A good question deserves a good answer. And who better to answer it than a Lutheran pastor who is personally close to at least two of those who have taken this step in the last decade.
On his blog, epistolae obscurorum virorum , Pastor Fraser Pearce answers a question put to him by the editor of “Inside Story”, the monthly magazine of my family’s parish where Fraser served as associate pastor for many years, St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Box Hill. Here is the link to his full reply:
‘Why are so many Lutheran pastors becoming Roman Catholic?’ By Fraser Pearce.
Of course, “so many” in Australia so far is only four. That is about 1% of the total number of Lutheran pastors in Australia. So, not so many. At least, not so far…
First he rejects as FALSE two possible explanations for recent Lutheran clergy conversions to the Catholic Church:
1) Because they have rejected the things that Lutherans hold dear: “the Scriptures as the Word of God; the Sacraments as the means of the Holy Spirit; even the teaching that we are justified by God’s grace alone on account of Christ through faith.”
2) “Because they feel frustrated by a church that doesn’t suit their taste”.
He rightly says that these are evidently NOT reasons why we chose to enter full communion with the Catholic Church.
Then, rather than explaining exactly WHY (in his thinking) some Lutheran pastors have chosen to become Catholic, he explains why the Catholic Church may have an particular appeal particularly to conscientious Lutheran clergy:
1) Because they are “self-consciously committed to proclaiming the Gospel” including “the inspiration of Scripture”, “the efficacy of the Sacraments”, and “the divinity of Christ”
2) Because, in matters of doctrine, “to be a Lutheran pastor is to be somewhat Catholic to begin with”.
3) Because, in matters of accountability, to be a Lutheran pastor is to “to be particularly aware of the ‘catholicity’ of the church”.
4) Because “to be a Lutheran pastor is to have the responsibility to give moral guidance in difficult situations” and the Catholic Church “stand[s] out as a church body that…clearly upholds the dignity and worth of all human life, …calls all people to a life well lived… does not in its teaching easily capitulate to cultural fashions or trends.”
While Fraser touches upon it in his discussion of point three (3) above, I would add that the “call to communion” was for me particularly strong. As Fraser describes it, a Church whose “bishops, unified throughout the world with each other, and in communion with the bishop of Rome (the Pope), call[s] others into fellowship with them” is hard to resist. I would add that it is not just the present unity and communion of the Church that for me was the clinching factor, but the historical continuity of this communuion with Christ and the apostles that finally won the day.
I would also add that a growing understanding of the AUTHORITY of the Catholic Church led me to question the validity of my call to act as a public minister of word and sacrament. A Lutheran pastor who becomes Catholic does so in part because he recognises the invalidity of his Lutheran ordination, that is he comes to question the authority of the Lutheran Church to confer holy orders in the first place. As a result, he comes to see precisely that he is exercising a ministry TO WHICH HE HAS NOT BEEN CALLED by Christ. If you wish to compare this to a marriage, it is as if a man has discovered that he has been living in an invalidly contracted marriage – which is hence no marriage at all, but a form of adultery or fornication. Certainly, once I became convinced of this, I could no longer declare absolution “as a called and ordained servant of the Word” or take bread and wine and say “This is my Body”, “This is my Blood.”
For those more interested in my actual journey, I refer you to my conversion retro-blog (which one day I will get around to completing) Year of Grace.
I invite you to discuss Fraser’s article – either here or on his own blog. I would be interested in your responses.