By now many in cyberspace, especially confessional Lutheran cyberspace, have heard about the departure of John Fenton from the LCMS to Eastern Orthodoxy. Last night I listened to the interview where he chronicles his journey to Orthodoxy. He also has provided a written account on his blog Conversi ad Dominum. I have also read many reactions on several blogs, and have found many useful insights. Thus, I'm not sure that there is much for me to offer here that has probably not already been said, and that, in a better way than I could, if I tried.
I knew John by reputation, not personally. He was a couple of years behind me at Ft. Wayne. Over the last few years others too have left the LCMS for Orthodoxy and I can well suspect that my beloved alma matter has beem implicated on more than one occasion. However, being a Ft. Wayne grad and having even studied some patristics under no less than Dr. Weinrich himself, I can't say that I ever felt even a slight tempation from my studies at the seminary to entertain a move to Orthodoxy. I did visit a local Orthodox church during my years in Ft. Wayne (which was facinating), and later, in my earlier years of ministry, I went through a fase where I read a variety of Orthodox materials including the book by Ware to which Fenton refers, as well as a second volume. I also read Metropolitan Philip: His Life and His Dreams (1991) by Peter E. Gillquist that chronicled, among other things, the journey of seveal leaders from Campus Crusade over to Orthodoxy. And yes, I even purchased the Orthodox Study Bible (Thomas Nelson Pub.), partly for the patrisic quotes and insights lacking in typical Protestant/ Lutheran study Bibles.
I suspect that other conservative Lutheran pastors who have come to love the liturgy and the traditions of the church catholic have also toyed with Orthodoxy at some point. It has a certain appeal, especially when you are having to deal with the American Lutheran distain for tradition and liturgy that has infected too many of our people over the last 20 years. I can appreciate Fenton's need to find a place that holds these traditions as sacred.
However, as others have well noted, his inability to grasp their Pelagian tendencies in Orthodoxy (especially their unwillingness to embrace the biblical teaching on original sin) and his lack of any reference to Christ as central to church and faith, has left me puzzeled. The liturgy is a beautiful thing, and I have fought many a battle in my ministry to preserve its place in my churches. But would that love and commitment to the historic liturgy be a driving force for me to abandon my Lutheran convictions? I hope not. Furthermore, I feel that he has been unfairly critical of the fidelity of his former faith to the liturgical traditions of the church catholic. Fenton is a recognized scholar on the liturgy, and I respect his work in that area. Nevertheless, our liturgical traditions, as preserved in our hymnals, still reflect the apostolic and catholic traditions being grounded firmly in Holy Scripture.
I won't dicker with further issues. Others have analyzed him enough. This is a tempting time for confessionally-minded pastors to listen to other voices promising greener pastures as we deal with the discouragment of our own denomination's drift to Evangelicalism. Eastern Orthodoxy is exotic as are many things foreign, and as I mentioned, I too was tempted - for a time. But the clear witness of God's Word was too much to overcome, and so the books became just that - books about a subject for which I had a passing interest. I don't suspect that John Fenton will be the last one to leave. And I suspect that there will be accusations against leaders in our seminaries for being some kind of causal factor. So be it. All we can do is witness to the Truth and remain faithful by God's grace.