21 September 2007

An Apologia for the Colloquium

David Schütz, a former Australian Lutheran pastor, now Roman Catholic layman, good-naturedly raises an issue with which I wrestled before agreeing to participate in "Faith of Our Fathers: A Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Lutherans." He asks if the conference was proselytizing. No doubt others might see it as an attempt at "sheep-stealing." The conclusion I reached was based on the common understanding of proselytizing, which understands "proselytize" to mean actively recruiting persons away from their self-stated faith or religion in order to join yours. Sometimes, but not always, a note of deception or fraud is attached to the word "proselytize." Often it carries a negative connotation.

But is it proselytising when you offer to explain yourself to those who have admitted confusion based on mischaracterizations and caricatures of your position? That was the stated purpose of both the Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Lutherans and the Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Anglicans.

Is it proselytising when you invite to your place whoever might wish to hear such an explanation? For that is what happened. The colloquium was not held a "hostile take over" of a Lutheran or neutral territory. Neither were bait and switch tactics used to invite those who came or those who will listen to the audio on Ancient Faith Radio.

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? Archbishop Nathaniel forthrightly explained at the beginning of each colloquium (here and here) that the colloquiums were offered not to lure but to explain because (a) Orthodoxy in America is not well known and (b) Orthodox theology is often explained with categories unknown to Orthodoxy. Realizing that an explanation of Orthodox theology will raise different questions and issues depending on the background of those listening, His Eminence further stated that the colloquiums were an attempt to anticipate the issues and questions by different groups. And who better to anticipate such issues and questions but those who have had a foot in both places?

Concerning this latter point, I well recall when I was merely interested in Orthodoxy having to wade through defenses or criticisms of infant baptism or "rote prayers" or certain liturgical ceremonies which have never been at issue in Lutheranism. That is still the case today. The majority of books by Orthodox and non-Orthodox which present or critique Orthodoxy do not share the assumptions that most Lutherans--and especially confessional Lutherans--share. Why not then cut to the heart of the issues which Lutheranism raises against Orthodoxy while using a theological language familiar to Lutherans? Would such an attempt be proselytizing? Or would it rather be an attempt at true respect; an attempt to take seriously the issues and questions raised by Lutherans?

Finally, our American mentality, and the current modus operendi of ecumenical relations, might have several persons suggest--in fact, insist--that such a colloquium is "unfair" because it was not a dialogue, a free exchange of ideas by differing parties. In other words, what some might want was not a presentation of Orthodoxy but a debate on Orthodoxy. However, then the ears are not tuned to listen carefully to what one is saying, but rather to see who can score points and win. (Regrettably, that is the modern mode of debate.) Furthermore, the caricatures and mischaracterizations would most likely continue. Hence, the organizers determined that the best thing was to let the Orthodox presenters speak; and let the people who attended, of their own free will, as well as those who freely listen online, judge for themselves on the basis of what Orthodox representatives say about Orthodoxy.


123 said...

Proselytizing would also seem to include some detailing of the errors of another faith and a strong preachment for conversion. This was not the case in the Colloquium. It was essentially no more than my father, a naturalized US citizen, being asked to tell a bunch of Americans what growing up in his hometown in northern England was like. he spoke in the accent, used the proper place names and directions, understood 'aborginal' customs and mores, but from someone who is now wholly American.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Personally, I have no problem with proselytism, nor with men who leave a denomination or confession because they no longer believe in its tenets (in fact, isn't that the honest thing to do?).

I went to seminary with men who left behind their pastoral work in Presbyterian and Assemblies of God churches to seek placement in churches that confess the Augsburg Confession instead. Nobody accused these men of breaking their vows or abandoning their flocks. In fact, they were welcomed warmly to the Lutheran fold - and in many cases, held up as examples for, and missionaries to, their former communions. There is a lot of inconsistency among some of the more shrill in every communion.

I do have one critique, however, of the colloquium. The word "colloquium" implies a two-way conversation. However, all of the lecturers were Eastern (or Western) Orthodox. A true colloquium would have included voices from both sides. While I'm certain questions were entertained from the audience (I did not attend the event), it is hardly an equal conversation when all of the lecturers are from one side.

But, to quote theologian Jerry Seinfeld: "Not that there's anything wrong with that..."). If a bunch of Lutherans wished to put on a series of lectures for people from other traditions within Christianity, so be it. No-one's arm is being twisted.

I do think both communions can learn from one another. And while I lament that some of our brightest and best theologians and preachers have swum this river or that, I note that many of them continue to preach in a rather evangelical way that probably reflects a good bit of the Gospel as they learned it while serving Lutheran parishes. In that sense, they have become Lutheran missionaries. My tongue is in my cheek, but only a little.

Randy Asburry said...

Fr. John,

I'll just say that I appreciate your reasoned comments. It's good to have them in the midst of discussions that too often become visceral and inaccurate among us Lutherans! Thanks for your insights!

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Yes, it's obviously proselytizing and sheep-stealing of the lowest sort. Seriously.

John Hogg said...

It seems to me that even if it were prosslytizing, there would be nothing wrong with that. Have we, as Christians, also given into the God of relativism?

Not all "truths" are true and not all Christian confessions are equal.

The Truth should be confessed with humility and love, but it should be confessed. To fail to confess the Truth because of wanting to avoid "sheep-stealing" is either to view the faith in a relativistic manner (ie all truths are equally valid) or to fail to love your neighbor.

We, as Orthodox, must work to reconcile our brothers, who have fallen into error, to the Apostolic faith in Christ.

Am I missing something here?

In Christ,
Mid-term Orthodox missionary to the Ukraine

Schütz said...

I have finally gotten around to listening to the podcasts, and I have been really enjoying them. I have posted more commentary on my blog at http://cumecclesia.blogspot.com/2007/10/listening-to-that-orthodox-colloquium.html

Re proselytising, we just have to make sure that we are not using immoral ways to spread the gospel. If we use ways that offend against the freedom of conscience or of religion (both of which are inalienable human rights) then we are actually denying the very gospel we are seeking to proclaim.

And I am sure, John Hogg, that if you were a Baptist missionary to the Ukraine, rather than an Orthodox one, you would soon be hearing a lot of complaint from the local Orthodox Church about proselytism!