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—by Christopher Neuendorf

It’s happened again: a Missouri Synod pastor has jumped ship, defecting to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Joshua Genig, formerly a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia, left his Lutheran parish and in December of last year received the sacrament (in Orthodox belief) of chrismation, together with his household. Of course, as is standard practice in these sorts of situations, Genig has gone public with an article explaining his decision. This one was published in First Things and is movingly entitled “My Journey into the Orthodox Church: We Travel Together Still.” What’s different this time is Genig’s characterization of the Lutheran Church. He argues that to be Lutheran is to be putative Orthodox, that his reception into the Orthodox Church is the culmination of the natural process of life as a Lutheran.

I beg to differ. What I see is a radical discontinuity. Genig’s transition to Eastern Orthodoxy is not the culmination of a process but the renunciation of a confession.

Several considerations compelled Genig to leave the Lutheran Church for Eastern Orthodoxy. Discontent with the liturgical state of things in the Missouri Synod, which many of us would agree is a serious problem, and a desire for his children (including infants, I presume) to be able to receive the Lord’s Supper were a couple of those considerations. Both topics have been and will continue to be hashed out elsewhere. If Genig, right or wrong, found his conscience unable to bear Missouri’s liturgical disarray and our refusal to commune those who cannot examine themselves (1 Cor 11:28), then it is certainly understandable that he would go his own way. Better to live according to the conscience than serve as a pastor in a confession in which one no longer believes.

In my view, however, the chief reason for Genig’s departure for Orthodoxy, or at least its chief result, seems ultimately to have been a change in doctrine. “In Orthodoxy,” he writes, “God is mercy. God is not an angry judge, nor is he wrathful. . . . No need for belated commentary on various theories of the atonement, for no single theory accurately conveys the reality.” The implication is that in Lutheranism, God is wrath, or at least wrathful, and any theory of the atonement seeking to reconcile God’s justice and wrath with His mercy and love, such as that espoused by St. Paul in Romans 3:21–26 and 5:6–21, is a sad doctrinal construct that lacks the vitality and vigor of Orthodoxy, which, as we are told, is not a system of doctrine but a way of life. Though not phrased as boldly, this is the same leap as John Fenton, who explained his departure for Orthodoxy in terms of a doctrinal change: “I am convinced that the Book of Concord contains defective or deficient doctrines not in accord with the faith of the apostles. In simple terms, these deficiencies include . . . the notion that Jesus died to appease His Father’s wrath.” In these statements we learn from two different converts to Orthodoxy that Lutheranism’s problem is not merely deficient practice, but fundamental doctrinal error.

But that “error” defines us as Lutherans: the belief that in Christ God is both just and merciful, just by punishing the sin of the world through the death of His innocent Son and merciful by freely bestowing His Son’s innocence upon a world that had merited death and hell. Take this away and you’ve taken away Lutheranism, at least in any sort of confessional sense. Genig has not ceased to be Lutheran by severing his connection with a fellowship struggling to live up to its own ideals; he has ceased to be Lutheran by ceasing to believe what Lutherans by definition believe.

It is this more than anything else that gives the lie to Genig’s contention that Eastern Orthodoxy is the natural culmination of Lutheranism, the true “home” for those of us who claim theological descent from Luther’s Reformation. As Genig writes, “Not only do I believe that the fullness of life is found in Holy Orthodoxy, but I also believe that, in a unique way, this is, in part, the life the Lutheran reformers were after.” In other words, Luther and his colleagues were not struggling to cleanse the Roman church of her errors or to unearth the apostolic faith that had become encrusted with centuries of superstition and false doctrine. They were, in fact, struggling to become Eastern Orthodox whether they knew it or not! Genig finds this reflected in the fact that second-generation Lutheran theologians wrote to the Patriarch of Constantinople seeking a rapprochement. “From the earliest days of the Reformation,” he writes, “the Lutherans sought theological affirmation from the Orthodox Church (and not vice versa), in no small part because they viewed the Orthodox Church as holding unswervingly to the faith of the apostles. The Orthodox were, very simply, the Church.”

Patriarch Jeremiah II

Patriarch Jeremiah II

One wonders, then, why there is still a Lutheran Church. Surely if the first Lutherans had intended to find shelter under the wings of the Orthodox Church, if they had viewed the Orthodox as “very simply, the Church,” then they would have asked Patriarch Jeremiah II what was necessary for them to do and believe in order to become Orthodox, then changed their teaching and practice accordingly. The Lutheran Church would have been absorbed into the Orthodox Church, her confession renounced.

But that is very different from what in fact happened. Yes, from the beginning the Lutherans acknowledged and respected the Orthodox. Philipp Melancththon in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession appealed to the practice of the Greek Church in his argument for both kinds in the Sacrament (XXII.4), against private masses (XXIV.6), and against a sacrificial understanding of the Lord’s Supper (XXIV.93). Martin Luther in the Smalcald Articles pointed to the Greek Christians as evidence that the Christian Church can exist without a pope (II.IV.4). But this hardly constitutes a recognition of the Orthodox Church as being “very simply, the Church.” Furthermore, when communication was struck up between the Lutheran West and the Greek East, the first move was made by Patriarch Joasaph II, who out of curiosity sent an emissary in 1558–60 to investigate the Lutherans. Melanchthon, having developed a friendship with this emissary, prepared a Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession and attempted to send it to Constantinople, but a correspondence never materialized. It was not until the next generation that communication with Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople was successfully spearheaded by Jacob Andreae, a major contributor to the Formula of Concord.1 The correspondence was cordial, but when both sides realized that they had fundamental disagreements, they politely declined to continue discussion.

So why didn’t the Lutherans just become Orthodox? According to Genig, the Reformers wrote to Constantinople seeking the affirmation of Patriarch Jeremiah II. In fact, however, they wrote to him in hopes that he would prove to be a Lutheran! They were looking for the Orthodox to accept and subscribe the Augsburg Confession. This is hardly the posture of a fellowship seeking affirmation from those who are “very simply, the Church.”

The Lutherans insisted upon Scripture as the sole judge in disagreements, and subjected the Orthodox to the same rule: “There is, indeed, no more sure, nor truer, nor better standard rule for judging all dogmas, all institutes, and usages of faith and human traditions and works, than the Word of the Almighty God of All; the Word, which has been revealed to the human race by the Prophets and Christ and the Apostles and written in the Old and New Testaments for the benefit and the salvation of the entire Church.”2 The Lutheran insistence upon judging all teachers by Scripture led Jeremiah to end the correspondence, writing to the Lutherans, “We request that from henceforth you do not cause us more grief, nor write to us on the same subject if you should wish to treat these luminaries and theologians of the Church in a different manner. You honor and exalt them in words, but you reject them in deeds. For you try to prove our weapons which are their holy and divine discourses as unsuitable.”3 For agreement between Lutherans and Orthodox to take place, either the Lutherans will have to forfeit Scripture as sole rule and norm for Christian teaching, or the Orthodox will have to acknowledge the authority of Scripture over and above the other authorities of their Sacred Tradition. Until that happens, the Lutheran Church is perfectly content to continue submitting to the Word of God, whether the Orthodox join them in that submission or not. We would welcome the Orthodox “home” to the Scriptures, but we do not feel compelled to seek out a home that depends on any authority outside the written Word of God.

What, then, of Genig’s claim that he has “done what the earliest Lutherans had hoped to do”? The earliest Lutherans did not hope to become Orthodox. They were confident in their own orthodoxy, ready to give an account of their teaching before the dread judgment seat of Christ. If anything, they hoped the Orthodox would become Lutheran, that is to say, recognize the Lutheran Confession as right and true, in agreement with Holy Scripture.

Has Genig fulfilled that hope? Certainly not. Instead, he changed his confession to match the Orthodox Church, irrespective of that confession’s agreement or disagreement with Scripture. Whatever Genig may claim, whatever his conscience has compelled him to do, he may not claim solidarity with “the earliest Lutherans.” They did not “come home” to the Orthodox Church because, by virtue of their total submission to the Holy Scriptures, they were already home in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And we who share in their confession are home in Christ’s Church as well.

Rev. Christopher Neuendorf

Rev. Christopher Neuendorf

I bear no personal animosity toward Joshua Genig. I believe he has followed his conscience, and for that he ought not be condemned. I too followed my conscience years ago, leaving the fellowship of the Orthodox Church and joining myself to a communion that is deeply flawed, constantly struggling, often faithless, but bound together by the one confession that Holy Scripture compels me to claim as my own. I am thankful to be home in the Church of the apostles, the Church that Christ is building upon the rock of the good confession that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, that for our sake He was made sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And if you’re a Lutheran, you can be glad of that too.

 

Rev. Christopher Neuendorf serves Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa.

 

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on BLOGIA are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.


  1. George Mastrontonis, Augsburg and Constantinople: The Correspondence between the Tübingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession (Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982), 8–10, 13–15.
  2. Augsburg and Constantinople, 110.
  3. Augsburg and Constantinople, 306.
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41 Responses to We’re Already Home: A Response to Joshua Genig

  1. Rev. Paul T. McCain says:

    Thank you, Pr. Neuendorf, for this very well written response to Josh Genig’s blog post. What I find particularly offensive about what Genig did was the fact that he remained on the clergy roster of The LCMS for so long after he had clearly abandoned his confession.

  2. Petersen says:

    Thanks.

  3. May God bless all of you during this commemoration of His Son’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. May the joyful exchange of His immortality for our mortality, His majesty for our lowliness, and His strength for our weakness spur all of us on to greater repentance and faith as we struggle, individually and collectively, to attain the fullness of His heavenly kingdom where we will partake of His divine nature in a manner which exceeds our wildest imagination.

  4. Adriane says:

    Fabulous.

  5. Seth says:

    An insightful and comforting piece. Thank you, Pr. Neuendorf.

  6. Olson says:

    Please write more on your arrival in the Lutheran Church. Thank you for this response.

  7. Athanasius says:

    Pr. McCain, with all due respect, sir, your responses to the people who have left the LCMS are completely nonsensical. I’ve read your comments as you’ve lambasted them for abandoning what you clearly believe to be the fullness of the truth in Christ (the Lutheran Confessions), and now you find it offensive that one remained for as long as he did.

    Did it ever occur to you that perhaps he was engaged in an intense struggle within himself, and that he was uncertain what course of action he should take for quite a long time? It is easy to judge another without going through what he went through.

    As a lay person who struggled to remain Lutheran but ultimately found it impossible to do so, I find all of these discussions ultimately useless. I wish those who left would remain largely silent, much as Pelikan did. And I wish those who watched them go, hurtful as it might be, would realize that those who leave do so because they believe they have no choice.

    If I had my way (and I’m only a lay person, so I most certainly do not – but if I did), those who left would refrain from saying anything about their conversion publicly for a period of at least ten years. I think it would provide some much needed perspective. The struggle over one ought to convert or not is intense, and speaking so soon after it colors the experience, I think. Keeping a journal wouldn’t be a bad idea, just not a public one.

    The only other comment I have is that I, personally, find it offensive when anyone (not just Lutherans) quotes the Bible as though that’s the end of the matter.

    such as that espoused by St. Paul in Romans 3:21–26 and 5:6–21

    This assumes that we haven’t read these passages or are simply ignorant of their existence, as though St. Paul’s words are “obvious” to anyone who would read this.

    Lutherans have their interpretation, and the Orthodox have their own. The question is a matter of interpretation, not simply lobbing Bible verses at the other and effectively saying, “Clearly you’re an idiot for not getting what I understand to be the plain meaning of the text.”

    I believe that is one of the greatest barriers to fruitful conversation with one another, and I would implore Lutherans and Orthodox alike not to engage in it.

  8. Jesse says:

    Pr. Neuendorf, thank you.

  9. Mark Lovett says:

    Athanasius:
    (As an aside, and I’m not trying to be adversarial, but to say that because you’re a layman you certainly don’t have it your way is to cause the trouble you were seeking to avoid. Namely, to draw sharp lines by lobbing ideas at the other. The implied opposite, that clergy have their way is also wrong.)

    Your point about lobbying Scripture at one another is well taken. However, Scripture is the authority. So quoting it is necessary. But you’re right, it shouldn’t be used in a “well, duh” manner. Using it, however, does cause us to go back and read it, which is salutary and may well be enlightening. And we should never assume that we know what the Bible says. Rather, we should always assume our ignorance that we might all the more readily submit to the Scriptures and be shaped by them.

    Lord knows we are all guilty of assuming we know the Scriptures only to find that we don’t know as much as we thought we did.

    • J Krusel says:

      clergy dominion over the confessional church is certainly evident over here in the UK.
      A very senior figure over here recently retired after confessing to ‘adultery’ , or rather a series of bizzare and immoral acts with a rather vulberable lady under his pastoral care.

      Of course having realised the absence of a relevant code of conduct, meant he could not be easily removed from post. The church is drawing up codes of conduct, disciplary proceedure etc.
      Any decisions on such matters, are of course only to be made by clergy in the first instance, or so says the current chairman.
      When it comes to blame for the initial inability to dismiss, of course the congregation gets the blame, and a waltherian interpretation of the call becomes a convenient way to escape liability.
      Victims have no say whatsoever, because they are not clergy.

  10. Mark Lovett says:

    Oh, and I meant to say that I like your idea of waiting to publish conversions. An agreed upon moratorium of making it public for a time.
    Good idea.

  11. Trish says:

    Since it has been well over 10 years since I left the Catholic church and finally found the same peace that Luther did when I learned that it is not man, but Scripture that interprets Scripture, I too would like to say THANK YOU for this piece.

  12. Rev. Don Meyer says:

    I have always found it quite telling when a person feels the irresistible urge to tell everyone publicly why they have chosen to “jumped ship.” It’s true in the secular world and very certainly true in the Church. When a member is dissatisfied and leaves our fellowship, they sometimes feel compelled to tell their “story” to anyone and everyone– at the store, at the bar, in the bank lobby, etc. What I have discovered though, is that they are most often trying to convince themselves under the guise of convincing others. I mean, what other purpose does it serve?

  13. Rhode says:

    Thanks, Pastor. The most troubling thing about Dr. Genig’s piece is that he (unlike Fr. Fenton) does not yet seem fully aware that his new confession is in opposition to his old confession. He appears to still be wrestling through the continuity and discontinuity. By choosing to do so publicly (First Things, no less) he certainly opens himself to critique. Dr. Genig was a classmate of mine at seminary and, more than anything, I’m sad to see the lack of clarity in his theological thought.

  14. Thank you for the article, both for its content and its tone.

  15. Pr. Nuendorf,
    thank you for your thoughtful response to former Josh Genig.

    One element of this kind of discourse always surprises me. We often admit that the LCMS has problems — “a communion that is deeply flawed, constantly struggling, often faithless,” and I know that you do not mean this in the way that Josh Genig writes of CTSFW: “But that institution did not embody the reality of Lutheranism (as a whole) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (in particular).” Fr. Hogg, another convert to Orthodoxy goes even further to say: “I cannot speak for all those who left Lutheranism for the Church. For myself, one key thing was attending to the following FACT: the Lutheran Confessions DESCRIBE an actually-existing trans-parish entity (http://frgregory.blogspot.ca/).”

    Occasionally, I think our quickness to be humble and forthright about challenges within the LCMS can give a mistaken impression (which you have not given). Since 2007, I have lived in southern Michigan, Ft. Wayne, IN; Colorado Springs, Sierra Vista/Tucson, AZ, Atlanta GA, and Milwaukee. I’ve had not a few stops in Minneapolis, and Washington DC. I spent a year abroad in Cambridge, UK – with extended stays in Germany; and I had one long trip to southwest Asia, courtesy of the US ARMY.

    What’s the point?:
    In all of those places, I have found an Orthodox Lutheran Church. By that I mean, a Church that preaches the Gospel faithfully, conducts a common and familiar liturgy, pronounces absolution, and administers the Sacraments according to Christ’s Institution (including closed communion). I was even graced to receive the Sacrament from an LCMS USAF Chaplain in SW Asia, just before transitioned into AFG. He conducted page 15, preached a sermon, absolved me, and administered the Sacraments.

    This weekend, the primary topic of conversation in our household has been which of the numerous Churches we should attend, as we travel to visit family for the Easter Holiday. There are so many.

    While humility is called for, I am grateful to remember what a blessing it is that we belong to a trans-national communion, where any Lutheran with google and a tank of gas can find a faithful place to worship. No, it’s not perfect. But what is? Problems that affect historic Lutheran practice are often regional; the same problems affect historic RC and EO presence in those places as well.

    The fact remains that if someone wants to find a reverent liturgy, a good sermon, great hymns, a welcoming community, the proclamation of the Gospel and regular use of the Sacraments, the Lutheran Church is a good bet.

  16. George A. Marquart says:

    Dear Rev. Neuendorf:
    You write, “But that “error” defines us as Lutherans: the belief that in Christ God is both just and merciful, just by punishing the sin of the world through the death of His innocent Son and merciful by freely bestowing His Son’s innocence upon a world that had merited death and hell. Take this away and you’ve taken away Lutheranism, at least in any sort of confessional sense.”
    To the best of my understanding, the punishment for sin is eternal separation from God in hell. If anyone can quote Scripture to me that says otherwise, please do so. But this is not the punishment our Lord suffered. Therefore there has to be another answer to the question of how the atonement was accomplished.
    The adherence to “penal substitution”, a theory of atonement that is only half as old as the Church of Christ, is not what defines “us as Lutherans.” What defines us as Lutherans is the proclamation of the pure Gospel; that is, the consequence of atonement. Although the Gospel is dependent on the fact of atonement, it is not dependent on a particular rationalization of how atonement was accomplished.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  17. Mark Lovett says:

    Mr. Marquart,
    If I might venture a response to your inquiry of Rev. Neuendorf.
    The consequence of sin is separation from God. Or, perhaps better put, it is being separated from our heavenly Father. So our Lord cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s hell and punishment for sin.
    That’s is how He suffered for us, not just in death, but in separation from the Father.

    Conversely, after He is raised from the dead He says to the women at the tomb to go and tell His brothers, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17)

    Moreover, “penal substitution” is taught many places in the Scriptures, not the least of which is Isaiah 53:5, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

    • Pr Lovett,

      As we have benefited this week from hearing these words of Christ from the cross, most particularly in the context of His Passion, it will perhaps do us well also to read the entirety Psalm 22, seeing how it might give more to us in understanding Our Lord’s use of this particular Psalm. No doubt, those who heard Him from the cross could recite the entire Psalm. And so perhaps (as many have suggested) these words were, among other things, a prompt to jar our memories of what King David saw when meditating on the crucified Christ.

  18. George A. Marquart says:

    No, dear Mr. Lovett, it is not “better put”. Scripture is clear without any interpretation being necessary. In Matthew 25:46, our Lord clearly says about the “goats” on His left side, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Also, 2 Thessalonians 1: 7,… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” That is the punishment for sinners, and that is clearly not what our Lord experienced.
    Our Lord knew nothing about being separated from His heavenly Father. It is impossible for one member of the Most Holy Trinity to be separated from another. “Father, forgive them…”, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”! Was He not certain that His Father heard Him and granted His prayer? Even the “My God, my God”, as you may know, can be, and in my opinion should be, interpreted as a cry of deep trust in His Father. “For He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; He did not hide His face from me, but heard when I cried to Him” are all part of the same Psalm.
    But to go back to my initial assertion: If the punishment for sin is eternal death and separation from God, then no amount of verbal gymnastics will demonstrate that our Lord’s suffering is the punishment for our sins. Others have demonstrated clearly that all verses in Scripture that are used to promote “penal substitution” can, and should be interpreted differently. So, if you can disprove my initial assertion from Scripture, not Scripture “better put”, then I will be happy to proceed with the proper exegesis of any verse you may quote in favor of it. At the same time, I gladly acknowledge that I am not a pastor or theologian, and any exegesis I speak of is not my own, but that of others.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  19. Christopher J. Neuendorf says:

    George Marquart, I was hardly anticipating having to defend the vicarious atonement against a fellow Lutheran, but here goes. St. Paul writes in Romans 3:25 – 26 that the sacrifice of Jesus, put forward by God Himself, “was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” In the past, i.e., in the Old Testament, God was merciful seemingly without justice, forgiving sins without requiring punishment. The blood of animals could not possibly pay for the sins of men. The death of Jesus, however, showed that God was just all along–He had simply deferred His judgment for a time, waiting to exercise it against His own Son. The death of Jesus also shows us that God is just at the present time. Without the death of Jesus, justification by faith would be mercy without justice. With the death of Jesus, justification becomes a just transaction: our sin for His righteousness. We are justified by faith because Another has died in our stead.

    It seems, however, that one might regard the punishment of Jesus on the cross as not commensurate with the punishment we had deserved, viz., everlasting damnation, not a few hours on a cross and three days in a tomb. The classical answer to that would be to point out that Jesus’ death was not the death of a man only, but of God Himself. Surely the death of God, however brief, is a full and sufficient payment for us who had deserved eternal damnation. I might grant that there are alternative “theories” as to why Jesus’ death on the cross (not eternal damnation) was a sufficient payment for the sin of the world. But whatever we come up with (the infinite value of the death of God Himself being my solution), the fact remains that Holy Scripture tells us that the payment revealed God as both just and merciful. Therefore that payment must be sufficient. “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:5). “Christ also suffered once for sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). He was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). “As by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

    I’m sure that one could produce many exegetes (Gustaf Aulen among them?) who would attempt to drain these words of their power. So let’s grant that the substitutionary atonement is not taught in Scripture. It is, then, a grave error. But I say that if the substitutionary atonement is an error, then it is an error that Lutherans gladly embrace. AC IV.2 teaches that “by His death, [Christ] has made satisfaction for our sins.” And as an Orthodox priest has pointed out to me, AC III.2 – 3 twists 2 Cor. 19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” to say instead that God the Father had to be reconciled to us: the Son of God “truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.” If the vicarious satisfaction is an error, then it is a Lutheran error, and to believe it is part of being a Lutheran. I gladly claim that error as my own and will confess it before the judgment seat of Christ. Justification by faith alone is nothing without the substitutionary death of Jesus in payment for our sin.

    As for what the punishment of hell consists of, I think we make too much of the idea of separation from God. After all, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Ps. 139:8). When St. Paul writes that the condemned will suffer eternal punishment “away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9), I would translate that as simply “from,” leaving out the “away” (cf. ESV note), i.e., God’s face or presence is the source of the punishment of the damned. I believe that God is all too present in hell: present in His wrath. Jesus is absent in a sense (“Depart from Me, ye cursed,” Matthew 25:41). God’s mercy in Christ is certainly not there. But God is everywhere, and to those who hate Him His wrathful presence is intolerable punishment and torment. But that doesn’t help my argument unless God’s wrath actually burned against Jesus on the cross. I believe it did. That’s partly why Jesus was condemned by the legitimate governing authorities, of whom He says, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). It was ultimately God who put Jesus to death on the cross.

    (An interesting side note: if separation from Jesus is a necessary component of damnation, then it truly was impossible for Jesus to suffer it, because He can’t suffer separation from Himself!)

    Anyway, dismiss the vicarious atonement as an unscriptural error if you will, but please don’t take it away from us Lutherans. It is our birthright. Only through His death in payment for our sin do we have peace and joy.

    Christopher J. Neuendorf

  20. God can’t die. It is impossible for him to die because he is God. And yet God died on the cross because Jesus died on the cross. It is impossible for a member of the most holy Trinity to die, and yet the only true God must have died because Jesus died and Jesus is God.

    So it is impossible for the Son to be separated from his Father. He is one substance with him from eternity and forever. God cannot be divided. And yet Jesus was forsaken by God even as he was never divided from him. How can this be? I don’t know. It is clear from the Scriptures that God punished Jesus for our sin, that he was made the propitiation for our sins which entails God’s wrath being turned away. It is also clear from the Scriptures that Christ was glorified in his death, that he knew the Father’s love even in his dying moments. How can this be?

    And adoring bend the knee, / While we own the mystery.

  21. Kristofer Carlson says:

    After 20 years as a Lutheran, I found it increasingly difficult to define what a Lutheran was. It is different all over the world. The LCMS celebrates Bishop Obare, while denying the bishopric. Worship practice inside and outside the LCMS is all over the map.Even within the confessional wing of the LCMS, differences of opinion exist on the meaning of the Lutheran Confessions. And that is before we discuss doctrinal issues.

    The implications of the Bound Will are at odds with Sacred Scripture. One of the people commenting in these pages is on record as saying you don’t have to do anything, it’s all been done. The Apostle Paul would beg to differ. He described his ascetic endeavors at great length, as training for the Christian life.

    My biggest issue was that the church described by the earliest church fathers looked nothing like the Lutheran Church, in any of its various forms. If the Lutheran Church is part of the one, Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church, why would Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Polycarp describe something much different? Why are all the ancient church orders in substantial agreement with each other, yet differ substantially with Lutheranism? And dismissing this by saying we can’t repristinate (as one CTSFW professor told me,) is no answer.

  22. George A. Marquart says:

    Dear Rev. Neuendorf: Thank you for your most gracious and measured response. I particularly appreciate your numbering me among Lutherans.
    The fundamental problem with your response, and that of many others who take your position is that you believe denying “penal substitution” is the same as denying vicarious satisfaction. By denying “penal substitution” one simply explains vicarious satisfaction in a different way. Suffice it to say that the Church lived without “penal substitution” for over a thousand years, so it is not totally unreasonable to reject this doctrine. I am afraid that you have directed most of your argument against something with which we agree. Translating the 2 Thessalonians differently, without the “away” really does not change its meaning.
    “Penal substitution” is not a necessary component of any of the Scriptures you have cited. Quite frankly I am not certain about what Aulen has to say about the nature of atonement. I read his book many years ago; I no longer have it available to me, so I cannot comment about how he “drained these words of their power.” Of course, substitutionary atonement is taught in Scripture. Since we are unable to do it for ourselves, as the Law amply demonstrates, somebody else had to do it.
    Your write, “ But that doesn’t help my argument unless God’s wrath actually burned against Jesus on the cross. I believe it did. That’s partly why Jesus was condemned by the legitimate governing authorities, of whom He says, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). It was ultimately God who put Jesus to death on the cross.”
    Jesus said, “The Father and I are One.” (I suspect this reflects the Biblical concept of “ekhad”) Then Jesus, being fully God, and the Holy Spirit, being fully God, must also have poured out their wrath on someone. Yes, it was God, in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who put Himself to death on the cross. He chose not to call on the legions of angels to rescue Him. He chose to accept the cross and the shame, “for the joy that was held before Him”, not because of His Father’s wrath.
    Thank you, once more.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

    • Rev. Mike Grieve says:

      Errors in the Trinity often result in errors in the atonement, and likewise errors in the atonement result in errors in the Trinity. As was said above…the Son and the Father are one, as Jesus clearly demonstrates many times in the Gospel of John. They are inseparable, as also the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the Father and the Son. The Father has no wrath against His Son, anymore than any person of the Trinity has wrath against any person of the Trinity.

      God, however, does have wrath. The Son is not praying to His Father in Psalm 22. He is praying to God, who is forsaking Him. This is the God of the Son (Jesus), the One who forsakes Him for our sake (v. 1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), and the One who saves Him from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen for our sake (Psalm 22:21). This is the God who took the Son out of the womb and made Him trust while on His mother’s breasts for our sake. (Psalm 22:9)

      This is the God who does not leave His soul in Hades, nor allows His Holy One to see corruption for our sake (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27). God’s wrath against His Son Jesus, and also let us not forget, His love for His Son Jesus, universally atoned for sin.

      Of course, the application of this gospel to the sinner justifies him…by grace through faith. The rejection of the application of this gospel by the sinner leaves him under God’s wrath.

  23. What I find curious is that many of the perceived deficiencies which ostensibly caused these men to leave the LCMS are found in their new communion to an even greater degree. For example:

    “The Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission has held its second meeting 3-7 October 2013 . . . We greatly appreciate the hospitality offered by the Anglican Communion, the Church of England . . . On Saturday 5 October we worshipped in the Coptic Orthodox Church of St Augustine . . . Through this act of worship the members of the Commission . . . expressed solidarity . . . On Sunday 6 October members of the Commission were welcomed to the Eucharist at The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court . . . and were joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby. . . At the conclusion of the dialogue the Commission thanked God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the unity that they experienced and shared.” [http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2013/10/anglican,-oriental-orthodox-leaders-lament-christian-persecution.aspx]

    “A January consultation on ‘Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality’ . . . The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary sponsored the consultation, held at the seminary . . . Participants from the Orthodox and Methodist faith traditions discovered ‘considerable common ground’ . . . Morning and evening prayer services reflected both the Orthodox and Wesleyan traditions.” [http://archive.wfn.org/1999/02/msg00075.html]

    LCMS leaders engaging in joint worship and receiving Communion with representatives of bodies such as the Church of England and the United Methodist Church, which among other aberrations have female clergy and openly homosexual bishops, is the kind of thing that would have disturbed those departing from the LCMS. But they are willing to overlook these and other aberrations in Eastern Orthodoxy. Indeed, in my conversations they simply deny any such aberrations exist, despite the evidence to the contrary. While ostensibly troubled by deficiencies in the LCMS, they are willing to grant to their new affiliation extreme leeway in matters of doctrine and practice, in my opinion much worse than anything encountered in the LCMS.

  24. Jason Loh says:

    Dear Kristofer,

    “The implications of the Bound Will are at odds with Sacred Scripture.”

    Luther distinguished between the will in relation to the Creator and the will in relation to creation. By implication, the will in relation to the Creator cannot be free. Our relationship with the Creator is not the same with our relationship with creation. Both do not share the same logical status. Otherwise, it’s panentheism — there is no way to distinguish God’s divine energies and our human energies.

    Furthermore, on the one hand, our relationship to creation is temporal. On the other hand, our relationship to the Creator is eternal – hence, heaven and hell. When the Creator relates to us, the Father has in view our past, present and future – all at once. Otherwise, we are co-creators which is a theological impossibility, let alone possibility in the first place. Also, implicitly, there would be an unbridgeable (or diastemic) distance between the Creator and creature – which in turn implies a denial of the Incarnation.

    But since Baptism has incorporated us into the very life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we share in the eternal union and communion of the Trinity. To repeat, union and communion with the Trinity makes it impossible for the Creator to relate to us on an contingent (conditional) basis.

    Conversely, the denial of the freedom of the human will (i.e. self-determination) is mirrored by a denial of the self-generation of the Son and the Holy Spirit or autotheos. The divine essence is the Father’s — even as the mode of existence of the Son is different from the Father’s and likewise the Spirit’s mode of existence is different from the Father’s.

    And to appeal to Lutheran Orthodoxy, denial of the bondage of the will is tantamount denying the omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence of God.

    In other words, the Creator creates us out of pure goodness and justify us (re-create the right relationship) out of pure goodness. As St Irenaeus puts it (and repeated by Wingren), one cannot separate physical from spiritual life/ existence. They are one.

    Sacred Scriptures speak of sinners as dead. For example, the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel. St Paul preached that sinners are dead in sin.

  25. Jason Loh says:

    “The Apostle Paul would beg to differ. He described his ascetic endeavors at great length, as training for the Christian life.”

    Perhaps we can also say that the ascetic life as part of the Christian life is for this world — rather than in preparation for the next world. In the words, asceticism is for the sake of the neighbour – in which prayers, fasts, vigils, etc. are for the community (Gemeinschaft) – self-denial that goes out forth in esktasis – as mirroring the life and mission of the Trinity.

    In short, asceticism is part of vocation or the masks of God in preserving His creation. That is asceticism, instead of having to do with the ascent of the New Adam towards the heavenly kingdom represents the descent of the New Adam into the earthly kingdom.

    Asceticism where instead of the old nature is subjected to the new nature in becoming more holy, the New Adam is hidden in, with and under the Old Adam in faith working through love.

    In the sight of God, asceticism is impossible. We are killed by the Law only to be raised up anew by the Gospel. In the sight of the world, the “inner” person expresses asceticism through the “outer” person.

    In other words, asceticism is only possible because we *already have* — (i.e., in possession of) — the prize. St Paul does not make the contrast between Christian and non-Christian asceticism (in 1 Cor 9). He makes the contrast between certain possession and uncertain possession of the prize — hence *only one* person will get the prize in the context of a non-Christian race employed as a common analogy.

    The prize then is “past tense” (not “future tense”) and the sequence is Christ must first be received as Saviour (Sacramentum) in the proclamation of the Gospel and then only thus follows in the sequence of Christ imitated as Example (Exemplum).

    To appeal to Lutheran Orthodoxy, asceticism is only possible because of the ordo salutis from election to glorification.

    Asceticism by EO reverses the sequence and so separate the Person from the Work in contradiction to the patristic maxim.

    “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I *therefore* so run, not as *uncertainly*; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I *have preached* to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

  26. Jason Loh says:

    Thank you, Pastor Christopher Neuendorf for your timely article.

  27. Rev. Paul T. McCain says:

    Back to the point of the fundamental lack of integrity in most of these case. This pastor has long since moved away from his ordination vows and Lutheran confession, yet remained on The LCMS clergy roster, even accepting a job at a Roman Catholic seminary, a good long while before he finally made his move to the Orthodox Church. This kind of behavior is fundamentally unethical, since it is such a profoundly dishonest act.

    If you are leaving your Lutheran ordination vows and confessional commitment than at the very least, resign from the clergy roster of your church body, but to hang on for so long is simply an act of deception.

  28. Eric says:

    Bah! I don’t buy it. People go EO for simple reasons:
    1. They long for a connection to the ancient and transcendent church.
    2. They long for traditional liturgy that is ENFORCED throughout the church
    3. They long for awesome beards and metropolitan vestments we must admit are the bomb!

    The rest is a theological veneer to justify the reasons above. I am sympathetic to their reasons and the obvious rage against the synodocrats who delay problem enforcement to “be mindful of the weaker brother.”

    But that is no reason to leave the pure doctrine of the True Visible Church on Earth — the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

  29. aka reprobus says:

    But that “error” defines us as Lutherans… Take this away and you’ve taken away Lutheranism, at least in any sort of confessional sense. Genig has not ceased to be Lutheran by severing his connection with a fellowship struggling to live up to its own ideals; he has ceased to be Lutheran by ceasing to believe what Lutherans by definition believe.

    As an Orthodox Christian, I say, quite right. Conversion to Orthodoxy is not like leaving the LCMS for WELS or the ELCA, or for another Protestant body.

    That said, there are similarities, there is agreement on various things, and there is much good to be found in and said of Lutheranism. But it isn’t Orthodoxy.

  30. Pastor Neuendorf,
    Thank you for your insightful response to Joshuah’s post. He was a classmate of mine and it saddens me to see him go, but I feel he did so graciously and in keeping with his conscience. Whether or not he was being deceptive or struggling I could not say. I came from a Roman Catholic background, in my youth. I almost left the Lutheran church as a young adult over some of the same struggles Joshua mentioned. And returning to Rome would serve me well as most of my extended family is still Roman Catholic and they need priest. However I would much rather be part of a communion that is struggling to live together under solid biblical doctrine and falling woefully short because of our sinful nature, Than to be part of a communion whose doctrines give authority to a person or a tradition or even a church body that God never does in His word. The primary weakness in those false doctrines is they take Christ out of the center and drive people away from Christ. I also feel that any community of christians can be mischaracterized as pharisaical, judgmental and unmerciful, but for the most part I find these to be strawmen set up by those who wish to torch them as they leave or separate themselves from them. I too spent 20 years in our nations military and “marquette lutheran” mentioned and I never had a hard time finding a good confessional Lutheran family to plug into. I also found a lot of the kindness and mercy that Joshua spoke of among other trinitarian christians when I was in the military, with whom I disagreed on important issues but we were able in our vocations to study God’s word together and pray for each other when we were far from home.
    Blessed Easter Season to all
    In Christ
    Robert Portier

  31. By the way I too would like to read of you journey from the East.

  32. Bernie Grebe says:

    Thank You Pastor Nuendorf for your excellent insight. Please write more about your conversion to Lutheranism.

    • aka reprobus says:

      In Pr. Nuendorf’s own words, he is a “‘Lutheran convert’ because that’s the category that’s closest to describing me, even if it’s not entirely accurate.” He “didn’t grow up Lutheran, I grew up with a Lutheran father and a lot of Lutheran influence. I suppose I am a convert because, when I was baptized as a baby in the Greek Orthodox Church, the Holy Spirit brought me out of death to life. And I’m a Lutheran because I was confirmed in a Lutheran congregation when I was 18.”

      • Christopher Neuendorf says:

        As I am quoted above in aka reprobus’s comment (I think those words come from signing up at Wittenberg Trail years ago, where I’ve been pretty much totally inactive), I wouldn’t call myself a Lutheran convert because of my understanding of conversion as synonymous with regeneration. I kind of bristle when I hear of Lutherans “converting” to Orthodoxy, as if their chrismation was when they passed from death to life, and as Lutherans they were unconverted, i.e., heathen. Still, to be charitable, I hope that what they mean by conversion is that they moved from one branch of saving Christianity to another. I won’t use that language, though. When I became a Lutheran, I embraced the confession that is in complete agreement with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. But I had been a regenerate child of God for eighteen years before in the Orthodox Church, where the Scriptures continue to be read daily with their saving content.

        Many have asked that I write publicly about my transition from the Orthodox to the Lutheran Church. I’ve been reluctant to do that in the past because there are ongoing family relationships involved, and I think the Lutheran Confession stands perfectly well on its own without my biographical information being thrown into the mix. But my own thinking about what happened when I was confirmed in 2001 has developed a great deal over the years, and I can see how an account of my own love for Lutheranism—and the great struggle of leaving Orthodoxy—could be of benefit to others. I’ll try and write something up to post on my own blog in the near future, and I’ll post a link in the comments here.

        I appreciate the kindness with which readers on both “sides” have approached this post.

  33. Fr. Richard Zeile says:

    Thank you, Fr. Neuendorf, for your article, both straightforward, yet irenic. I have been (and hope I still am) friends with both Fr. Fenton and Dr. Genig, and yet not so close as to have any real inkling that they might leave our fellowship for the East. Candidly, we need men like them in our fellowship that we might become more orthodox and sacramental, yet no less evangelical. I suspect that an issue for them (as for many of us) is the eagerness of too many of our Lutheran leaders to conform, often mindlessly, to the culture. The 1980’s emphasis on feminism in our circles comes to mind- too many of us adopted the lie that marriage is an “equal” partnership when it is in fact an asymetrical relationship. But having redefined marriage in such a way, gay relationships suddenly looked more like this “ideal.” Our temptation to make Lutheran faith fit a secular lifestyle is one element that makes the Eastern Orthodox seem more supportive of Christians who reject the pervasive secularism of our Western culture.

    • Rev. Paul T. McCain says:

      “Candidly, we need men like them in our fellowship that we might become more orthodox and sacramental”

      No, in fact, we absolutely do NOT need “men like them” in our fellowship. We need men who are pledged, heart and mind, to our LUTHERAN confessions, neither of these men are, or were, and they left our fellowship under duplicitous circumstances making their departure even all the more painful.

      They embraced a false confession, they did not “strengthen” our confession but only weakened it by their errors and through the false public witness among us.

      Those who share their inclinations must leave as well and the sooner, the better.

  34. aka says:

    Leaving a church or confession is always painful, for all involved. There is also always some aspect of the move that is deemed “duplicitous” by the ones being left behind. That is as true for people leaving other faiths and other ministries to join the LCMS as it is for those leaving the LCMS. While there is objective Truth, our understanding of that Truth and where it is to be found is subjective and often muddled. Unless one is questioning their sincere commitment to the Truth, the measure of understanding we give to those joining the LCMS must be the measure we use with those leaving the LCMS. It’s not like they left for more money or social standing. The ones to be concerned about are those whose consciences tell them to go and yet they stay because of a pension, a parsonage, fear of unemployment and lack of honor as a minister, or because of the tears of wife or children. After all, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” Such men are not worthy of Lutheran ministry, whatever protestations they make ex post facto about being saved from error by their spouse, family, etc. BTW, this is all as true of the many a crypto-Seminex pastors who remained in the LCMS; while it has been true of a handful of crypto-Orthodox in the LCMS, we all know their numbers are overwhelmed in the LCMS by the number of crypto-Non-Denominational Evangelicals and the like. And none of this is to say a faithful member of the LCMS should not warn that departing member (and the church) doing all they can to keep the erring brother/sister from leaving the True Faith. But, being a self-righteous, self-important jerk about it while effectively telling them to not let the door hit them in the ass on the way out is not “preaching Law”, its prideful personal bile (as well as hurt, perhaps) excused with a patina of theology. Again, the measure we measure… Being assured of the Truth is no excuse for acting and speaking in ways we rightly deem sinful in those of other faiths (Christian and non-Christian).

  35. Fr. Gregory Hogg says:

    Well, I finally read through Dr. Genig’s article and your reply, and I wonder if we read the same article. You claim, near the beginning of your response, “He argues that to be Lutheran is to be putative Orthodox, that his reception into the Orthodox Church is the culmination of the natural process of life as a Lutheran.”

    What I read was Dr. Genig’s claim that “…not only do I believe that the fullness of life is found in Holy Orthodoxy, but I also believe that, in a unique way, this is, in part, the life the Lutheran reformers were after (though the trajectory is markedly different with today’s Lutheran confessors).”

    Dr. Genig’s claim appears, rather, that
    (1) the Lutheran reformers were seeking ‘fullness of life’ in Christ (who would dispute that?).
    (2) they held a high view of the Orthodox and sought out contact with them (The historical evidence here is incontrovertible–Who initiated the contact? Who broke it off?)
    (3) Today’s Lutheran confessors seek that fullness of life in a way different than did the Lutheran reformers.
    (4) That life is found in the Orthodox Church.

    It is the third and fourth claims which are probably most controversial and most interesting to pursue–and perhaps, the ones which cause Lutherans most existential angst.

    We all have a tendency to conflate our own outlooks, opinions and experiences with those of past figures we hold in high regard. The Tea Party does it with the Founders, Stalin did it with Marx, and, I have a hunch, contemporary Lutheran confessors may do it with Luther and Melanchthon.

    Might this same tendency work amongst Orthodox people? Of course, since we are broken too. The difference, as Dr. Genig points out, is that the constitutive experience of Orthodoxy today–the liturgical rites and the mysteries, conducted under the guidance of bishops who hold the apostolic faith–is the same as the constitutive experience of every preceding generation of Orthodox. Nobody gets to change the Liturgy.

    I experienced that sameness the last few weeks, when my wife and I traveled through Germany, Poland and Ukraine. Two weeks ago, we showed up at the Orthodox church in Krakow, Poland. I brought along my little pocket Antiochian prayer book, which includes the liturgy. I was able to concelebrate with Fr. Jaroslav without missing a beat—he from his Slavonic, and me from my English. The next Sunday found us in Velyki Mosti, Ukraine. There I concelebrated with Fr. Dmitri. Once again, all was the same.

    Those places weren’t “cherry-picked” from an online list of places that do the “traditional liturgy”. I simply went to the parish where I found myself on a given Sunday, and felt right at home. I brought with me a letter from my Metropolitan, addressed to the hierarch and clergy of that area, and was received at once.

    My friend and fellow priest Fr. Anthony Roeber has suggested that the key crisis for Lutherans occurred in the late 1520s to early 1530s, when no bishops would embrace Lutheranism. (Of course the Scandinavian bishops later did; but by then Lutheran ecclesiology had evolved in a way that reinterpreted apostolic succession and made that embrace strictly speaking unnecessary.) It’s around that time that Lutheran minds began working diligently to construct a doctrinally crystalline structure. The problem is, that structure obscures an underlying ecclesial hole.

    So in the time since Dr. Genig wrote his article, Lutheran defenders have moved immediately to argue for and about the doctrinal superstructure. But Orthodox-Lutheran arguments about doctrine are, for the most part, beside the point. The key problem for the followers of the Lutheran confessors today is not so much doctrinal as it is ecclesial; not so much intellectual as it is experiential. Lutherans today are in a desperate search to find that seven year old child of whom Luther once spoke–the one who knows what the church is.

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