Tuesday, August 15, 2006

To stay or not to stay? And if not, where to go?

A new article in The Christian Century treats of notable once-Protestant scholars who have swum the Tiber to "enter into communion" with the Roman Catholic Church. In part because I know five of the nine people who appear in this article and in part because I think that anyone inclined to a serious consideration of the State of the Church needs to consider the issue, I provide a link to the article:


I have had to return to this issue time and again. I think it is no secret that I am not satisfied with the state of theological reflection and faithfulness in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But I come around, again and again, to the question friend John Setterlund asked me twenty years ago: Where else is there to go? Is it any better someplace else? And I don't know that I have an answer yet.

Carl Braaten has also wisely said that one dare not leave one's tradition -- in our case, Lutheran -- because of dissatisfaction or even ideological umbrage (that last one is mine); she then just becomes an angry, disaffected Lutheran in the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox or the ...). I admit that I am attracted to the profound sense of mystery, of "rightness" in prayer and worship in Orthodoxy. But that, too, raises issues of its own.

I am somewhat shaken by the exodus from "mainline Protestantism": I have enormous respect for Jaroslav Pelikan, Robert Wilken, Reinhard Huetter, Leonard Klein, Al Kimel (of Pontificators fame and fortune), and many others. Their moves require me to re-think. But at this point, I'm still with Radner and Braaten and Hauerwas (now there's a trinity for you).

I intend to read the CC article again and to tease out the problematic claims. It's time to do some more thinking about this again.


Anonymous said...

"I admit that I am attracted to the profound sense of mystery, of "rightness" in prayer and worship in Orthodoxy. But that, too, raises issues of its own.

What issues?


Anonymous said...

"the ecumenical aim is not a simple return of the other into the fold of the Roman Catholic Church nor the conversion of individuals... In the ecumenical movement the question is conversion to Christ. In him we move closer to one another."

I like that sentiment.


Dwight P. said...

Br RAR, I think you point to the critical consideration. Because of my involvement with the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, I have a predisposition toward the structure reunification of the Church. I think that is a baseline desire. I think, further, that that does not require any one, already-known structure. I expect that the Bishop of Rome would have a prominence in that structure akin to what he enjoys now, but we must calculate in, too, the place of the Ecumenical Patriarch. (I admit that the vision of Carl Braaten as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and John Chryssavgis as the chief ecumenical officer assumes a sense of possibility with the current Pope and Patriarch in place! But I digress.)

Here I must confess the source of my disease: There is implicit in much of the Protestant company of ecumenists (witness the recent departures) the suggestion that there is an almost ontological flaw in Protestant traditions that does not exist in Rome. But that is simply false. Lutherans and Catholics alike can say to one another, "You are welcome to come [back] into our fold at any time and we will welcome you into communion." But that's not ecumenism; that's just flock-nabbing.

Unless the Churches (I think we have to use plural) work to discover the "true Church" in each other, we are simply re-organizing deck chairs on the Titanic. "Not all will die, but all with be changed" is Paul's description of the impending end of the world. Well it sounds like a good eschatological description of what must happen (at some point) to the Churches.

RevDrWAJ said...

Dwight, You are well aware, from previous conversations, that I am unhappy in the ELCA. It is manifestly not the denomination that I chose or would choose for myself. I came to the ELCA through the merger which resulted in "this new church". However, as unhappy as I find myself in "this church", I have diserned that I am not being called away from it. For whatever reason our God has seen fit, I have been called to serve God's people within this structure. My happiness has nothing to do with it, it is simply a matter of obedience and fidelity to the promises that were made by God and by me at my ordination. This might be a good time for all of us to read and reflect upon the prophet, Nehemiah. For my sense of well-being and mutual consolation, I have found my home home in a ministerium of like minded people,each struggling to remain faithful in the midst of a denomination that seems to have gone terribly awry.

Anonymous said...

Br. Dwight, I'm with C: I'd like to know what issues you discern in being drawn toward "the profound sense of mystery, of 'rightness' in prayer and worship in Orthodoxy."

Lutheran Zephyr said...

I, too, need to re-read the article, but after the first read I am left unsatisfied for perhaps two reasons.

1) The author of the article seems to be skeptical of these Catholic Converts. I admit to being skeptical and not necessarily agreeing with their cause, but I'm not sure the article is as thoroughly written as it could have been.

2) That being said, in this article none of the converts really explains how the Roman church is a more adequate or complete church than their former denomination. There's lots of griping about liberal protestants, but no clear articulation of the attraction to Rome. As Byassee writes on page 18, "But [Reno] does not fully explain how the Roman Catholic Church is any less "in the ruins" than the church he has left behind." Futhermore, I found Marshall's comments about preferring to have the "extras" (or potential "excesses") of the Roman tradition - namely Mary and the teaching authority - to be uncompelling and bordering on foolish. Surely his conversion involved more than a simple attraction to the many layers of Roman Catholicism!

The article also fails to highlight - or, perhaps it doesn't have to - that all of these high profile converts are men. It's much easier for a man to convert to the Roman tradition than a woman (particularly clergy and those who support the ordination of women). I found it sad that Marshall's wife gave up her call to ordained ministry to allow her husband to join the Roman Catholic church.

More to say, but like you, I want to re-read the article. Thanks for your thoughts.

Dwight P. said...

Dash and C, I have been studiously avoiding answering your question -- in part because I want to say it right and in part because I'm not sure what it meant.

A piece of it that I mistrust my "senses" when it comes to theology. (That doesn't mean that I don't pay attention to them. I can't, because often they are the medium of revelation. But it does take seriously the disordered state of human being pre-eschaton).

I have long been impressed with the awe that the eastern rites and ceremonial inspire. I am also impressed that it never fails to put me in mind of the pictues of liturgy in heaven written in the Apocalypse and in Isaiah.

But a piece of me wonders whether it is the Holy Spirit or some other spirit that attracts me. Just as the new agers are attracted to arcane rituals, I may find these things appealing because I am sick of the rationalism underlying so much of Western liturgy.

But to totally honest, what raises the biggest flag is what you, C, have mentioned to me: I can't penetrate a mystery that excludes organs and J.S. Bach. I think I may be too Western (and, though I hope not, post-Enlightenment) genuinely to allow the "stuff" of the East to penetrate my soul. I feel someething like a relic raider when I worship with the Orthodox: I take out what I find beautiful and enlarging and true. But then I have to place it in the midst of my museum -- along with my Bach, Mozart, Charpentier, and Manz (to cite just the musicians).

I need the Lutheran Church to wake up to something that representatives of Luther knew -- viz., that there is much we have in common with the East (in ways Rome may not). But I realize, too, that I doubt I can be Eastern. I'm not put together that way.

Does that begin to clarify what I wrote?

Dwight P. said...

RevDrWAJ, I think you're right. It was a popular article that was longer than I'd have expected it to be, but that nevertheless had to skimp on "content."

Having said that, I confess that I look in vain for statements by people who have swum the Tiber or the Bosporus (or crossed the steppes?) that give me a profound sense that the movement makes sense. I keep coming back to Carl Braaten's point, which I have heard him elucidate with great vigor (something which I take great joy in watching, incidentally) and which I paraphrase in my own terms: Are these scholars really being called by the Holy Spirit to a greater fullness of the Church that they envisage and desire? Or do they rather leave out of discontent -- sincere discontent -- with what is happening where they are?

I would find it easy to dismiss the crossers if I had not the respect I do for Jaroslav Pelikan. But even with him, I have to wonder: How could this scholar of Luther (and editor of his works in English, for heaven's sake) and of Bach leave that behind (or restrict it to his study and living room) to go East? I suppose for him it made sense -- he had, after, virtually lived there most of his life anyway. But I am confounded.

I must say that I admire those of you who stay our of such a sense of mission and commitment. It is one of few straws to which I can cling when I consider the ELCA. I thank God for your dedication, and from you I draw strength to stay with you.

Chip Frontz said...

Lutheran Zephyr, there are plenty of women converts to Catholicism from Protestantism. For one, web search Jennifer Ferrara, a former ELCA pastor, who now writes for First Things quite a bit.

Dwight P. said...

Chip, you raise a good point: A very good friend of mine is in the same camp. My friend's story is so strange. She came out of the Missouri Synod (studied at Seminex), so she had to buck her tradition to seek ordination; was ordained into the Lutheran ministry; later was received into communion by the Roman church. During the later stages of her Lutheranism, she replied to my question about women's ordination, given her strong bias in favor of Roman teaching, by saying that woman may be ordained, but shouldn't be.

I can't imagine the reflection it must take essentially to renounce your ordination vows to change churhes. (My friend appears to be very happy in her new church home.)

I think the earlier point, which thought I share, is that it must be easier for ordained men to make the jump. Every ordained Lutheran man I know who has gone to Rome has sought the special dispensation to be ordained (the married ones as a married man) in the Roman church. (That's also true of the Episcopalian priests that I know, too). That piece of identity-holding is denied to ordained Lutheran women.

And that raises an additional point: With the influx of such an increasing number of married men into the Roman priesthood, how long will Rome -- at least in America -- be able to maintain its demand for an unmarried clergy?

In my science-fiction moments, I see all these Roman Catholic men enrolling in Lutheran Seminaries, getting married, then getting ordained, and then immediately converting to Rome and requesting ordination from Rome. Perhaps a short story is in order, eh?