If we did this, they would call it proselytising!

I am a little bemused at this one: Faith of our Fathers: A Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Lutherans. Fr Fenton (one of the speakers) and Dixie both carry links to the resultant audio lectures which I have downloaded to my mp3 player.

But what to make of it? It was billed as a colloquium:

for Lutheran clergy and their spouses and Lutheran lay leaders from the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. The colloquium is the second in an ongoing series sponsored by St. Andrew House to present the basic precepts of Orthodox Christianity to clergy and lay leaders of other Christian faiths. St. Andrew House conducted its first colloquium, for Anglicans, in January of this year.

But look at who’s on the line up of speakers:

Reader Christopher Orr Born and raised Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran and received into Orthodoxy in 2001. He is an associate at Heidrick and Struggles, an executive search and leadership consulting firm “The Authority of Scripture”
The Rev. Gabriel Rochelle Formerly in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Fr. Gabriel taught most recently at St. Sophia Orthodox Theological Seminary “The Church in Orthodoxy: Scratching the Surface”
The Rev. Gregory Hogg Formerly with Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Fr. Gregory is now the priest at Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Dorr, MI The Virgin Mary and the Saints
Deacon Professor A. Gregory Roeber Professor of early modern history and religious studies at Penn State. Formerly with Lutheran Church Missouri Synod “Will No One Rid Me Of This Troublesome Priest? The Church, Augustinian Anxieties and Lutheran Conclusions”
The Rev. John W. Fenton Holy Incarnation Orthodox Mission (Western Rite), Taylor, MI “Orthodox Confessions of Faith” [I’m not quite sure why they don’t mention that he is a Former Lutheran pastor too…?]
The Rev. Basil Aden 25 years with the ELCA, now a priest at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Rockford, IL “Justification”

Good Grief! It’s as if Holmes and Vervoost and Schütz all got together and offered a seminar for Lutheran Clergy and Wives on the Catholic Church. Apart from the question of “who’d come?”, there’s the question of “Wouldn’t the offer of such an ‘information’ seminar be a little duplicitous? Wouldn’t it be a simply a shameless apologetic for the Catholic Faith over against the Lutheran faith?” (Answer to that question, for those who don’t know the three of us, is a resounding “YES”!).

I know how the Lutheran authorities would react to such an offer. And I am absolutely certain how the local Orthodox authorities would act if the Catholic Church was to find a whole bunch of converts from Orthodoxy to Catholicism and offer a “symposium” with them specifically for “Orthodox priests and their wives”. The cry would go up to heaven: “PROSELYTISM!!!”

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14 Responses to If we did this, they would call it proselytising!

  1. Past Elder says:

    And what would be wrong with that?

    These guys think they have found something and want to spread it, apparently first to others as they once were. Rome these days keeps the idea of making disciples of all nations on the books, then waters it down into doublespeak like “dialogue”, “engage”, etc. as they do everything else.

    I have no issue with them for trying. Why wouldn’t they? My issue is that some, including them at one point, bought it.

  2. Fr John W Fenton says:


    They may call it that, but does that necessarily make it so?

    Consider, if you will, these two questions with which I wrestled before accepting the invitation:

    * Is it proselytising when you offer to explain yourself to those who have admitted confusion based on mischaracterizations and caricatures of your position?

    * Is it proselytising when you invite to your place whoever might wish to hear such an explanation?

    * Is it proselytising when, for the sake of clarity, you offer to explain yourself addressing specific issues over which one group stumbles, employing those who are most familiar with the invited group’s issues and language?

    My participation obviously indicates my answers. Nevertheless I offer these questions not rhetorically, but as points of honest discussion.

    To begin that discussion I also offer

    (a) that proselytising is commonly understood as me going to a Lutheran college campus with the purpose of recruiting converts, rather than me inviting to my house whoever wants to hear what I have to say;

    (b) that readers first listen to this and this, in which Archbishop Nathaniel addresses the stated purpose of the two colloquium which have been offered thus far.

  3. Schütz says:

    Fr F.,

    I have downloaded all the audio files, but not had a chance to listen to them yet. I expect Arch. Nathaniel’s will be the first I hear.

    Please do not misunderstand me. I have nothing against this sort of thing myself. Note what I said about myself and my confreres, were we to hold such an event!

    My point is that the Catholic Church has been accused again and again of ‘proselytism’ by the Orthodox (mainly by the Russian Orthodox, but others too), when all we have been doing is going about our business of proclaiming the gospel. At the same time, the Orthodox have been establishing dioceses and parishes in Western territories. Then again, we are accused of all sorts of nastiness just because there are Eastern Rite Churches in communion with us, and yet there are Orthodox conducting Western Rite liturgies all over the place (yes, I know you are among these–and yes, I know that in your estimation this is quite different from those Churches you Orthodox dismiss somewhat uncharitably as “uniate”).

    All I am saying is either we declare all gloves off, or we use the same rules for everyone. If it is okay for you guys to do this, its okay for us to do it, isn’t it?

  4. William Weedon says:

    I have to confess, Fr. John, that it did smack of proselytism to me. I mean, it’s goal was ultimately to win Lutherans for Orthodoxy. But as I’ve written before, I think the Orthodox and the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics and whoever else have more than enough to do in seeking to bring in the pagans that are multiplying around us, rather than spending our efforts on trying to persuade Christians of another confession to change their confession (yes, I know I put that in Lutheran terms). Nor am I excusing the Lutherans. We do it too. I think of it each year in our parish as I end up catechizing mostly a group of “other” Christians into Lutheranism and only a handful of genuine pagans in my entire ministry.

  5. Dixie says:

    If you listen to the talks it becomes obvious from the content and style of most presentations that the goal was communication of information…that is “this is what the Orthodox believe and why.” In the language of forensics (speaking) the style of most of the presentations was “Informative” as opposed to “Oratorical”. I would see the latter as necessary to for the event to really smack of proselytism. I admit a few of the talks stretched the notion of informational presentation a bit but all in all, it would have been a good conference for a Lutheran to go to if a Lutheran would have wanted to better understand the Orthodox. The talk by the Hiermonk on the Trinity alone would have helped greatly with such understanding.

    However, I do sympathize with others who saw the event as proselytism, especially since the majority of the presenters were former Lutherans. But I think that stems more from the reality of having lost prominent members of Lutheranism to Orthodoxy in recent years, rather than the actual content of the event.

    I was thinking if the Lutherans in our town held a similar conference for Orthodox…to explain Lutheranism…my first reaction probably would not be one of seeing the event as proselytizing because I am not similarly sensitized. In fact, now that I think about it…our OCF group met with the Lutheran student group at their invitation so that the Lutherans could discuss theology with them and we all thought that was great!

    But I admit I am biased when it comes to Orthodoxy so I am not the best person to try on the shoes of another.

  6. Peter says:

    I know how the Lutheran authorities would react to such an offer

    I don’t know how they’d react now, but back then I was banned from speaking to Lutheran laity and only allowed to speak to those clergy who were designated to talk me out of becoming Catholic. And that’s before I actually decided.

  7. Christopher Orr says:

    Personally, I viewed it as an opportunity to offer an apologia to my family as to why I made the move and that it was very much in line with things I learned as a Lutheran. I also viewed it as a way to clear up things that are assumed to be ‘issues’ that are not: we have enough we do disagree on, we don’t have to make things up. Additionally, it is really providing an introduction to major topcis speaking to an particular in their own language, in this case a theological language.

    I offered assistance to Lutherans that wanted to attend with the expectation that they could better learn why Orthodoxy was wrong and how better to defend against its real heresies, rather than the caricatures they might have of Orthodoxy. Of course, if they trod the path I have trod, so much the better since I believe Orthodoxy is the fullest expression of Christianity – but that has nothing to do with me, personally.

    David, I personally think cries of proselytism are silly – on all sides. If you think you are right and do not hold to a relativist or branch theory view of relgiion, then of course you want all people to join your own church – regardless of denomination. So what? We aren’t tribal religions, we are universal, missionary religions, everyone of us. As long as unethical methods of force and coercion are not used, everyone do as much as they can.

    And pagans aren’t the only ones who need the fullness and abundance of the Gospel.

  8. Fr John W Fenton says:


    Let me append this to Chris Orr’s comment, with which I fully agree: “all gloves off” suggest that the Orthodox and Romans are not two lungs (PJPII) but two denominations. I heartily embrace the former and eschew the latter.

    Pr Weedon,

    I fully agree that the Orthodox should be very active in evangelizing those who are “unchurched.” However, evangelizing has a component of explaining by critiquing other views with which one differs; and the Orthodox view of Church does not fully embrace an attitude that “we’re all the same kind of Christians, so we should not accept people from other Christian denominations”–and, functionally, neither does Lutheranism.

  9. Paul T. McCain says:

    Of course it is sheep-stealing proselytism, but a number of the newly minted priests involved come to this after years of engaging in deception of their flocks while they were still Lutheran shepherds.

    So, no surprise.

    Plus, a number of them are members of an Orthodox Church that is founded on sheep stealing and proselytism.

    So, again, no surprises.

    And, yes, David, if you do this, I’ll raise a cry to heaven: “Proselytism!”

    : )

  10. Schütz says:

    A tremendously interesting discussion guys. Of course, this is all in reference to Christians trying to convert other Christians to their understanding of the truth. Nothing wrong with that if it is a case of always being ready to give an account of the hope that is in you. But in all matters, freedom of conscience must be respected.

    Dialogue is the best way to go on this. I reckon it would have been a different matter if what had been organised was a symposium of Orthodox and Lutheran speakers, speaking to an Orthodox and Lutheran audience, on exactly the same topics. This would have been balanced in such a way as to show that their was no ulterior motive other than both sides reaching a better understanding of each other. If then, some of the audience decided to change their confessional allegiance on the basis of what they heard, well and good for all.

    In fact, this is exactly the way in which I came into the Church–through reading the dialogue statements of both Catholics and Lutherans where they attempted to explain and justify their beliefs for the other side. I just ended up agreeing more with the Catholics than with the Lutherans.

  11. Fr John W Fenton says:


    I’m all for dialogue. However, as I pointed out here, dialogue often devolves into modern debate which is not about listening but about scoring points and winning, often by caricaturing. In such cases, one is reminded of Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic.”

    I think it is important first to strip away the caricatures and mischaracterizations.

  12. Paul T. McCain says:

    A man who openly acknowledges that even before he began Lutheran seminary he was already leaning Orthodox simply grows accustomed to duplicity and deception, foremost deceiving himself.

    When the neophyte priests/converts are called on the carpet for their unethical behaviors while ordained clergymen in the Lutheran Church, in leading people astray, in working for the conversion of others to their opinions while they were still taking their pay as Lutheran pastors, they do tend to bleat like sheep when the charge of sheepstealing is raised.

    But that it is sheepstealing is clear enough.

  13. Anonymous says:

    You cannot steal sheep that willingly attend your colloquim. Having said this, I agree completely with Pastor Weedon. There are enough lost sheep out there to fill everyones church to the brim. I spoke to a friend of mine who is EO and asked her why this Colloquim was targeted so specifically at Lutheran Pastors, their spouses and layleaders. Her answer “the Orthodox are all about dialogue.” I disagreed, dialogue implies an open exchange of ideas. This was not an open exchange of anyones ideas but the Orthodox. As a member of Rev. Fenton’s former parish, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit I think it is time for all of you including Rev. Fenton to move on. Zion has a wonderful new confessional Lutheran Pastor. The voice of the shepherd has changed but the liturgy remains the same so things are different yet the same and that is very comforting. Fenton planned his way, but “God directed our path.” Nothing he did, said, or took including sheep prevented God from continuing His church.

  14. Lucian says:

    Yes, it’s obviously proselytizing.

    Yes, it’s wrong.

    Yes, … I KNOW what Christ commanded us. — But it’s still wrong. (Christ layed out a different blue-print out for this sort of thing — not this hideous, shemful, disgusting Protestant deformity of it).

    Yes, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

    Yes, we’re no better than the rest.

    No, I don’t agree with proselytizing.

    Yes, I simply adore conversion-stories.

    Yes, I think it’s extremely shameful, nay: obscene even, to try to hide it away under the false pretense of, errr, -what was it now?- >witnessing<. Or whatever. Do You see me running after little girls with my pants down my legs while screaming after them: “Hey! It’s not sexual corruption! I’m just trying to make You understand how a man’s body works and functions”. NO ??? YOU DON’T ??? … Well, … I thought so! Seriously, this whole “Mrs. Robinson, are You trying to seduce me?” , “No, don’t be silly, I’m not trying to seduce You” theme is getting rather tiresome. To end this in the prophetical words of Dark Vader: Luke Skywalker, … join the dark side!

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