29 October 2006

Statement of Resignation

Today I resigned as the Pastor of Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit. What follows is the "Statement of Resignation" that I read to the members who attended the semi-annual meeting of the Voters of Zion Church. The Reverend David Stechholz, President & Bishop of the English District, presided at the meeting as well as the Holy Mass that preceded the meeting.

When I became Pastor of Zion Church more than 11 years ago, my intention was to remain at Zion until death or retirement. That is still my heartfelt and sincere desire. However, with much grief and heartache, I have concluded that I must tender my resignation as the Fifth Pastor of Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit.

I tender my resignation because I no longer confess the teachings of the Lutheran Church as these are understood by those who have pledged themselves to the Book of Concord. Zion wants to be a Lutheran congregation. The members of Zion rightly expect their Pastor to be Lutheran—a man who holds unreservedly to the Book of Concord as a true and correct interpretation and understanding of the Holy Scriptures. I can no longer do so.

When a man pledges himself to a confession, he doesn’t get to pick and choose which parts he’ll abide by and which parts he’ll ignore or go against. Most of the Book of Concord is true and correct, and for that God is to be praised. However, 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 acceptance of an amended Nicene Creed, the notion that Jesus died to appease His Father’s wrath, a man-centered understanding of the church, the denial of prayers to the saints, and the idea that the liturgy is a man-made product. In addition, there are correct Scriptural teachings in the Book of Concord that are denied in practice by nearly all Lutherans today. These include the teachings that the saints do intercede for us, the affirmation of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the proper respect due the elements in the Lord’s Supper, and the scriptural mandate that only ordained men should celebrate Mass and give the Sacraments. Because of these deficiencies and errors, I can no longer confess and teach from the Book of Concord. Therefore, I cannot be the pastor of any Lutheran congregation.

Now I need to be clear about one thing: I am not resigning because of something someone at Zion has said or done. No one has asked for my resignation. No one has pressured or threatened me to make this decision. On the contrary, you have all been patient and kind with me—even as you saw me struggle. Therefore, I shall always genuinely appreciate and be eternally grateful for the love and the generosity that you have showered upon me and my family during my tenure as your Pastor. I am also deeply grateful for the support you have given me since I first announced my struggle more than 3 years ago. Because of this, I will always have a place in my heart for the people of Zion. This is the parish, and you are the people, I will always love.

I also sincerely appreciate the respect you have shown me as your Pastor. Your respect was evident when I first visited Zion, and that was one of the key things that drew me to you. I also respect you, and so I respect your desire to remain Lutheran. Yet for that reason, I must depart. As I do so, I heartily apologize to any I have hurt, offended, or caused to stumble in the faith during my 11 year tenure as the Pastor of Zion. By your prayers and the mercy of God, may I be forgiven.

As many of you know, the catalyst for this decision was the heart-rending realization that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is an heterodox communion fellowship, and that it has no desire to be otherwise. The Scriptures clearly prohibit Christians from being in communion with those who deliberately, persistently and willfully deny and depart from the apostolic tradition enshrined in the Scriptures. The fact that many of you, over the years, have come to Zion seeking shelter from the false worship and false teachings in LCMS churches is evidence enough that we live in a false communion. And the fact that what is taught and practiced now in LCMS churches would be unrecognizable and, in fact, abhorred by those who composed the Book of Concord, and by the founders of this parish, is also evidence enough.

Please know, however, that the troubles in the LCMS are not the reason for my resignation. If I was leaving because the Missouri Synod is in trouble, I would be leaving for all the wrong reasons; I would be running when I should be protecting you; and I would be showing you great disrespect.

I tender my resignation because, over time, I have come to see and believe that the faith believed, taught, confessed and lived in the Orthodox Church is the faith of the apostles. Therefore, I sincerely believe that the Orthodox Church is the true visible Church of Christ on earth. For this reason, my family and I will seek to be received into communion in the Orthodox Church.

Your new bishop recently asked me what core issue motivated me to embrace the Orthodox Faith. It is this: The Liturgy never changes. I don’t mean that chants or prayers or feasts are not added or subtracted gradually over time. What I mean is that no priest or bishop or congregation can decide to cut the Eucharistic Prayer or go with a new style of worship or change things to suit his convictions or the times. Why? Because the liturgy is not something smart men have created and so can modify. The liturgy is from the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Scriptures are from the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy, the Holy Spirit rightly instructs us in Holy Scripture and His presence transforms us and the gifts set forth in the Holy Eucharist. So the liturgy is the way the Faith is given, confessed, prayed and proclaimed. As the liturgy goes, so goes the Faith together with your certainty and surety.

Bad bishops and aberrant priests have and will always surface in the true Church. From time to time, they introduce novel and heretical teachings. But if the liturgy doesn’t change, then their faith-destroying words will not take hold and will eventually fade away. The bottom line, then, is that the unchanging liturgy keeps us on the straight and narrow. It keeps us both on the way to the Kingdom, and in the Way which is Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the Kingdom of heaven is the goal, and the Lord Jesus is our Life.

I sincerely believe that what I am doing is good and right not just for me and my family. I am convinced that it is good and right for each one of you. I sincerely believe that the Faith you’ve been taught here in this place for 125 years is lived and believed in its fullness in the Orthodox Church. Therefore, I deeply long for each of you to join me precisely because I have been your spiritual father. You have trusted by ministry, teaching and counsel these past 11 years, and I wish you would trust me in this as well. Some have indicated that they will do just that. I am moved by their confidence, and will do all I can not to betray their trust. But a good spiritual father should never force or manipulate any of his children to believe as he does. In addition, my own struggles have taught me to acknowledge and respect that each person must reach this decision on his own, in his own time.

Because of my deep love and respect for you, I pledge to you this day that I have not and shall not proselytize or recruit away those who desire to remain members of Zion. I will always be pleased to answer any questions you may have, and I will continue to speak the truth in love. But I will never urge you to act against your conscience because that is not our Father’s way, and that is not the way of His Church.

Already I have heard that some people are telling lies about Zion and what I am doing today. In the coming weeks and months, some here and elsewhere will say that I’ve turned against the true Faith, that I’ve betrayed my vows to the Confessions and to you, and that I have been deliberately deceitful. Some will say that the pledge I just made about not recruiting members is a lie. Some will say that some or all of my tenure at Zion has been a lie. And some will say that Zion has never been very Lutheran and needs to change how she’s worshipped and what she’s been taught during the last 67 years.

If you permit me, let me tell you that when you hear these things: do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, do not become bitter or angry, and do not fall into sin. Instead, hold fast to what is true and good and right. And above all, hold on steadfastly to the mercy of God. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is the loving Father, and so He will always embrace those who come to Him.

I also urge you not to believe those who would question the Gospel and sacraments you have received from me. I have given what I have received. And despite my many failings and the failings of the Synod, the Gospel you have received here in this place is the wondrous, loving, merciful work of the Holy Spirit.

I am grateful for every blessing of the Holy Spirit that I received in the Lutheran Church—most especially for the gift of Holy Baptism, for a rigorous catechesis in many basic doctrines, for the Holy Eucharist that has nourished my faith, and for the grace to serve three parishes. I am also grateful for your prayers; for your words of admonishment, rebuke and encouragement; and for your friendship—which I do not intend to abandon. I am undeserving of every kindness that you have shown me. And although it may be more challenging for various reasons, I hope we continue to see each other in the years ahead.

Finally, although I am undeserving, I ask for your prayers—for me, for my family, for Zion, for your District President, for whoever succeeds me, and for the faithful in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Pray that our Lord have mercy. And pray that, despite our weaknesses and failings, we may together be restored to full communion with our Father through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.

(Rev Fr) John W Fenton, M.Div., S.T.M.
The Fifth Sunday after Michaelmass
29 October 2006

31 comments:

Chaz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Diane Korzeniewski said...

You and your family are in my prayers as you navigate the pathways before you in search of Truth.

Thanks for the very kind plug you gave my parish, Assumption Grotto on our feast day pictures.

Do continue your blog, or begin a new one.

God Bless!

Strider said...

Dear John,

May God bless you in your continuing walk with the Lord in his Orthodox Church.

Do not be discouraged or hurt by the anger that your announcement will evoke in your parishioners and fellow Lutherans. They feel betrayed. You may discover that some whom you believed were friends will abandon you or even seek to injure you. At least this happened with me. Perhaps you will be more fortunate than I was. But you have done what you needed to do and God will grace you and protect you and yours.

Your brother in Christ,
Al Kimel

D. Benedict Andersen OSB said...

God bless you and your family, dear Father! Welcome to the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church!

DebD said...

God bless you Pastor as you come to embrace the Church.

You and your family are in my prayers.

Welcome Home.

Jon Ledetroit said...

God bless you and many thanks for all that you have done to teach local Lutherans about what it really means to be Lutheran - weekly communion, confession, the liturgy. I am sorry that you however no longer believe in the doctrines presented in the Book of Concord and that you find it deficient. I wish this weren't so and I have a strange confidence that the Holy Spirit will eventually lead you back to the church of the Augsburg Confession.
This is my hope and prayer for you, but in the mean time God bless you and your family.

Sch├╝tz said...

Its a "big thing" that you are doing, and takes a hell of a lot of courage. I know from the experience that, in fact, courage is the last thing you really feel in these circumstances. There will be rough times ahead, and I pray for you while you are going through it, although I have no doubt that you experience blessing not only when you get to the end of the journey, but even while you are still on it.

My only question is "why not Rome?" The answer to that may be obvious, but I found when I came to make the decision, I had to acknowledge that I was a Western Christian and therefore was obligated to seek communion with the one whom even the Orthodox acknowledge as the Patriarch of the Western Church (although he himself has recently dropped this title).

Anonymous said...

Father,

As a Lutheran who may be following in your footsteps, I want to thank you, and ask you to keep your blog going. God bless your journey.

In Christ,
Daniel M. Head

EricW said...

Best wishes on your decision.

You wrote: Your new bishop recently asked me what core issue motivated me to embrace the Orthodox Faith. It is this: The Liturgy never changes. I don’t mean that chants or prayers or feasts are not added or subtracted gradually over time. What I mean is that no priest or bishop or congregation can decide to cut the Eucharistic Prayer or go with a new style of worship or change things to suit his convictions or the times. Why? Because the liturgy is not something smart men have created and so can modify. The liturgy is from the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Scriptures are from the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy, the Holy Spirit rightly instructs us in Holy Scripture and His presence transforms us and the gifts set forth in the Holy Eucharist. So the liturgy is the way the Faith is given, confessed, prayed and proclaimed. As the liturgy goes, so goes the Faith together with your certainty and surety. Bad bishops and aberrant priests have and will always surface in the true Church. From time to time, they introduce novel and heretical teachings. But if the liturgy doesn’t change, then their faith-destroying words will not take hold and will eventually fade away. The bottom line, then, is that the unchanging liturgy keeps us on the straight and narrow. It keeps us both on the way to the Kingdom, and in the Way which is Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the Kingdom of heaven is the goal, and the Lord Jesus is our Life.

As an inquirer into Orthodoxy (and presently a catechumen) from non-denominational, non-liturgical Protestantism, I began reading Dom Gregory Dix's classic THE SHAPE OF THE LITURGY. Because his theories are no longer considered to be the current state of liturgical study, I recently began Paul Bradshaw's books on the history of the liturgy and the Eucharist, and have also read Hugh Wybrew's study of the Orthodox Liturgy (as well as Nicholas Cabasilas on the Divine Liturgy).

What I find from my reading is that the Liturgy has indeed changed, finally reaching its present state (at least the DL of John Chrysostom) about 1400 A.D. In the earliest days of the church, the liturgies varied geographically, both in content and in the order of the activities.

Also, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, former dean and professor of Liturgical Theology a St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary (OCA), in his book on THE EUCHARIST discusses the many historical changes in the Liturgy, and describes how some of them have obscured, changed, and even reversed the meanings that certain actions and prayers used to have and were meant to have. He especially notes that many of the functions now given to the priest, as well as the architecture and activities that separate the laypeople from the clergy, were not originally that way, and that the effect of these changes has been to create a wrong distinction and separation of the people from the clergy during the Liturgy and the Eucharist which negatively impacts and affects the faith and understanding and participation of the people.

Thus, I am a bit puzzled by some of your statements re: the Liturgy never changing and it always being under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for it seems that some of the changes were indeed made for strictly pragmatic or practical reasons, and, if Schmemann and Dix are correct in their observations, some of these changes were not for the better.

Grace and Peace.

Chris Jones said...

Dear Father Fenton,

I am truly sorry to see you go. I understand, but I am still sad. We are the poorer without you.

Count me among those who hope that you continue the weblog.

Chris Jones said...

Charlie,

I don't think Fr Fenton's statement is, or even appears to be, proselytizing.

He owes the souls in his cure an explanation why he is resigning. Since the reason for his resignation is theological in nature, his explanation will necessarily be theological.

He states his disagreement with the Book of Concord as concisely as possible, not with the intent to persuade others but only with the intent to explain why he must resign. If he said anything less, it would no longer be clear why he must resign. If he said anything more, he might be open to the charge of proselytizing.

As it is, he is not.

david+ said...

Dear John (and soon to be again, truly, Father John!),

The Pontificator is (almost ;-) ) always right! In this case very much so. Please be assured of our prayers and continued concern for your well-being.

Those "company men" who cast aspersions on your direction or motives are mired in the problem and can't see. Your own words apply in this situation: don't be afraid.

Please leave this post up. In fact, may I have your permission to share it with certain of my folk?

Every blessing on you and yours,

David+
"the eco'palian"

Michael said...

Father Fenton,
God bless you on your journey. Do carry on with sharing your reflections.
Best regards,
Michaelk Borussia

Fr John W Fenton said...

Just a few quick comments:


To All:

Thanks for the kindly and gracious tone. And for those who expressed wishes, gratitude and prayers--I am undeserving but most appreciative.


To EYTYXOC:

My statement was written for parishioners and spoken within a context they understand. Hence, when I said, "The Liturgy never changes," they knew that I did not eschew years of liturgical scholarship. Rather, they heard the key phrase: "What I mean is that no priest or bishop or congregation can decide to cut the Eucharistic Prayer or go with a new style of worship or change things to suit his convictions or the times."


To David Schuetz (sorry, don't know how to make an umlaut):

Why not Rome? I hope I answered this on your blog.


To patgoltz:

The Orthodox are not currently in fellowship with Rome. Also, I am confident that Luther would disagree with much of what you wrote.


To Al Kimel:

The over-riding mood at Zion yesterday was saddness. Not a few tears were shed--both by me and them.


Finally, to Chris Jones:

You correctly interpreted my intent and the thin line I tried to walk.

Benedictus said...

Dear Father,

As a subdeacon in a western rite parish in the Antiochian Archdiocese (St. Michael, Whittier, CA), I wish you every blessing as you enter the Holy Orthodox Church.

As a former Baptist, I was introduced to the richness of liturgical piety and worship when I attended a Lutheran school (Redeemer Lutheran Church and School, South Gate, CA). I was never quite the same after that. Anglicanism was the next stop (in college), and later Orthodoxy. In a big way, Lutheranism got me started on this journey that led, by God's grace, to this great and pleantuous land.

Let me rejoice with you, and encourage you to keep your gaze "ad Dominum".

Pax, frater!

Thomas Llizo

Michael from Texas said...

Welcome home! As Antiochian Primate Metropolitan Philip put it:

"Welcome home to the faith of the Peter and Paul."

I look forward to counting you as one of my brothers in the Holy Orthodox Church.

In Christ,

Reader Michael S.
Porter, TX

Visibilium said...

Many years!

Fr John W Fenton said...

Two things concerning the timing:

1. The timing of the announcement was based upon the District President's schedule. He wanted to be in attendance--a more than reasonable request.

2. Zion rarely celebrates "Reformation Day Sunday." Since Mass is celebrated daily--or at least 4 times each week--Reformation Day, together with the other 100+ feasts on Zion's calendar, are celebrated on their actual days. Therefore, this past Sunday was not "Reformation Day" but "The Fifth Sunday after Michaelmass."

Libertas said...

Welcome Home!

I too was LCMS and Ioved it. It broke my heart to see it falling into the mess it is today. Nevertheless, even if it had remained true to the Lutheran Confessions, it still would not be the True Visible Church of the Apostles. That does not mean that the Orthodox Church is perfect, and those of us who are Orthodox certainly know it, but Orthodoxy is the fullness of the Faith. I have never regretted my decision to become Orthodox.

God's blessings on you and your family.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Fr. Fenton,

Anyone has to admire a man who has the courage to follow his conscience, especially when to do so is costly. That is exactly what Martin Luther did. I am in awe of you, period. You and your family have been in my prayers and now will be more especially.

One of the things about going through a situation such as this is, you find out some people you thought were your friends aren't, and some you didn't know cared a fig about you turn out to be your bulwark.

I'd be so honored if by my prayers I could turn out to be among the latter.

Please pray for me, too, as we all give glory to God in all things.

Anastasia Theodoridis

Craig Donofrio said...

John,

Well, I am a little sad, but honestly, for years, I thought that you were not a good fit for the LC-MS in its current incarnation - then again, I am not either, but for other reasons - (mostly dealing with SPs, DPs, guns, midgets and other amusements, but I digress).

I thought that you would have gone the way of Rome, so I am a bit surprised. I know that these decisions are hard. When I first became a Lutheran, my family insisted that I joined a cult too.

I just want to say that I hope you enjoy your little trip out East and when you discover that no matter how truly jacked up the LC-MS is (and OH YES WE ARE), it is still the best game in town. I for one will be happy to welcome you back with open arms and rejoice in the ridiculous fellowship of a ridiculous church, but even more, the ridiculously good news of Justification by grace through faith ALONE apart from theosis for the sake of Christ and His life, death and resurrection.

I know you have no intentions of coming back, so my brother, rush head long into that abyss and when you wake up next to a pig, just remember this - the pigs in the LC-MS are cleaner - myself included for we are truly pieces of dung covered by snow over on this side of the fence. Thank God for sending the snow!

When you come back, we will kill the fatted DP and rejoice.

Enjoy your self imposed exile, we will miss you. Check in with us every now and again, we will leave a light on for you.

In the completely sufficient imputation of righteousness that is extended from the Cross of Christ

XOXO
The Ranting Reverend

Deacon Lou Pizzuti, OP said...

My Brother,
I applaud your honesty and courage. Our Lord led me on a similar path some years ago.

As for those who would criticize, I would only urge them to try to understand rather than argue from a position of ignorance.

123 said...

It takes as much courage to leave based on conscience as it does to decide not to take that step at the last minute out of care to be completely sure of that step as it does to "screw your courage to the sticking place" and suffer in the Church one believes is fallen, but correct. My prayers are with you (Fr.) John, as they are with those ministers who fall into the other two categories (in both the LCMS and Orthodoxy). In this day of mass apostasy and coldness of heart and faith, conscientious and humble actions based on loving faith are welcome and necessary.

Barnabas Powell said...

Dear Fr. John,

As a former Pentecostal pastor, I remember with tears the day I read a similar letter to my congregation. I was blessed to have 20+ families join me in the journey, but still I suffered the loss of close friends who simply could not conceive of why anyone would choose to leave our particular tribe.

After entering the Orthodox Church, I found Her to be filled with sinners! Thank God I was finally among my own kind!

The beauty of worship, the "sublime theology" of the Undivided Church, the richness of wisdom, and the ever satisfying Eucharist, are all rewards enough to pay back a hundred fold the pain of leaving.

As I'm sure you already appreciate, the decision is just another step along this life-long journey.

May God, the Life-giving Trinity, bless you and your family as you journey with us toward theosis.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Welcome home and many years to you and yours!

ICXC
John

Anaxagoras said...

As a former Baptist and now an Orthodox layman, I found your resignation to be very honest and to describe many of my own feelings.

Yes, the Orthodox Catholic Church is full of sinners, immoral persons, and scummy characters. I'm one of them. We also have a great number of administrative issues that often take a long time to work out due to the lack of a top-down authoritarian figure that keeps us in line.

But you know what? It is still the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. You can't beat that. While I was a Protestant (but after I became convinced of Orthodox claims), I was faced with a terribly sad situation. I knew that no matter how joyful, peaceful, and godly my experience in Protestantism was, I was outside of the Church. My peaceful state was a matter of chance that could change like the wind. This peaceful state existed *in spite of* my membership in a heterodox body, not *because* of it. It was a matter of authority really.

Now, I know that no matter who does something stupid in the Church, at least I am in the Church, in communion with all the saints and angels.

That is peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Many years to you, Father.

William Weedon said...

My dearest John,

At the risk of being totally trite, but with tears:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
The sunshine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

You, Julie, and the kids remain in my heart and in my prayers.

Photini said...

Welcome home!
I traveled a rather circuitous route over 50 years - Lutheran, Mo-Synod Lutheran, Episcopalian, before I floated aimlessly like flotsam for over 5 years. I have long said that I didn't leave Protestantism - it left me.
Then, by God's grace, 6 years ago He placed me in a city in Germany for 2 years where, instead of rediscovering Luther, I was led to Orthodoxy. As I studied, I realized the questions I had were answered there, the conflicts I had with various denominations were all resolved in the Church.
My family is suspicious of my conversion. And yet, I can't help but wonder if my mother (and so many of our friends at the LCMS where I grew up) were still alive what she'd/they'd think of your letter. I like to think that they'd have applauded and gone, too. While they were not Orthodox when they died, I suspect they are all Orthodox now.
It's not an easy road you're taking - but it is a joyful one. After 4 years, I still am amazed that I have found such peace in the midst of turmoil. I smile when I think of how good God has been to me to show me where I really belong.
You are doing what is right in holding fast to the teachings of the Apostles. 2 Tim 1:13,14 - And how amazing that God has entrusted us with something so valuable!
God grant you many years!!!!

Fr. Matthew said...

Fr. Fenton -- Likewise, I welcome you to the Orthodox Church, understanding that this has been a difficult decision and will be a difficult transition for you and the people of Zion, Detroit.

I am troubled by the lack of sensitivity in some commenters on this post (either Orthodox who are nothing short of gleeful over your decision or detractors--some who go as far as to equate Orthodox with swine--who are condemnatory of your decision).

Where is Christian charity in all of this?

In Christ,
Father Matthew
St. Columba's Antiochian Orthodox Church
Lafayette, CO

Unknown said...

Thank you for your honesty and integrity. It is a brave thing to not only be open with your congregation, but with all of us out here in the blog-o-sphere.

While I do not agree with your conclusion, I understand many of your critiques of our Lutheran tradition. The Lutheran church will be the poorer for not having your voice in it, speaking on behalf of the great tradition of the church.

May God bless you and your family as you follow God's call.

318@Nicea said...

I agree with you. I struggle as a Lutheran who loves and desires the ancient Church. Sometimes, it seems that, although not the intention of the original Lutherans, that the Lutheran Confessions become Donatist, instead of catholic. God bless.

Dave