How Martin Luther led me to Orthodoxy
For anyone who has not already, it would be best to read my earlier post entiteld Elected by Satan before reading this one, as it will give you some context.
Religious conversion is filled with uncomfortable moments, and realizing that the faith you had previously held so dear is not true and right is surely one of those most difficult of all. I know for me, realizing that the Protestant Reformation had not been the greatest of God’s blessings — the thing that brought us back to the faith of apostles — was extremely painful and disorienting. It’s hard to admit that you’re wrong, even about small things, and learning that you’ve been wrong about something as big as God and what He requires from us is especially humbling.
What was particularly trying for me after I grasped that I was not going to find the Church that Christ founded anywhere in Protestantism was the identity crisis that it brought on. My Protestantism had become part of my being, my whole life underpinned by my faith in Christ wrapped in Protestant garb. Suddenly I felt like a ghost drifting aimlessly over a fallen house of cards.
I had been raised as a pseudo-Catholic by my late father, even though my mother had fought against having me or my sister baptised as such, and won. He died when I was eight years old, and after that I had to find my own way, spiritually. As a teenager I studied the Protestant Reformation from an academic perspective in my high school history classes, and privately began studying Protestant theology from a religious angle.
It was Martin Luther’s 95 Theses that started my love affair with Protestantism, and he became one of my personal heroes. I deeply admired his strength and bravery in standing up to the mammoth establishment that was the Roman Catholic Church, many times more powerful back then than it is today, and it planted within me the seeds of Romophobia that often blossom within Protestants. A few of my favourites:
36 Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
37 Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
43 Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
62 The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
76 We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
94 Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
95 And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).
To a strong-minded, spiritually unsupervised young girl who had always felt personally close to God, this was music to my ears. I took from the 95 Theses and other works of the early reformers what many others did: Nothing stands between me and God, and I need no intercessor. I can interpret Scripture for myself, and trust my own conscience. Nothing that any man, be he pope, priest or pastor, can affect my salvation, for that is between God and myself.
When the time came for me to leave my old Reformed Baptist church, Pastor Judas resisted me the entire way and tried to shame me into returning to his flock. I could not and would not stay anywhere that was teaching the works of john calvin as anything but the monstrous heresies they are, because my own conscience and interpretation of Scripture would not allow it. What came to mind were the words of Luther at the Diet of Worms: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” I drew strength from his example, and walked away with my head held high, sure of my ability to look after my own salvation (something I still believe, although in a different way). Just as Martin Luther would not bend to the pope he believed was abusing his power, so would I not bend to any pastor who tried to play God with my life.
That same fierce independence and faith in my own “soul competence” is what carried me down the intimidating and obstacle-filled road to Orthodoxy. I was completely on my own at the beginning of my journey there, with no Orthodox family members or practicing Orthodox friends to help me, but I never faltered. I was as determined as ever to find the Church that Christ had founded, and although I now believed that the Reformers had not accomplished what they set out to do, their efforts continued to inspire me.
Perhaps it is ironic, then, that the culmination of my conversion process — Chrismation — included a renunciation of the Protestant beliefs I once held so dear. My spiritual father had planned to only ask me the positive questions at the beginning of the Chrismation service, the ones that ask what you do now believe and if you desire to join yourself to the Orthodox Church (For those of you who are not familiar with this, take a look here http://www.saintjonah.org/services/trebnik.htm and you will also see that there are different sets of questions directed at people converting from various other confessions). But it was important to me that I start with a renunciation of my former heresies, to state publicly that I was done with these errors. For someone who had only been raised nominally Protestant, maybe that would not be so important, but I had held my former beliefs with strong conviction.
The Reformation was fraught with good intentions, and it is truly a tragedy that it accomplished the opposite of what it set out to do, namely to return Christianity to the way it was before the Church of Rome became too big for its boots. But it only served to divide the Church even more, and now there are tens of thousands of Protestant groups all claiming to have the correct interpretation of Scripture and practice of the Christian faith. Obviously they cannot all be right, but trying to explain that will often fall on deaf ears. A new pastor coming to a church can mean a change in beliefs, which often leads to further schisms.
I do not believe that that was Luther’s intention when he nailed the 95 Theses to the church door all those centuries ago, and he would be horrified with what so many have made of his teachings. I only hope that more people will separate the good from the bad in what he taught and find their own to the true Church with his help.
Everything that is done in the world is done by hope — Martin Luther