Because of my Orthodox background, and my obvious continuing loyalty to, and theological agreement with, Orthodoxy, I have been asked with some regularity why I am not still Orthodox. Sometimes it is asked by Lutherans who are looking into Orthodoxy; sometimes it is asked by Orthodox who admire and agree with what I write; and sometimes it is asked by Lutherans who are hostile to Orthodoxy. In the latter case, it sometimes takes the less-than-polite form of "If Eastern Orthodoxy is so great, then why don't you get out of our Church and go back where you came from?".
The answer to this question has a lot of aspects to it: some personal, some pastoral, and some strictly theological. And I've shared some of this with individual inquirers via e-mail, but I haven't wanted to give the whole answer publicly. That policy is not going to change now, either, but I do want to talk publicly about one of the strictly theological reasons.
The occasion for this is a remarkable article called Reclaiming the Gospel by Dr Bradley Nassif (props to Huw). Dr Nassif makes the case that what is central in the life of the Orthodox Church is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but "Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy". He says that while the Orthodox Church possesses the fulness of truth in a formal way, she does not communicate to her people, out of that fulness, the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take a few minutes to read all of Dr Nassif's article. Then read the rest of my remarks behind the cut.
OK, you're back? Let's proceed:
Dr Nassif writes:
I am convinced that the Orthodox Church preserves the fullness of God's truth, but I am equally persuaded that we have not made that truth meaningful and accessible to our own Church members. The most urgent need in the Orthodox world today is the need for an aggressive "internal mission" of (re)converting our people to Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ and our life in Him need to be reclaimed as the very centerpiece of Church life.
In my Orthodox days, I could have written those words myself. Now that I am a Lutheran, I still endorse what Dr Nassif says, but I would add that Orthodoxy not only requires the "internal mission" that Dr Nassif talks about, but also needs to recover the "external mission" of proclaiming the Gospel to every creature. Orthodoxy has the fulness of the faith, but inexplicably they choose to keep it to themselves - which, if you think about it, is a pretty deep contradiction.
As the "Go back where you came from" crowd of self-appointed guardians of Lutheranism will tell you, I'm not a very Lutheran Lutheran. Thanks to my friends in the confessional Lutheran blogosphere, I'm more Lutheran than I used to be, but there are details of Lutheran theology that I still don't agree with. I'm thankful that a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions is not required of laymen, only of pastors and whole congregations. But even if Lutheranism isn't 100% correct from an Orthodox point of view, it still places the Gospel at the center of its message and its life. Maybe we don't have a canonical and valid priesthood; maybe we condemn the invocation of saints and monasticism when we shouldn't. But what would you rather have: a valid priesthood which (in Dr Nassif's words) impos[es] on its people the evil of religious formalism and barren ritualism, and a laity who cleave to the Church primarily as the religious expression of their ethnic subculture; or a priesthood which, though canonically questionable, clearly proclaims the Gospel to laity who cleave to the Church because they hear and believe the Gospel? Like they say, it's an easy choice, if you ask me.