The article, from Real Clear Religion, is well intentioned. I won't link to it, mostly because those of you who are interested have already read it and I'm not inclined to give it wider distribution. It notes, correctly, that some evangelicals are leaving evangelicalism for ancient faiths, and it posits that a viable alternative is the ancient faith, as Lutherans see it, that is Lutheranism. So far, no harm no foul. I don't begrudge Lutherans their distinctives nor their outreach. In fact, one reason I became Lutheran was the insistence on grounding doctrine not only in "the Bible" as any single individual may see it, but in the Bible as understood by the Fathers of the Church, the Councils, etc. Lutherans believe that "Popes and councils can err," a broad statement that we Orthodox could agree with in part, but which I think overstates the case. After all, Lutherans do not profess to believe that, for example, the Ecumenical Councils erred. Your confessions cite to them often. It is this citation that drew me to Lutheranism in the first place. Here is a faith that is not grounded in subjectivity. It has roots.
But here is my issue. The article also states the following, regarding the proverbial "swimming" of the Tiber or Bosporos (shorthand for becoming Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, respectively -- forgive me the presumption that readers will understand the references or at least consult a map and figure them out):
Reasons for their aquatic activities vary. Some like the art and architecture associated with the ancient faiths. Some like the ceremonial aspects–the liturgies, the veneration of icons, the Eucharist. Some like the history that oozes from Catholicism and Orthodoxy, a history that travels through great saints of yesteryear–through Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nazianzus–but goes largely forgotten in contemporary evangelicalism.The latter, Church history, is the ground on which I became Lutheran and eventually left to become Orthodox. I will address that point in a bit, but I certainly respect that Lutherans have a valid claim to hold to at least a substantial volume of the dogmatic proclamations of the pre-schism Church. But the notion that people leave any tradition because they are enamored with externals like "ceremonial aspects" or "art and literature" is a common Lutheran trope, and a silly one. I know a lot of former Lutherans, most of whom are Eastern Orthodox, some of whom are Roman Catholic. Of those, I don't know a single one who would say "our liturgies are prettier" or "I really like the aesthetics of icons (or statutes)" as the reason why they left.
Were that my only complaint, I probably wouldn't write this at all. But the article goes on to address, or more accurately gloss past, the real reason most of us left -- ecclesiology.
Now, this is certainly the Lutheran view, and I do not take issue with it as a Lutheran view. What I take issue with is the begging of the question in favor of the Lutheran understanding of the Church, and the glossing past history which shows that view to have some holes in it. That is, I object that the very historical and Apostolic foundation being appealed to here is treated as if it can be reduced to locating the Church where the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments administered in accordance with their institution, over and against those communions who maintain the Apostolic structure. As we all know, Jesus never said "the Church is found where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments administered in accordance with their institution" either. So to understand either view -- the view of the historic communions such as Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, some Anglicans, etc., versus the Lutheran view -- one must look past the Scriptures and get deep into that very history the author appeals to here, but fails to adequately address.
But Jesus does not lay out a proper form for his church. A true church, as limned in the New Testament, is one whose ministers teach the gospel purely and administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper rightly, according to Christ’s institution and mandate. That’s all. If your church does that–and the Missouri Synod hangs its hat on this directive–you belong to the true church.
It is true that Jesus does not "lay out a proper form for His Church," inasmuch as Jesus does not say "these are the things which constitute the Church" in so many words. But Jesus did appoint men to carry on His ministry. John chapter 20 is one of numerous places we see this. "Receive the Holy Spirit," said Jesus. "Whoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whoever's sins you retain, they are retained." We both share that Apostolic foundation. The Bible, after all, is the Apostolic record.
The view Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, among a few others, share is that the Apostles then passed on their ministry to the episcopacy. That is, bishops were appointed to head the various sees established by the Apostles. Over time, those bishops had their territories expand such that they could not effectively act as pastor and overseer, and so the office of presbyter developed, with the presbyter being responsible for being the bishop's representative in a parish. The diaconate came about much earlier, as recorded in Acts. So it is the office of the parish pastor that developed over time, not the office of the bishop. In the nascent Church, the parish pastor was the bishop.
This is the basic structure of the Church in history. It is attested to as early as the late 1st to early 2nd century, with no objection to the structure itself being raised. It is utterly uncontroversial. St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop of an Apostolic see first headed by St. Peter, wrote:
Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest.
— Letter to the Magnesians 2, 6:1
He also wrote:
Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.
— Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8
Now, this clearly sets forth not simply a loose, "wherever" standard for the Church, but rather a tight, "where the bishop is, there the Church is" standard for governance. Nor is this historical truth controversial in the slightest. Nearly everyone agrees this is what St. Ignatius said about the Church save those radical "Age of Apostasy" Protestants and ahistorical atheists, some of whom deny that Ignatius was even a real person. And this is not only the same structure for the Church we see in Ignatius' late 1st century to early 2nd century writings. It is the same structure we see, for example, in Acts 15.
So leaving aside the trope that people become Catholic or Orthodox because they want more pretty shiny stuff, we are left with the idea that they seek out these communions because they appreciate Church history. And the very same history that leads one to appreciate Lutheranism, if plumbed to its depths, leads in a straight line back to the historic communions. The article even notes that Luther did not seek to leave the Church, only to restore it.
Of course, the problem with that premise is Luther did not simply restore. In many ways, he did in fact leave. Some of that I account to historical accident. If the bishops are corrupt, and if the bishops will not ordain or recognize your pastors, there is not much to be done, if one believes one's view to be correct, but to leave the bishops. The problem is, that true history is glossed past in favor of a question-begging narrative that pretends the 16th century Lutheran conception of the Church is just the way things always were until everything got corrupted. When the corruption entered is not stated by the author, and in fact the very notion that it was corrupted is hinted at only vaguely, but I have shown above that it would have to be in the very first generation of Christians. Ignatius, after all, was born in 35 AD or thereabouts. His episcopacy was before any of the councils or Popes Lutherans believe erred. His writings were widely disseminated. Antioch was one of the five pre-eminent Sees in the early Church, along with Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem. In order to claim the current Lutheran understanding of what the Church is was the "early Church" view, one has to also adopt the view that the entire ecclesiology of the Church was corrupted right about the time the last Apostle died. And yet, I don't know a single Lutheran who believes that.
There is a proper Lutheran view of history that accounts for this. Many of my friends in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod hold the view, for example, that the parish pastor fulfills properly the role of the bishop in the ancient Church. That is, as they see it, their ecclesiology has been reformed to a more proper model consistent with that of the early Church, where there were no overseers, only pastors. Again, that is well and good and I don't quarrel with it, though I do disagree with it. The problem is, in disseminating articles like this one which fails to make that case, or even attempt to, one invites prospective evangelical converts to delve into the history behind the claims. When they do, they will inevitably find that the claims are inadequate, and frankly, wrong. That does no one any good.
I don't write often on Lutheran distinctives. I look back with fondness at my time in your midst, and I was formed by the teaching of theologians whose views I value to this very day. I do not write this as an attack on you or your tradition. But I do wish some of you would consider how this comes across, not only to those of us who left, but perhaps chiefly to those the article addresses -- potential converts. Because the honest truth is, I believe it tends to come from a position of weakness and ignorance. Too many of you cannot understand why we do not see what you see. And instead of questioning us about it, or trying to figure out why we reject Lutheran theology in the end, assumptions are made. Assumptions such as no one would reject Lutheran theology if they understood it, therefore, it must be something else. This article grasps blindly for "something else." It attributes it, in the first and second instances, to a superficial love for shiny pretty things, and in the third, for an appreciation of history that is marred by the very claims the article attempts, weakly, to make.
An anecdote to make the point further. When I was still firmly a Lutheran, in June of 2009, Pastor David Jay Webber did a 3-part series on the Lutheran radio show, Issues, Etc., on Eastern Orthodoxy. Even then, having no interest in the Orthodox Church, but having read volumes of Church history, I knew it was badly wrong. For example, rather than placing the genesis of the Great Schism properly at the extent and scope of Papal jurisdiction and authority, culminating in the Filioque controversy, Webber's view was that the West went with Augustine and the East went with Pelagius on the central article (as Lutherans see it) of justification. Pelagius, that great Protestant boogeyman, was thus presented as the central figure in a schism that occurred over 600 years after he died. Augustine, that great Protestant hero (when he isn't talking about imitating the lives of the martyrs, sharing in their merits and being aided by their prayers), is posited as the hero of a schism that occurred nearly 600 years after he died. This sort of ahistorical, anachronistic nonsense does not win people to your cause, at least not after they learn they have been lied to.
When we were exploring Orthodoxy, in mid-2010, well-meaning Lutheran friends sent me articles written by Lutherans who said things like "the Orthodox don't take sin seriously" and "the Orthodox don't believe in original sin." The first of those statements is laughable, as I wrote about here. The second is true only in a word-concept fallacy sense -- we believe in a concept called "ancestral sin," and the differences are beyond the scope of my point here. Suffice it to say, at the level of theology, both statements are horrifically wrong. And things like that naturally made me ask a question: "if they're wrong about that, what else are they wrong about?"
It turned out the answer was "quite a lot." Most Lutherans, even most Lutheran pastors and theologians, do not understand Eastern Orthodoxy. I've written about some of the differences here before, but the conceptual framework is so vastly different that one really must spend a lot of time defining terms and understanding basics before one can even have a conversation.
My advice, then, is stop trying to tell us why we left and what we believe, and start trying to understand. That begins with listening, and I am happy to offer my thoughts anytime any of you would like to discuss it.