Monday, January 24, 2011

I suppose it was inevitable....

This evening, I posted what must be my 20th or 30th Facebook post related to the Orthodox Church, after having announced our conversion and Chrismation on that very forum nearly 2 months ago. A Lutheran e-friend who didn't get the memo responded and pointedly corrected my comment about enjoying the service for the Feast of St. Gregory the Theologian by kindly informing me today was St. Timothy's feast day. When I mentioned that St. Gregory is in fact the correct feast on the Eastern calendar, he asked why we were on the Eastern calendar. When I told him we had converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and indicated we were Chrismated at the Nativity, this was the response:

"That's too bad. I'm going to unfriend you. Vows are serious to me."

He did, too. He didn't even hang around long enough to read my response. C'est la vie.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I don't really get upset if anyone wants to unfriend me for whatever reason. I've never even met this particular person, so it's not like a childhood friend deciding to never speak to me again. But really? "Vows are serious to me?" This is your hill to die on?

Making a vow....
Let's examine that for a minute. Leaving aside the quite obvious fact that this man's church was begun by a man who violated his own vow of celibacy by getting married to a nun (who, obviously, was also violating her own vow of celibacy with his encouragement), there is another irony here. When I converted to the Lutheran confession, having been Southern Baptist all my life, no one said squat about vows, commitment, promises made to honor God. No one questioned my conversion then. No one wondered if I was committing some grievous sin against my prior promises to God and man then. To be fair, none of the people who were actually there have accused me of breaking my vows now -- that accusation belongs solely to my former e-friend. Further, since this person is a convert to Lutheranism himself (from his Facebook profile -- "formerly a NonDenominational Pentecostal-YWAMer"), I can only assume he has a bit of a double standard when it comes to vows.

The implication, of course, is that by supposedly breaking my confirmation vow, I have lied. If that's how my actions must be viewed, I can live with that. I certainly have worse sins to confess. But before I concede the point and brand myself a liar, lets examine briefly what those vows were.

At my confirmation in the Lutheran Church, I confessed the Apostles Creed. I was asked "Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?" I responded "yes....." and recited the First Article. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son?" "Yes...." Second Article. "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?" "Yes...." Third Article. "Do you intend to hold steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?" "I do so intend with the help of God." I was asked whether I held the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God, confessed the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as expressed in the Book of Concord and held the same to be faithful and true, and I responded "I do." I was asked if I desired to become a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and I responded "I do."

Then I was asked if I intend faithfully to conform all my life to the divine Word, to be faithful in the use of God's Word and Sacraments, and in faith, word and action to remain true to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, even to death. I said "I do."

So here is where the rubber meets the road. When convinced, as I am, that the Lutheran confession is not the fullness of the Faith of Christ, when convinced that the true Church is found in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and when my conscience is bound that "remaining true to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, even to death" means becoming Orthodox, what am I to do? I have not renounced the Apostles Creed. I have not renounced the Word nor the Sacraments. So exactly which portion of these vows have I broken? Answer: only that portion which binds me to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Which brings us to the real question: to whom was this vow given and to whom is fidelity owed?

I was asked at my confirmation whether I confessed the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as taught in the Small Catechism and the Book of Concord. I responded "I do" because I did. I don't anymore. I have been convinced otherwise. And lets be clear -- this is not the same as breaking the "I do" of a marriage vow, because the portion of the vow in question is not directed to God, but to a particular understanding of God. Just as my marriage vows are given to my wife and not my best man or groomsman or even the Pastor, my confirmation vow is given to God, not the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Am I keeping that vow by remaining in a confession I no longer share fully, that I now believe does not fully express His Church? Would I be keeping it by refusing to unite myself to what I now believe is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church merely to avoid stepping on someone's feelings? Should I have remained Lutheran and believed and spoken as if I were Eastern Orthodox? Or should I have just remained Lutheran and lied to everyone about what I believe?

More to the point, by leaving the Lutheran confession and becoming Orthodox, have I somehow disunited myself from Him Who received the promise? If the marriage vow is the parallel here (and I think it is), to whom did I promise myself at my confirmation? I fully understand my former "friend" considers his tradition to be equal to the pure and Holy Word of God, but you know what? So does everyone else. If I determine that is not the case, to whom should I remain faithful? To whom is my fidelity owed? The guy to whom I made no vow, but who nevertheless feels jilted because I disagree with his view of the Christian Faith, or the One to Whom the vow was made?

Martin Luther and Katharina Von Bora
Given these questions, lets take another look at Luther. Did he not take his vows seriously? Does Luther get the same flippant condemnation I received because he married a nun, vows be damned? Or did Luther honestly believe his word was given to a higher authority than the people who criticized him for violating his celibacy vow? Which raises the question - to whom did Luther give his vow? Notably, it was not to Rome, despite the fact his ordination vows required him to be obedient to Rome (another vow he quite obviously broke when he was asked to recant his writings and refused to do so). I contend Luther, bound as he was by his conscience, had no choice but to break these vows. To remain celibate when convinced marriage of priests is an honorable and holy estate sanctioned by the Church Catholic and the Holy Scriptures would make Luther a hypocrite and a liar. To remain faithful to the Bishop of Rome when asked to recant what Luther thought was a clear and accurate exposition of the Word of God would make him, in his own eyes, a heretic. Since Luther's vow was made to God, and since Luther remained in the clergy, he could either break the vows of celibacy and obedience or be truly unfauthful to God by pretending to believe something he thought was contrary to God's Word and Christ's Church. Since my former e-friend is a Lutheran, I'm guessing he would agree with those sentiments. So why is Luther's vow-breaking honorable and mine abhorrent?

At the end of the day, consistency requires us to treat vows into our own tradition the same as vows away from our own tradition. If the person who so indignantly unfriended me takes vows so seriously, he should be consistent and tell all who will listen that they should never convert to the Lutheran confession from another tradition. After all, he wouldn't want to be complicit in someone breaking their vows. Then again, being a convert to Lutheranism himself, maybe not.

I don't mind being "unfriended." I do wish those doing the unfriending would put a half ounce of thought into their reasons for doing so. Kyrie eleison.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

When I was considering becoming Orthodox, my then best friend of many years said, "I once knew a woman in New York named Pat who became Orthodox, and she was intelligent..." (So it must be possible!)

David Garner said...

Ha! The truly sad thing is since he didn't hang around for any real discussion, I don't think he fully understands how vacuous a stand he's taken.

Daniel said...

David, I happened to read this exchange. Thank God that this man is not indicative of most Lutherans. Perhaps your conversion touched a nerve with him; he too is a seeker of truth in that he converted to this Church as well.

When I converted, I purposed that I would not post anything on the net. That was easy for more because I had never posted anything up until then. But about six months later, a Lutheran blog ripped me to shreds. I proceeded to defend my conversion, and I believe the writer was surprised that I had valid reasons for my conversion.

Since then, all of my true friends have been supportive of my move, as I am of them as they seek to do God's will. We can discuss, debate, and even get heated in our deliberations (witness Paul and Peter "nose to nose" on circumcision in Galatians); but to burn bridges is unwise. Someday, we may need to cross certain bridges for our own salvation.

An unworthy Presbyter,

Fr. Daniel Hackney

David Garner said...

Thank you Father. I absolutely agree he is not indicative of most Lutherans. I know the ones we consulted as we wrestled with converting were far more supportive and polite. They all disagree with our decision, but they did so respectfully.

I started the blog precisely to put our story out there. Not because I think what I have to say is so important, but because when we left our last Lutheran parish, we spoke to the Pastor before leaving, but out of respect for him and the congregation we decided not to make any public announcement to the congregation, or send a letter, etc. We didn't want to scandalize anyone, nor did I think it appropriate to use our departure as a soapbox. But we later had people from the parish contacting us wondering where we had been. Since it was obvious the word hadn't gotten out adequately, I was concerned it would be more scandalous to have people we know and love wondering why we converted. So I started the blog to tell that story and make clear it wasn't personal, we weren't mad, etc. It seemed a better way to tell that story than trying to do it on Facebook posts, or by e-mail, etc. Whoever wants to read it can, and whoever doesn't isn't getting SPAMmed constantly.

s-p said...

Someone once said something like "Consistency is the hobgoblin of a small mind." It sounds like there's more going on in your ex-friend's mind than "religion". sigh. Onward.

The Terrible Swede said...

I wasn't impolite or disrespectful, Mr. Garner.

I just don't care to have former Lutherans (for whatever reason) as FB friends.

I don't believe that the vows you took in the Lutheran church were sinful.

David Garner said...

Dropping a bomb on my FB page after I merely made a note about having enjoyed a particular Liturgy, and then leaving the discussion, is impolite. But I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder.

There is no doubt the choice is yours -- I agree you don't have to have anyone as a friend on Facebook. This post is more to address your argument -- your stated reason for what you did (and please note your name was not mentioned here until you commented here).

James the Thickheaded said...

Curious that the Lutherans have the "hold steadfast in this confession" bit. I don't remember and can't seem to find anything of this sort in our Orthodox reception of a catechumen where we are enjoined to Christ rather than a confession (assume they mean something like the Westminster confession) or a specific type (subset) of christian. The way it reads to my ear as you've recorded it here is almost more akin to an oath for citizenship taken between men rather than a confession before God... and by this I mean the particulars of the ELCA seem to matter more than or at least as much as Christ. And it's not the proportions... but that there is anything other than simple belief in Christ that seems surprising to me. Maybe there was something similar to this in Anglicanism back in the days before the 39 Articles got shunted to the back of the prayerbook as the "39 historical curiosities", but I certainly don't recall hearing it at a Baptism or Confession. Maybe my Thickheadedness, though because I can't imagine Lutherans are alone in this practice.

Welcome to the Church! May your Orthodoxy prove a blessing to all your family, your friends and all you come across... and may it feed within you a loving kindness for the image and likeness among all of us... as tarnished as we allow it to become from time to time. And what can I say? Tarnish rather than polish seems to be an internet specialty :)

David Garner said...

Thank you James! Of course, Orthodoxy has already proven a great blessing to us. Words cannot describe.

A quick point of clarification: the vow to "hold steadfast in this confession and Church," at least grammatically speaking, referred to the doctrine expressed in the Apostles' Creed, not the confessions of the Lutheran Church. The questions regarding the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Book of Concord were not in the form of "do you intend to hold steadfast," but rather "do you hold [these] . . . to be faithful and true." At the time, of course, I did. As I understood it then and understand it now, my vow was made to Christ, and the statement of my belief -- my confession -- was whether it was in agreement with this particular church body (LCMS) and its confession. The latter, of course, to ensure I was in agreement on their view of the Christian Faith and therefore an appropriate member of that congregation.

I say that not to minimize my confession of faith then. I believed it. It is, rather, to make the very point you make -- my vow was to God, not a written confession. I united myself to Christ, not a particular sect. I understood it, again, then and now, that way. I don't believe I was asked to confess a particular understanding of doctrine except as a statement of my belief in order to commune at that parish.

And if I am mistaken on that, I would quote Luther: "Here I offer this advice: if you would like to take a wise vow, then vow not to bite off your own nose; you can keep that vow." A vow to never be convinced (by Christ, no less) the truth is elsewhere is a non-vow, IMHO. I don't believe that is what was asked of me, but if it was, it is exactly the sort of vow Luther himself would have condemned. If that was the case, we're back to being ironic.

MRMESQ said...

David, as between people, it seems all vows are equal, but some are more equal than others. It's unfortunate that some people have difficulty engaging in inter-denominational (as I see it) discussion. The funny thing to me about the unfriending incident is that the "unfriender" had no apparent desire to convince you to return to Lutheranism, and/or repent, if that's what he felt was necessary. I thought we were supposed to point out error to our brethren out of love, rather than simply rush to condemnation. As you know, I belong to another denomination all together, and do not believe there is a "correct" church, for lack of a better term. It seems clear to me that the "unfriender" in question does believe there is a correct church, but for some reason he chose to cut you off, rather than attempt to show you the alleged error of your ways.

Interesting post, particularly since I saw the original incident, and found it very odd.