Landslide of Lutherans into the Catholic Church

by Steve Ray on June 12, 2012

Article in National Catholic Register, by my friend Tim Drake

One of the most under-reported religious stories of the past decade has been the movement of Lutherans across the Tiber.

What first began with prominent Lutherans, such as Richard John Neuhaus (1990) and Robert Wilken (1994), coming into the Catholic Church, has become more of a landslide that could culminate in a larger body of Lutherans coming into the collectively.

Father Richard John Neuhaus

In 2000, former Canadian Lutheran Bishop Joseph Jacobson came into the Church.

“No other Church really can duplicate what Jesus gave,” Jacobson told the Western Catholic Reporter in 2006.

In 2003, Leonard Klein, a prominent Lutheran and the former editor of Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter came into the Church. Today, both Jacobson and Klein are Catholic priests.

Over the past several years, an increasing number of Lutheran theologians have joined the Church’s ranks, some of whom now teach at Catholic colleges and universities. They include, but are not limited to: Paul Quist (2005), Richard Ballard (2006), Paul Abbe (2006), Thomas McMichael, Mickey Mattox, David Fagerberg, Bruce Marshall, Reinhard Hutter, Philip Max Johnson, and most recently, Dr. Michael Root (2010).

“The Lutheran church has been my intellectual and spiritual home for forty years,” wrote Dr. Root. “But we are not masters of our convictions. A risk of ecumenical study is that one will come to find another tradition compelling in a way that leads to a deep change in mind and heart. Over the last year or so, it has become clear to me, not without struggle, that I have become a Catholic in my mind and heart in ways that no longer permit me to present myself as a Lutheran theologian with honesty and integrity. This move is less a matter of decision than of discernment.”

It’s been said that “no one converts alone,” suggesting that oftentimes the effect of one conversion helps to move another along a similar path. That’s exemplified through Paul Quist’s story. He describes attending the Lutheran “A Call to Faithfulness” conference at St. Olaf College in June, 1990. There, he listened to, and met, Richard John Neuhaus, who would announce his own conversion just months later.

“What some Lutherans were realizing was that, without the moorings of the Church’s Magisterium, Lutheranism would ineluctably drift from it’s confessional and biblical source,” wrote Quist.

Many of the converts have come from The Society of the Holy Trinity, a pan-Lutheran ministerium organized in 1997 to work for the confessional and spiritual renewal of Lutheran churches.

Now, it appears that a larger Lutheran body will be joining the Church. Father Christopher Phillips, writing at the Anglo-Catholic blog, reports that the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church (ALCC) clergy and parishes will be entering into the U.S. ordinariate being created for those Anglicans desiring to enter the Church.

According to the blog, the ALCC sent a letter to Walter Cardinal Kasper, on May 13, 2009, stating that it “desires to undo the mistakes of Father Martin Luther, and return to the One, Holy, and True Catholic Church established by our Lord Jesus Christ through the Blessed Saint Peter.” That letter was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Surprisingly, in October 2010, the ALCC received a letter from the secretary of the CDF, informing them that Archbishop Donald Wuerl had been appointed as an episcopal delegate to assist with the implementation of Angelicanorum coetibus. The ALCC responded that they would like to be included as part of the reunification.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Prabhu June 12, 2012 at 10:17 AM

Steve,
Thanks to pioneers like you who swam the Tiber with reason and faith.
Michael Prabhu, INDIA

Eugenia June 12, 2012 at 11:30 AM

Makes sense to me. Why be a member of a church founded by Luther as opposed to the Church founded by Christ? :)

Denise June 12, 2012 at 4:10 PM

Oh, how I wish my parents could see the light as many converts do so they can come to Church that Jesus Christ instituted, and not by Luther. I will always pray they do one day.

Edward June 13, 2012 at 9:18 AM

For every Lutheran I know that has converted to Catholicism, there are 100 I’ve met who have been “born again” in Christ and left the Catholic church. The truth is, that every denomination – Protestant or Catholic – eventually diverge from the scripture and are run into error by falible men. God is not in the business of pouring new wine into old wineskins. Claiming “we are the one true Church established by Christ” falls into the category of “works of the flesh” and “contentions” condemed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5. Please read it.

STEVE RAY HERE: HOPEFULLY SOMEONE WILL RESPOND TO THIS COMMENT WHICH IS SO FULL OF ERRORS.

Jim June 13, 2012 at 1:25 PM

HMMM, Sounds like an ex-catholic turned rapturist to me….could it be? Wish I had more time to respond.
Just remember, NO ONE would have a bible, if it weren’t for the Catholic Church! ! !

That Scolfield translation has barely been around for 100 years.

God Bless!

Bill912 June 18, 2012 at 10:28 AM

If Jesus were so incompetent that He could not found a Church that would last through the end of the world, He could not be God.

Scriba Nonnumquan Diligens June 23, 2012 at 4:53 PM

Dear Defenders of the Catholic Faith:

I came across this blog in searching for recent news about Dr. Michael Root, whom I met briefly at a woefully under-attended conference at Ave Maria U. in 2009 on “Reading Romans with St. Thomas Aquinas.” I suspect I was the only Evangelical in the audience (there were Evangelical speakers), certainly the only fundamentailist (1920′s definition) Baptist. While I am merely a very marginal but committed Protestant layman, in the past several years I have been seeking, and I think gaining, a much greater understanding and appreciation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthox churches and I pray for the growth and strengthening of the theologically orthodox members of both those communions.

I also praise God for the conversions to Catholicism like those cited in this article, because I feel obligated to believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding such conversions for the sake of the entire Body of Christ. Though I have read that recent statistics show that the numbers of Catholic-to-Evangelical conversions are three times greater than Evangelical conversions to Catholicism, I doubt that these statistics have any value as ecclesiological arguments. Given the fact that Evangelicalism is generally more casual in theology and more culturally accomodating in worship, I tend to think that most conversions to Catholicism and Orthodoxy are more theologically considered moves.

It grieves me when I hear fellow Evangelicals still denying that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are authentically Christian. But it grieves me also to hear Catholics and Orthodx deny the same of Protestant churches. Since Fr. Richard Neuhaus was cited first in the “landslide of Lutherans into the Catholic Church,” I would highly recommend that readers of this blog read a paper that he delivered at a 2001 Touchstone Conference on “Christian Unity & the Divisions We Must Sustain.” Papers from this conference, all very worth reading, can be found at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/issue.php?id=58

I assume that Fr. Neuhaus knew his Catholic ecclesiology pretty well. In a section entitled “The Catholic Claim” Fr. Neuhaus states the following:

“And what does the Catholic Church say about itself? The Second Vatican Council very deliberately and after much debate said that the church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church in a singular way, in a way that is not true of others, except, as we shall see, with respect to the Orthodox. It did not say, ‘The church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church’ or, obversely, that ‘the Catholic Church is the church of Jesus Christ’ but that the church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church…To put it differently, what does the Catholic Church claim? That it is the church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time…The Catholic Church readily recognizes that the fullness of the saving and sanctifying grace of God is not limited to the Catholic Church. All of those, says the Second Vatican Council, who are baptized and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are truly but imperfectly in communion with the Catholic Church…[T]here is a flipside to [this]…For if all who are baptized and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are truly but imperfectly in communion with the Catholic Church, then all Catholics are truly but imperfectly in communion with all of their other brothers and sisters in Christ.”

(In his spoken remarks Fr. Neuhaus also denied that the church of Jesus Christ is “co-extensive” with the Catholic Church.)

I know that more recent Catholic teaching holds that Protestant churches are not churches but “ecclesial communions.” I regret that a bit. But if Fr. Neuhaus was right about the Second Vatican Council, then I don’t think it conflicts with the Catholic Church’s teaching for me to believe, as I firmly do on other grounds, that the church of Jesus Christ truly “subsists in” Protestant churches (or ecclesial communions), though perhaps in a way that is (much?) less “fully and rightly ordered through time.”

As for the “church” that was quite competently and firmly established by God the Son Incarnate, and against with the gates of hell (and all our flawed ecclesiologies) will not prevail, I have no trouble believing that it is the church that “subsists in” the Catholic Chruch perhaps even “most fully and rightly ordered through time.”

For the past two years I have been co-leader of a small ecumenical group of Orthodox, Evangelical, Catholic, and soon-to-be Catholic Christians who are reading through the early church fathers. I have gained a much greater appreciation for the role of the episcopacy in those early critical centuries of the the Holy Spirit’s work. But in reading “Antioch & Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity” by highly respected Catholic scholars Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier, I found this statement by Brown:

“…granted that there are several forms of church leadership implied in the pages of the NT and that I Clement has helped to solidify one of them, by what criterion do scholars decide a priori that one is more Christian than the other, since Jesus himself does not seem to have dealt with the structure of a community that was to carry on his work.”

To be sure, Brown goes on to defend the reasonableness of Clement’s “promoting a divinely ordered presbyterate in apostolic succession,” but his argument is a posteriori, historical, and theological, NOT an exegetical one based upon Jesus’s words or acts recorded in the Gospels. I think that Francis A. Sullivan S.J. makes a similarly historical and theological case for the episcopacy in his “From Apostles to Bishops.”

So while I think that my fellow Baptists err in claiming that congregational church polity is the only one that can be legitimately derived from the NT, I must question similar claims about presbyterian or episcopal polities. It seems very clear to me that church polity is UNDERDETERMINED by the NT and that Jesus was much more interested in the spiritual content of HIS church and the fidelity of HIS followers, than the church structures that they would develop under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I intend none of this as a decisive argument against any ecclesiology, only a few humble grains of salt to be poured on ALL exclusivist ecclesiological claims, above all on those from my own fellow Evangelicals.

Sorry to take up so much time and space. I close with prayer that God will bless the Defenders of the Catholic Faith for the good of the church of His Son.

Blessings,
Scriba Nonnumquam Diligens

russ rentler, md July 1, 2012 at 6:11 PM

@Scriba:
You said: “It seems very clear to me that church polity is UNDERDETERMINED by the NT and that Jesus was much more interested in the spiritual content of HIS church and the fidelity of HIS followers, than the church structures that they would develop under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
Whether the bible gives the specific outline for church polity is immaterial. The fact is the bible says Jesus would build his Church on Peter, and a succession of apostles like him later called popes. Can we prove that in scripture, maybe, maybe not. But as Catholics we are people of the Word of God which is both Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition holds that the successors of Peter are the purveyors of the true faith. The Catholic faith of today is historically traceable to that self same Church Jesus gave the keys to. So if we believe that Christ started this Church called the Catholic Church we accept in faith the polity of this Church. From the Church, all the grace of God flows from the sacraments given to His Church.

Andrew Downey July 2, 2012 at 10:34 AM

I would like to thank Scriba, for his honest and diligent survey of the early Church. If local Christians here in Southend-on-Sea were even 10% as concerned with seeking the truth it would be a very different dialogue. A small in-road was made 4 weeks ago when a Baptist man from across the road came to talk about his interests in poetry and to be in general neighbourly. Another Baptist popped her head out of the door and called him back, he jokingly said he was converting, to which she slammed the door? We continued our talk and 5 minutes later she reappeared apologised to my friend and completely ignored me? Not even a hello? We shook hands and he left slightly embarrassed.

There is no doubt in my study of the Church that a singular body, a unified whole was the desire of the Father, through the Son and with the Holy Spirit. The Pauline Corpus is nearly totally concerned with the unity of the church as is the book of Acts. When disputes about practice and whether the true Gospel was being proclaimed are raised Paul and Barnabus come to Jerusalem to discuss it with Peter,James and John, who affirm the Pauline Mission. That concern of Paul’s is the very thing missing in nearly all the conversations I have with other Christians. The time being spent by Scriba and his friends is time well spent, the wounds of division are being healed by the Holy Spirit through the ministry of men like Steve Ray, Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, Alex Jones, Tim Staples, Fr Dwight Longenecker, Mark Shea and many many others. My own zeal has been tempered and harnessed by their great sacrificial witness of love. One day, by the grace of our God we will all be stood with the multitude in praise and adoration of the Lamb, slain for us. Until then, in love let us search for the Truth that sets us free, and try to out do each other in the only thing that counts….service. Brother Scriba keep going, the best is yet to come. Steve Ray thank you for your servant heart making old things new. His Power and Peace to you and yours and to all who are seeking for the fullness of life…pray for me. Andy (England) A.M.D.G +

Tuan February 10, 2013 at 3:33 PM

Hello

I would like to ask you some questions, because I want to know more deeply in Protestant.

1. Holy Eucharist (Communion) in Prostestant Church? ( its significance )
2. Compare and contrast between Catholic Church and Prostestant about Holy Eucharist ( Communion )?
3. Conclusion ( summary ) about The Eucharist ( Communion ) Catholic Church and Prostestant.
4. The Dialogue between Catholic Church and Prostestant about Holy Eucharist ( Communion )?

Thanks

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