I have been going through some old hard drives on my computer, and came across one of the most important and difficult things I have ever written. The original dates from 17 July, 2005. I called a parish meeting in my Lutheran congregation to announce that I was leaving the Lutheran church and ministerium in order to be chrismated into the Orthodox Church.
Reading over the piece tonight, it brought back many memories. I post it on my blog as a remembrance. I am aware of my own mortality, and I thought it expresses clearly and pastorally why I took the decision I did. Perhaps some others will be interested, too.
I've gone through it, obscuring the names of the parishioners which appear in the text because they are not relevant to the main point.
May I say, it has been 17 years and 8 days since I became Orthodox. I miss many Lutherans, and those friendships broken by my decision. But I have not missed being Lutheran a single day or hour. I am overwhelmingly grateful to the Church for receiving me. And God has faithfully provided for me and my family from that day till this.
SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS
In the name of the Father, and of + the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When you called me some five and a half years ago, I wrote you a four page letter. In that letter I poured out my heart to you, telling you my vision for myself as a pastor and you as a congregation. I had received many other calls, but I recognized in the Epiphany family a very special group of Christians. It's not that you were perfect; but you were mature in Christ, had a sincere desire, like me, to be Lutheran, and above all, you were not afraid to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" to each other.
At that time I told you, "I want to try an experiment. I want to see if it is still possible to be a Lutheran pastor in a Lutheran church." I have found the answer to my question--an answer which is not at all what I had expected. I will say more about that later.
Who could have imagined five years ago how radically our world would change, especially on a bright crisp September morning in 2001? I will never forget K-- walking into our pastors' meeting to announce that one of the World Trade Center Towers had been hit by an airplane. The pastors had a quick prayer and got back to the meeting when, a few minutes later, K-- came back and said a second plane had struck the other tower. Then came news of the plane hitting the Pentagon, and suddenly the national tragedy came up-close and personal. Our Epiphany family came together around J--- and L-----, just as it has when any member family has suffered loss.
Several weeks later, a memorial service held in Yankee Stadium became the cause of a great controversy in our Synod and in our parish. Dr. David Benke, the Atlantic District President, joined in the serviceCan act which went against the core historic values of the Missouri Synod and violated a promise he himself had made just three years before. I thought his act was wrong, and said so; not all of you agreed, but that's all right. We talked about it together like a family, like a church.
I wanted the pastors of our circuit to talk about it, too. So I begged, pleaded and cajoled to get it on the agenda. Our own circuit, like the parish and the Synod, was strongly divided on the issue. But I persuaded the brethren to adopt a set of rules that would make open discussion possible. No one would speak while someone else was talking. If someone spoke heatedly in response to another, the other had the right to say, "First, please, tell me what you heard me say." And finally, nothing that was said in the meeting would leave the meeting.
In order for you to understand, however, I must bend that final rule. You see, I thought Dr. Benke's act was wrong, but I wasn't so convinced of it as others. But I was convinced that the Synod ought to deal with the issue in a churchly way: through reflection on the Word of God, and prayer, and discussion. As I argued passionately for this, one of the brethren said something which struck me in the heart. "Your problem, Robb, is that you think the Synod is Church. We're not a Church. We're a corporation!" He wasn't attacking me when he said that. I still value him as a brother. But his words opened my eyes at once, and tied together a lot of things I'd struggled with for nearly twenty years.
In the time since that meeting, I have looked again at the Synod: what it is, what it does, and how it lives. It seemed clear to me that the brother was right. But I wanted to be sure. So I managed to get myself elected as a delegate to the Synod's convention. As the Convention approached, I saw how politically oriented the Synod functions. I received mailings from people I'd never met, telling me how to vote on this or that issue. I received videos pushing various candidates for office. I was contacted by organizers who were calculating how to turn out the Synodical President from office. All alike agreed the Synod was in crisis. What was more stunning was that all alike, on both sides, agreed that the solution to the Synod's problems was political: elect the right men to office, pass the right resolutions at Convention. Then came the Convention. Within an hour or two after it began, the truth of the brother's words came home to me. And I knew I could no longer bury my head and just live with it.
In these last five years you have gotten to know me and my pilgrimage through life. I was born a Lutheran of Lutherans: baptized in the ALC and raised in the LCA. When I was a teenager, I left the Lutheran Church because I despised the liturgy, and went to the Presbyterian Church. There I learned the Reformed faith, and saw its strengths and weaknesses. After six months or so, I also began to realize the jewel I had lost. Lutheran preaching was adequate, but not brilliant; many of the people were characters; but above all I realized what a precious treasure the liturgy was. I realized how gospel-centered it is, how it protects people from the whims of preachers. So I snuck back and sat through the service, then went off to the Presbyterian Church.
I stayed in the Reformed faith for over five years, reading Calvin's Institutes and becoming involved in various subsets of that faith, including the charismatic movement. About two years into my involvement, I had a terrible crisis of faith when I read Jonathan Edwards's sermon Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Private Prayer. I began to question whether I was a Christian. For months I prayed the Psalms, I read C.S. Lewis, and sought help within the Reformed tradition. Some Reformed authors were Arminians, who say we have free will to accept or to reject Christ. They said, "Just believe in your belief." That struck me as a dumb answer—as if I were driving down the highway, felt a tire start to wobble, then drove faster. Other Reformed authors were Calvinist, who say that God has chosen some for heaven and others for hell. I read Jay Adams, a Calvinist counselor, who wrote that when someone is troubled about his salvation and comes for consolation, the counselor cannot tell the troubled man that Christ died for him, because the counselor doesn't know if the man is one of the elect. If the Arminian answer was stupid, the Calvinist answer was terrifying.
Then a professor who now teaches at Calvin unwittingly helped to turn on the light. In one of our classes, he remarked that when Luther was troubled by doubts about salvation, Luther said, "I instantly chase the devil with a fart." That made me laugh, and made me want to read more. So I got Luther's Table Talk and began to read. In his Table TalkLuther says the best thing he ever wrote was his Lectures on Galatians. I bought a copy and read it cover-to-cover like I had never read a book before. Luther taught me the sweetness of the Gospel, the centrality of Jesus Christ, the certainty we find in God's objective words and promises, and above all in the Sacraments. "I have been baptized," was Luther's answer to doubt, "and baptism is not my work but God's. I may be deceived about myself, but God can never deceive or mislead."
I began to re-examine Lutheranism. I didn't want to make a hasty decision, so I read lots of Luther. I read the Book of Concord. I thought and prayed. When I graduated from college and got married, I took a year off school and read through Pieper's Dogmatics. Midway through volume 2, I said to Cindy "Who am I kidding? I'm a Lutheran." So we began to look for Lutheran seminaries. My pastors growing up had all gone to Capital Seminary in Columbus Ohio (the Missouri Synod was verboten in my family because many of them were Masons, and the Synod wouldn't accept Masons). I was stunned at what I saw there. The recruiting director said, "The Bible isn't the Word of God; it becomes the Word when the Spirit makes it alive to us." The New Testament professor said, "When I went to Seminary my New Testament professor dropped the Bible on the floor and kicked it across the room and said, 'the Bible is just like any other book.' I won't do that," he went on to say, "but that's how I want you to think about it." I was shocked, and began to consider the Missouri option.
I was impressed that the Synod had stressed the authority of the Bible. So we went to St. Louis to visit. If Columbus struck me as liberal, St. Louis struck me as fundamentalist. One student asked me what I thought of Billy Graham. The classes I visited were more like Bible studies than theology. Fortunately, near the end of our visit someone mentioned the sister seminary at Fort Wayne. We stopped by, then returned for a visit, and I fell in love. Here were professors who combined intellectual challenge with faithfulness to Lutheranism. I took in all I could get, and graduated in 3 1/3 years. When I graduated, I was convinced that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was the true visible Church of God on earth.
That conviction was shaken just a few months after my ordination, when I traveled from Akron to Cleveland to participate in ordaining another man to the Office of the Holy Ministry. I was stunned at what I saw. Laymen participated in the laying-on of hands. A woman who was vested in an alb also participated. I confronted the circuit counselor, and he said, "What was I to do? She came up to me just before the service, and I didn't want to make a scene." I didn't leave the matter rest, but brought it up at the circuit meeting the next week. The man who had been ordained said, "But the circuit counselor and I talked it over a week ago, and he said it would be all right." The counselor blushed, having been caught in a lie. But we discussed the matter anyway. I said that it had never been heard of that laymen should ordain pastors, and that women should participate. They responded, "You're relying on tradition. We believe in sola Scriptura, and the Bible has no commands or prohibitions about ordination, so we're free to do what we want." Once again, I was stunned, for they were using what seemed to be Lutheran arguments to attack the historic Christian practice. We agreed that in future, anyone being ordained or installed who wanted to do odd things would let others know, so they could make a choice about whether to participate.
My faith was shaken. But what could I do? Where else could I go? A few years later, I went to Indiana University for graduate school. One of the 'perks' of being a student was that I could visit other denominations, to see what they did. I treasured the centrality of Christ, the Gospel, and the sacraments in the Lutheran Church. When I visited other denominations, I was struck by how little the Gospel was central, how little the doctrine of Christ was actually taught, how little the Sacraments were valued.
Then, on Good Friday of 1987, I visited two churches. One was an Episcopal church that had a three hour service at noon; a series of pastors from various churches preached. By and large it was good. Later that afternoon, I had heard of a little Orthodox Church holding a Good Friday service. That was one group I hadn't yet visited. So I went.
It was a tiny mission; the church met in a garage converted into a sanctuary. Only about ten people were there, and half of them were clergy of some sort. The service went on for nearly two hours. I remember being impressed by two things. One, there was a little child in a car seat, who was awake the whole time and didn't make a sound. That was because there was constant motion in the service. Doors opened and closed, one of the clergy swung a pot of incense, and the singing was beautiful. The other thing that impressed me—indeed, it hit me like a punch in the gut—was that these people knew the Gospel as much as we Lutherans did. Christ and the Sacraments were central to their teaching and life. They had some strange things, too, especially how much they talked to and about Mary. But though they valued her, you could tell they didn't worship her.
I went home, stunned once again. That experience both shook me and gave me hope. It shook me, because I had thought that the Lutheran Church was the only place the gospel was preached in its truth and purity, and now I knew that wasn't true. It gave me hope, because as I saw the Lutheran Church more and more leave its historic doctrine and practice, just maybe there was a place where the Christian faith was still taught in its truth, purity and fullness.
That day I began an intensive study which I have pursued for the last 18 years. What I found was this: in the central doctrines of the faith, the person and work of Christ, Orthodox and Lutheran teaching is identical. Indeed, only the Lutherans and Orthodox teach identically on Christ. And the Lutheran Confessions, which don't hesitate to criticize Rome and the Reformed, have nothing but good things to say about the Orthodox when they speak of them.
On other teachings the two seemed to differ. At first I was ready to say, "The Orthodox don't believe in justification by faith alone," and in a sense, that's true. I thought, like many, that they were Roman Catholics with funny accents and clothes. But the more I read, the more I realized that wasn't so. It wasn't so much that they disagreed with us; it was more that they were addressing different questions and concerns than we did. It was more like they spoke a different language. And fairness required that I learn that language before I criticized it. So I kept on reading, and still do.
I compared the Western and Eastern expressions of Christianity, reading much that was written not only by Orthodox, but also and especially by westerners and Church historians. One refrain kept coming across again and again. Where the two sides of Christianity differed, almost always the authors would say, "The West changed this; the East kept doing what the ancient Christians did." To cite three examples: at some point the West stopped using leavened bread in the Eucharist and began to use unleavened bread; around the year 800 the West changed the words of the Nicene Creed; and around 1200 the West stopped giving the Eucharist to baptized children. In all these cases, and many others, the West changed but the East stayed the same.
I also noted how different the approach to Christianity was. For the West, the main problem is sin, which leads to death; the solution is forgiveness, but then what? For the East, the main problem is death, which leads to sin; the solution is not only forgiveness, but also the gift of God's life shared in our life. I could go on, but just share this for the purpose of example.
Fast forward to 2000, and my accepting your call. I saw this call as God's giving me the opportunity to be a faithful Lutheran pastor—faithful, not just to the Lutheranism we received from our fathers, the Lutheranism of the last 50 years, but to the whole 500 year history of our confession. Only when you read the Confessions, and Luther, and the first generation of Lutherans can you realize how far we've fallen, how generically protestant we've become.
From the first day I came to visit, I've paid attention to the children of Epiphany. I remember them walking out to "Children's Church" that first Sunday, and wanting to go along with them. I think of the great privilege it is to bring them into God's Kingdom through Baptism. I'm not so sure about myself, dear friends, but I am rock-solid certain about them that they are truly Christians. And I want to say more about them later.
You have surely noticed, over these last five years, a few things about me. I have tried, as much as possible, to keep my eyes focused on what has been given me to do. So I worked hard to restore the historic Christian and Lutheran practice of weekly communion. I restored Luther's order of baptism. I offered private confession to those who sought it, and encouraged more people to make use of it. I tried to preserve the historic liturgy, while making use of theologically good music written more recently.
In all of these things, you have been willing to come along. Sometimes you questioned; some folks didn't care for this or that practice; but in the end, when I showed that something or other was the Biblical, historical practice you accepted it. Before I came, I was told to expect that up to 10% of a congregation leaves when a new pastor comes. By the mercy of God and your kindness, nothing like that happened.
Nor did you just "come along for the ride." You embraced these historic practices and made them your own. Like me, many of you hunger for the Lord's body and blood on a weekly basis. Many of you make the sign of the cross. Some of you have found comfort in private confession.
More than that, you have welcomed and embraced me and my family. You opened your hearts and your homes to us. You encouraged us as we worked to adopt Vera and Marina, and you put your money where your mouth is. I have never met such a kind, loving, faithful Lutheran congregation. You have been a paradise, a heaven on earth for me. So, I concluded, it is possible to be a Lutheran pastor in a Lutheran congregation.
At the same time, these past five years have produced a growing awareness in me that the Lutheran Church, as something bigger than the congregation, is dead. I've already shared with you my experience with the Circuit over the Yankee Stadium affair. But other things have come up as well. Let me share them with you, because they concern you as much or more than they do me.
The Easter 2000 edition of The Lutheran Witness had an article on Christ's descent into hell. The article rejected as a false teaching the idea that part of the reason Christ descended into hell was to free the Old Testament believers who awaited his arrival patiently. What the Lutheran Witness called "false teaching" is in fact the teaching of the entire Christian Church from its earliest days, and the teaching that Dr. Luther himself presupposed in his sermon to which the Formula of Concord makes reference. So I drafted a short letter, calling the editor's attention to this fact. I had ten other LC-MS pastors co-sign the letter with me—some of whom even serve as doctrinal reviewers for the Synod. I received a letter back from David Mahsmann, the editor of the LW, stating that my letter was submitted to doctrinal review and did not pass it. In effect, that response said that I and those ten other pastors teach false doctrine. I don't agree, of course, but in any case nothing was done about it.
I myself became a doctrinal reviewer for the new Lutheran Hymnal project. One of the assignments was for me to review the order of Baptism. Now in reviewing a rite like Baptism, it's helpful to have another rite serve as a template, so that one can check the proposed rite against a standard. I suggested this, and used Luther's own 1526 rite of baptism as the background. This seems perfectly reasonable, since that rite is included in some editions of the Book of Concord itself. My doctrinal review was overturned, and in the context of that overturning it was stated that Luther's baptismal rite carries no authority for determining what a Lutheran baptismal rite should and should not include.
More and more, too, I became aware of serious aberrations in practice taking place, even in our local area among certain congregations. Some parishes use disposable plastic cups, simply tossing what remains into the trash after their service is over. Other parishes have laymen offering a kind of absolution during the Sunday morning service. I set aside things such as puppets and dancing girls in the Divine Service, let alone the introduction of Reformed-style worship services and abandonment of the historic liturgy. I have asked our elders to go visit other LCMS parishes; they have, and can vouch for the truth of what I'm saying here. What's particularly bad about this is that the liturgy serves to guarantee that even if the pastor is completely foolish, the people of God will still hear God's word of Law and Gospel. A recent discussion with a friend's daughter, going to Concordia/Seward, shows that the pastor in that parish at least is preaching moralizing lectures about what Christians ought to do.
All these things have given me a growing awareness that all I've done, not just here but also in my twenty years of ministry, will be swept completely away in a few short years. Because there is no one over the pastors, each man can do pretty much what he can get away with. Many congregations which were once liturgical have abandoned the liturgy for contemporary worship forms. "So what?" you might say, and I'll tell you. Repeating the same service again and again makes the service accessible to people of all ages, including our young children who can't yet read, and our old folks, who can no longer see.
It's not that I haven't tried to deal with these problems. I have. In all my teaching and preaching and writing I have attacked these issues. Before the last Convention I began to contact the local pastors who permit such things, asking them to stop. I was rebuffed, and this past convention changed the rules of how such matters are pursued. Suffice it to say that for all practical intents and purposes, it is now impossible to pursue pressing charges of false doctrine. The problems we already have, now will not go away; and we have no means of stopping other problems which are coming.
"What about the District Presidents?" you might ask. "Why can't they fix the problems?" The reality is that District Presidents are not churchmen. They serve no altar or pulpit. They are mid-level managers in a national non-profit corporation. Their office exists only by human right, not by divine right. And parishes can, by and large, ignore their district and synodical officials. If they keep sending in contributions, they will be allowed to do, in essence, whatever they want.
I have spoken, too, to men who are well-known in conservative, confessional circles about the great gaps between the Lutheran Confessions and the life of the churches which call themselves "Lutheran" today. To cite but two of those gaps: the Lutheran Confessions state that Lutherans do not abolish private confession—that no one is admitted to the Lord's table unless he is first examined and absolved. But the Lutheran church today, across the board, has scarcely any private confession. This is plainly a major change.
Again, the Lutheran Confessions state that, by divine right, pastors both absolve and excommunicate, and that congregations are bound to follow them. But the Lutheran Church today says that congregations excommunicate, and pastors are bound to follow them. The roles have been completely reversed.
When I have spoken with well-known confessionals about this situation, I've been told, "We don't do those things any more, and we're not going back again." "Good," some of you might say. But the reality is that if the Lutheran Church is that Church described in the Lutheran Confessions, then the Lutheran Church no longer exists.
I am not alone in saying that the Missouri Synod is broken. Last September Matt Geelhoed and I went to a conference in Chicago. Nearly 500 pastors were there, from all over the Synod. They didn't travel there at their own expense because they think there are little problems. Everyone there recognized that the Synod is broken. Any number of conversations I've had with other pastors come to the same conclusion. The Synod is broken. She cannot be fixed. But where then shall we go? Where, then, shall we go?
You might say, "Nowhere." After all, each congregation in the Missouri Synod is more or less independent. Congregations regularly thumb their noses at the Synod and do what they want. We could just do that here at Epiphany. But consider:
· Missouri is the source of our pastors. You have no guarantee that the next pastor will not change everything here in a fundamental way from the way it's been. I'm told that the Council has decided to ask for another Confessional Lutheran pastor, and in a way I'm grateful. Yet think about what this means. No longer can you simply say, "Give us a Missouri Lutheran pastor." The fact that you must specify a certain type, and hold interviews, reveals that the Synod is broken.
· Missouri receives our mission dollars. When we give money to the Synod, we're saying in principle that we agree with what everyone else is doing. That's as it should be, of courseCexcept that others are doing things we shouldn'tagree withClike lay absolution, disposable cups and so on.
· Missouri receives our transfers and sends them to us. This has been brought home to me recently in the cases of the S------ and Y------. The Y------ have been going to a church that uses disposable plastic cups. They tried to get that practice to change; they settled for a "compromise" in which the Lord's blood is put into two trash bags before it's disposed of. And many of you heard from B------ about him and A--- vainly trying to find a Missouri Synod parish in Minnesota that doesn't use disposable cups.
· Over time, we will come to resemble every other Missouri congregation. Again, this is as it should be. Looking over the trends of the past 30 years or so, it is plain that most of Missouri is heading in a direction:
o where alternative worship styles are the norm;
o where open communion is practiced with disposable plastic individual cups;
o where instruction in Christian doctrine is reduced to a minimum;
o where women's roles are continually expanding, with the ordination of women as the only logical stopping-point;
o where the focus on Law/Gospel preaching and the means of grace as central is replaced with moralistic messages and the de-emphasis of the Sacraments—in other words, to a generic protestant church.
Others might say, "Join another Lutheran body." But every problem Missouri has, the other Lutheran bodies have. Still others might say, "Go independent," or "Start a new denomination." But those acts are called sectarian—they treat the Church as if she is something we make, instead of a gift we receive from God. What, then, shall we do? Where shall we go to keep the pure Gospel of Christ and the right practice of the sacraments? Where, in short, can we find the church?
As the years have gone by, some convictions I have received in the Lutheran Church have grown ever deeper. They have served to guide me on my pilgrimage. They include: that Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith, and the doctrine of Christ taught by the Lutheran Church is correct—unlike the doctrine of Christ taught either by Rome or the Reformed. A second conviction is that we must properly divide Law and Gospel. Proud sinners need rebuke. Broken sinners need comfort. As I've grown in this conviction, I've also grown in the conviction that Lutherans scarcely ever divide Law and Gospel rightly any more. Luther said that properly dividing Law and Gospel was hard, and that whoever could do it deserved a doctor's hat. But current Lutherans suggest that it's easy. And the Lutheran Church worldwide is plagued by a sickness called "antinomianism." That's a fancy title, but you'll recognize it by the description I draw from my daily life. "It's ok if I sin, because I know that Jesus will forgive me." A third conviction is how central to the faith the Sacraments are. We worship a God made flesh, and he wills to save us through earthly, physical means.
The school of experience has taught me other lessons that have been harder—lessons about problems with the Lutheran Church that make it unable to resist the ever-rushing tides of modernism and unbelief. It is wrong that we do not have bishops, men who by divine right watch over congregations and pastors, guiding them and protecting them. Much of our current dysfunctionality grows and spreads because we lack such men.
It is wrong that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod views itself not as Church, but as a corporation. Christ did not come to found a corporation. He gave no promises to a corporation. But the entire way the LCMS runs itself, from top to bottom, is precisely as a corporation. To be sure, there is a religious veneer; the Convention had "devotions" every day. But peel away that thin layer, and the corporation lurked just beneath.
It is wrong that the Lutheran Church has allowed itself to become disconnected from the teachings and teachers of the Church throughout the ages. You don't realize how wide and deep this problem is, because I have made a point always of pointing you to the Scriptures through the Fathers. But since the time of John Gerhard, nearly 400 years ago, the Lutheran Church has lived with a distorted view of the Bible, whose effects are only now beginning to become clear. I have written about this in detail for pastors, and can speak more about it if you like.
And, I am convinced—your children have convinced me—it is wrong that we withhold the Lord's true body and blood from those who have been baptized at our font, and are being instructed by parents and/or pastor in the Christian faith. I have watched their eyes as they look at me expectantly, holding out their faithful little hands. I have watched those eyes begin to turn away as I offer them a man-made blessing in place of the heavenly gift God means them to have.
Many of my brothers in the ministry see the same problems I do. But they have chosen another way. They have chosen to say that there is no true, visible church of God on earth. For them, the true church is invisible. But they are wrong, for the Church is the Body of Christ. It has existed in this world for 2,000 years. When Christ rose, he told his wondering disciples, "Touch me and see that it is me, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I do." Since the Church is Christ's body, it is not a spirit. It can be seen, and pointed out. But where is it?
After 18 years of study and prayer, I have become convinced that the Church Christ founded is to be found in the Orthodox Church. Much about that group seems strange to us, for its history is very different from ours. The Western church has lived a protected existence, by and large, since 312 AD. But the Eastern Church has had to live under Muslim, and later Communist tyranny. They faced different challenges than the west—but more and more those challenges are being faced by us as well, especially the challenge of living the Christian faith in a hostile culture. Outwardly there are many differences. But the core of the faith is the same. And they have a stability that assures laypeople and pastors, their work in Christ will not be in vain, it will not be swept away by the next pastor, and when children grow and move away they can go to a church that prays and believes exactly the same as the parish where the parents worship.
You have seen and heard echoes of that church already. The beautiful mosaic that graces our hall confesses the Bible's message about baptism. Some of the music I have shared with you sings the faith. In all of my preaching, teaching and serving I have relied on the teachings of the Fathers. And as I've gotten to know you, I see deep needs in each of you to which it speaks, as it has to me.
I do not want to stop being your pastor. But I can no longer be a pastor in a body that, as a body, has died. To do so would not be honest, to God or to you. I know that some of you may be thinking, "I told you so." Some of you may be angry with me. You may feel betrayed. I can only appeal to the God who knows the hearts of men that I have tried in every way to be faithful to the Lord and to the Lutheran Confessions. St. Paul says in Romans 7 that a man is bound to his wife as long as she is alive, but when she has died he is free. I did not break my vow to the Lutheran Church. I have been faithful, but now she is dead.
Some of you may share the convictions I've expressed in this letter. If enough of you do, then if the Lord is willing and the leadership of the Orthodox Church is willing, I am prepared to take on the task of being a mission priest. If that should be God's will, your desire, and the wish of his Church, I will obey. In any case, I am preparing to take myself and my family into poverty, with no certainty at all ahead of me except the kindness and mercy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Let me thank you for all the kindness you have shown to my family and me since the day we met you—up to and including this time which must be so difficult for you. You are the best parish I have ever had.
Let me also beg forgiveness for all the ways I have failed you and wronged you. I ask your prayers, though I am completely unworthy of them. And I pray that no matter what you do, God would protect you and keep you throughout this life, that we may praise him together in heaven.
July 17, 2005