A Conversion Story? Er...Sort of.
- A Conversion Story? Er...Sort
Paredwka: Dropping the
noreply@... (Benjamin Harju)
*What's this all about?
If you're confused, read the original conversion
After it is known that someone converts from one faith to another (or
denomination, etc.), the next logical question seems always to be "why?" or
more specifically "what thing(s) convinced you?".
The answers to those questions have nothing to do with Lutheranism, at least
not until my conversion was already a past event. So I have no need to
explain what I think is wrong with Lutheranism, because my opinions about it
come from being converted; they are not the cause of my conversion.
Conversion is somewhat personal in nature; any story of it really only makes
sense to those who have been through it. Plus, I don't really think it will
do anyone any good to hear about all the doctrinal or theological changes
that happened in me. It's enough that before I chose to be Lutheran, and now
I choose to be Orthodox, and my choosing is tied to what I believe.
However, there is another side to the question, "Why did you convert?" The
question also tends to mean, "Give an account of yourself. You were a
Lutheran pastor, sworn to preach, teach, and confess the Scriptures
according to the Lutheran Confessions. You seemed very whole-hearted in your
belief and promotion of Lutheran Christianity. You loved serving your two
congregations and handing on Lutheranism to them. What in the world
That question is a little more appropriate to answer.
*The Decision to Honestly Look*
The most disturbing part of "looking East" is that you truly have to open
yourself to the idea that your own way of believing could be missing the
mark. This is different from suspecting it is wrong or doubting it is true.
It means, rather, that in the face of what you don't know, your own
confession of faith may not measure up. Of course, you expect it will
measure up and more. But, if we think of all the other people out there who
never have come to know the beauties and truth that we know where we are at
(in my case it was Lutheran Christianity), and thus lose out from not
inquiring, then we must admit that the same is entirely possible for us in
the face of what we have never heard or fairly heard out.
I was invited to look East by a friend. The goal was not to be converted,
but to see if what was in the Lutheran Confessions was to be found
elsewhere. (It is not, as I said in the post announcing my conversion.) But
the scariest part is to take what you hold most dear and say, "You must be
challenged now and proven genuine in the face of the unknown." The worst
that could happen is your conversion; the best is that you learn something.
There are two parts to this challenge, and they are not Orthodoxy vs.
Lutheranism. They are "me" and "the Truth". If Lutheranism is the best
confession of the Truth, then it can stand against all else, including the
Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity. If it is not, then it will fall
short. But, at the same time, I am sold under sin and subject to corruption.
I can be misled. Who's to say I'll get it right. A person has to be careful
about this way of thinking. Too much of it leads into being so skeptical and
defensive that you hear nothing but what you have decided to hear, or it can
lead to outright atheism.
Thus, considering "me" as a fallen human being, the decision to look itself
is very dangerous. I decided the reward for looking, though, was worth the
risk. The reward is nothing short of my Lord Jesus. To not look was to bind
myself to presumption in place of conviction. That's a bit unsettling to me.
I should point out that I had written a paper at the end of seminary,
condemning Eastern Orthodoxy as "synergistic" and "not the pure Church of
old, but its own denomination..." However, something was unsatisfactory
about writing that paper for me. I believed my conclusions in the paper -
both in favor of Lutheranism and against Orthodoxy - so it's not like I
harbored doubts. Eventually I realized what it was: there was something
about Orthodoxy that was different enough from other denominations that made
my evaluation of it seem unfair, as if I hadn't given Orthodoxy a proper
chance to speak. When the invitation came to give it a serious look, I
decided that this was an opportunity for a more careful investigation. If
nothing came of it, then at least I would have the satisfaction of knowing
why I'm not Orthodox, as I know regarding Roman Catholicism and other
Maybe one day I'll publish that paper I wrote with another in rebuttal. It
still makes me laugh.
So that is what happened. As to why I kept looking once I discovered Eastern
Orthodoxy did not equate with Lutheranism, that's a bit harder to answer. A
big part was that, while knowing it wasn't Lutheran was easy, learning what
Orthodoxy itself is was terribly hard - and I wanted to know. I certainly
walked away from it a number of times, thinking, "Well, that's enough of
that." Thank God He had mercy on me.
*What I Converted To*
And I will say this one last thing: I did not look because I was searching
for "the Church." I had friends who were looking for that very thing and
found it in Orthodoxy. I had no notions that there must be a "visible"
Church or some "true" Church. I just wanted to know what made Eastern
Orthodoxy what it is - that would allow me to know if I belonged there or
In the end, though, I was blessed to see that what is most defining of
Eastern Orthodoxy is it's immediate experience of the kingdom of heaven, of
a direct and living connection with Christ that is different from the
Protestant experience. In other words, its Church-ness, its ecclesial-ness.
All of the book descriptions about Orthodoxy being the Church, all of the
strange ways the Orthodox have about describing things in this Church, all
the frustrating and seemingly nonsensical ways the Orthodox try to explain
the Christianity of individuals outside Orthodoxy, etc., all is derived from
trying to relate in speech, in books, in example, in illustration what can
only be known by experience. Thus, the common answer to many who want to
know what the big deal is: "Come and see."
In this sense it's a spiritual thing that must be apprehended by faith - by
the one seriously and truly inquiring (not pre-concluding). That's not to
say that one cannot give witness to Christianity in such ways (books,
talking, etc.), because it can be, and always has been, and should be. But
it is to say that what is pattently different between Orthodoxy and where I
was in Lutheranism is a matter of this experience of the Church's "immediate
Sure, the theology of Orthodoxy belongs with its experience, and the two
should be together always. My investigation was primarily theological. I do
not desire to take anything away from the organic wholeness of Orthodoxy as
I write and give description. I merely wish to focus here on the most
distinct difference, in my opinion, between Orthodoxy and Protestantism: the
experience of the kingdom of heaven while we live in the world.
Between where I was in Lutheranism and where I am in entering Orthodoxy,
there are two ways:
1. A hidden fellowship, spread throughout the world, appearing only where
the Gospel is preached in truth and the Sacraments administered according to
Christ's command, and sustained by the forgiveness of sins in spite of our
fallibility in this life, until the purity and perfection of the next life
is attained. Any visible unity or structure or polity is separate from it's
invisible church-ness, and is a human creation, plagued by the fallibility
of human fallenness. This is proven best by the errors of Rome. At best you
can have a visible Church, namely, a congregation, but not the visible
Church, at least not until Christ's return. Therefore the true Church
transcends what humans build in the visible realm, and instead unites true
believers in the invisible realm.
2. A visible gathering around Christ in the world (a.k.a. a gathering
around the Eucharist, continuous and unbroken and findable throughout time).
She is known within herself by, and held together throughout history by an
ongoing, immediate experience of the kingdom of heaven - which is both
eminently and immediately kingdom, Body of Christ, and Church. Her existence
in the world is perhaps half-way between the hidden/invisible Church idea
and the visible return of Christ on the Last Day - yet this is only apparent
to faith. In this immediate experience of Christ and His kingdom "Word and
Sacraments" are not all you have to go on, but fill all that this is,
visible and invisible, for they are the mystery of Christ being all in all.
Because this is an immediate experience of the kingdom, the Church herself
is a sacrament of the kingdom, bringing all that enter her into immediate
participation in this Kingdom that is also Body and Church of Christ. The
sins, vanities, pride, and foolishness of men may rage among those in the
fellowship, but they cannot overthrow this immediate experience of the
kingdom in her Eucharistic fellowship, because the gates of Hades cannot
prevail against her (the Church).
I am still a catechumen (learner), so I pray that if I have misspoken, wiser
Orthodox will step in and correct me. Lord, have mercy.
So, I see two ways. It's just a matter of which one you believe. I have
converted from one to the other, because I seek Christ Jesus in spirit and
in truth, and I believe that based on what I have seen and heard for myself
that I cannot remain where I was. I must leave behind what and who I love in
Lutheranism in order to remain with and follow the One I love above all
And as a result, now I hear a little differently our Lord Jesus' words, "The
Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Amen.
"Some, when they actively observe the commandments, expect this to outweigh
their sins; others, who observe the commandments without this presumption,
gain the grace of Him who died on account of our sins. We should consider
which of these is right." - St. Mark the Ascetic, On Those Who Teach that
They are Made Righteous by Works
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