "It is fine to disagree and debate but there is no reason to be less than gentlemanly in it all."

Rev. Peters, which of these statements do you think is "less than gentlemanly"?

"filled with impatience and disdain for anyone and everyone who disagrees with him"

"poster child for those in the LCMS who think it should be a purity cult"

"He does his cause more harm than good."

"He is rude and delights in judgment and condemnation."

"apparently hasn't read Luther who was not above the occasional ad hominem."

"hasn't really shown a strong grasp of what an ad hominem is."

tubbs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Dr. Strickert is angry, but does he sin? Ephesians 4:25-27
He is brokenhearted over the unremitting erosion of Lutheran identity within the Missouri synod, as we all should be. He doesn’t understand why anyone would desire to change the scope of the confessions to include marginal, error-ridden traditions. He deplores all the tinkering and redefinition. His intellectual energies are consumed in the pursuit of exposing error in his beloved synod. You might say he has a knack for that sort of thing, keeping the rest of us intellectually honest. You might say that his vocation is to be a sentinel calling out those who would steal, kill, and destroy even if he happens to gore one’s ox in the process. So don’t be offended. Consider what he says and answer him. We are all just trying to sort it out and should be held accountable.

David Gray said...

It is the part where Vehse/Strickert/Who Knows bears false witness regarding the membership vows used in the synod that is most problematic.