Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another Lutheran Pastor Leaves

The departures of a few should not characterize the whole. Nor should it be given undo attention, I suppose. Nevertheless, it's disconcerting to me personally to see yet another so-called "confessional Lutheran pastor" leave the Lutheran church. Recently I heard that former Pastor Dan Woodring had left the Lutheran Church and joined the Roman Catholic communion. After searching the web for some indication, I was finally directed to a new blog that confirmed it. At Beatus Vir you may read Mr. Woodring's story under "How I Became the Catholic I Wasn't" in four parts. Only a few offered comments to his "conversion story," and they may be viewed here. One of those who commented, albeit briefly, was Fr. John Fenton, another former confessional to leave the fold. His own story of how he left the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for the Easter Orthodox communion can be reviewed at his website Conversi Ad Dominum under the heading "Chronicling a Journey" (see right sidebar of site.)

Mr. Woodring, unlike Fenton, has not appeared at this point to have joined the ministerium of the Roman communion. Perhaps he is working in that direction; he did not say.

I am not sure even where to begin in commenting on Mr. Woodring's theological rationale for his "conversion." Naturally he attacks the very confessions he once swore to uphold, calling into question the chief articles and teachings of the Lutheran church with such characterizations as "disingenuous," "misleading," and "untruthful." While this is consistent with one who would leave his church and join one from which his mother church once broke, it seems odd for a man to go from staunch defender of one theology to become one of its harsher critics.

A search of the name Dan Woodring on the web will reveal that he was once a founding member of "Higher Things," a confessional Lutheran youth organization. Further searches will turn up material he wrote in defense of the theology he now denounces. The dates attached to all this are less than 10 years old, and in some cases probably no more than three or four. Was he having serious doubts all along? Or did he have some rather sudden "epiphany"? While I respect his decision to leave and realize it was the only honest thing he could do, I also struggle to think that he was harboring these theological misgivings long before he relinquished his Lutheran pulpit.

In a paper (undated) on the life and work of Karl Georg Stoekhardt he once wrote (emphasis added):

"The works of this teacher and preacher of God's Word have followed him, as Holy Scripture has promised us (Revelation 14:13). After Stoeckhardt's death, his exegetical lectures on the three letters of St. John, Titus, I Corinthians, Philippians, II Peter, the prophecy of Micah, and the Revelation of St. John were published. Through these and all of Dr. Stoeckhardt's writings God has given a wonderful gift to the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. It is the gift of the pure everlasting Gospel, the same that was spoken through Martin Luther in the Reformation, and established in this nation through C. F. W. Walther and the founders of our synod. May this gift be ever as precious to us, as to those who have labored that we might have it!

This is the gift which God in past years and decades has shared with us and which we now possess. And what matters for now and for the future is that we preserve what we have. We have profited in every which way, in all doctrine and in all knowledge, so that we are not lacking in a single gift. Now we must be careful not to lose anything that we have received. Ah, of course, it is the hearts desire and fervent prayer of every Lutheran, who has recognized God's gift, who discerns and understands the time and the signs of the times, who loves his church: "In these last days of sore distress grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness that pure we keep till life is spent, Thy holy Word and Sacrament." And not just till life is spent, O dear Lord God, grant that our church may never lose this its treasure, and that this beauteous light may shine upon us and our children and descendants until the Day of Judgment!"

In another article entitled "Mr. P. Longs for Christian Unity," he also writes:

" The point must be made that our doctrine, our "Lutheran-ness" is not something which we must "shed" in order to bring unity to the Church. But in fact, confessing and teaching our doctrine will bring unity in God's way. We must speak the same thing: The Word of God. That is why, btw, that the Lutheran Confessions are called the "Book of *Concord*" They do not divide, but unite, bring concord, under Jesus' word."

How did such conviction change? I'm not sure his story tells it all.....

P.S. For those who are wondering what the Latin titles of the blogs mentioned above mean, "Beatus vir," the the old Latin inscription for Psalm 1, meaning "Blessed is," and interestingly was the title givien in the old Lutheran Hymnal. "Conversi ad donimum," means "turn to the Lord," and as Fenton once described it on his blog: "The ancient call to prayer, Conversi ad Dominum (Turn to the Lord), is synonymous with ad orientem (face East)."


Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Engebretson,

Regarding Woodring's jump to Rome, your conclusion, "How did such conviction change? I'm not sure his story tells it all.....", is a succinct (yet tragic) comment on Woodring's breaking of his confirmation and ordination vows.

Woodring's story is a rambling review of his life of an on-off-on and finally off-again Lutheran confession. He devotes only a fraction of a sentence to his entire time at the seminary (sharing the sentence with noting that he got married and started a family). It is the first years of his ministry that he spends time discussing the troubles with his congregation, with his subsequent calls to other congregations, and even his encounter with a retired pastor.

One wonders what all is NOT being said about this troubling time period and in his subsequent discussion (filled with I... this and I... that) of being converted to Romish doctrines. He only mentions his wife once with her question about the bottle of wine he brought home. He never mentions his family again, although they are implied in the last paragraph: "Finally, we were received into the Catholic Church, not as Lutherans, but as Catholics".

If a Lutheran pastor (or layman) is going to betray his faith, it should be done for reasons he can clearly, openly, and confidently (even if others are unconvinced) present. As you noted, Woodring's story doesn't appear to tell it all. I wonder if even Woodring is consciously aware of the whole story.

Don Engebretson said...

I suppose that any story must have gaps; you simply don't remember everything at the moment you tell it. On the other hand, I wonder if the seed of doubt in the faith he once confessed were not there early on. Fenton indicates as much in his own story of going East. Still, both men seemed like such staunch defenders of the Lutheran confession and significant contributors to the public witness, and not the kind of men who simply dabbled in something out of passing interest. We all entertain doubts from time to time. But to ascend a pulpit with doubts in the very nature of the faith I preached would seem unthinkable. Yes, it seems like a part of the story here has yet to be told....

Richard Barrett said...

Latin point:

"Beatus vir" does not mean "Blessed is"; rather, it literally means "Blessed man," but "beatus" is functioning as a predicate nominative and it is understood to be "Blessed is the man" in the context of the entire phrase, "Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum".


Don Engebretson said...

Thank you for the correction. My knowledge of Latin is quite limited so I'm not surprised I made this mistake.