- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Today is Reformation Day a bench mark for Lutherans and the 484th anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of his famous "95 Theses" to the wooden doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That defiant act of airing public disagreements against the all-powerful Catholic Church kicked off the Protestant Reformation on Oct. 31, 1517, and propelled the 34-year-old monk into becoming the founder of a Christian denomination named after him.
Since then, some 64 million Lutherans have settled in 73 countries around the world. There are more than 8 million Lutherans in the United States alone, among them the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
Relations between Lutherans and Catholics have remained strained at best, easing as recently as 1998, when the World Lutheran Federation and the Vatican signed a consensus agreement on justification. Justification by faith is a doctrine of salvation that was key to Luther's split from the Catholic church nearly five centuries earlier.
But some Lutherans desire more unity. A recent book by Tim Drake of St. Cloud, Minn., tells the stories of 12 Lutherans who have become Catholics. Mr. Drake's book, "There We Stood, Here We Stand," is based on a famous statement made by Luther in 1521 at a church trial known as the Diet of Worms. "Here I stand," the monk said grandly. "I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."
Jim Anderson of Coming Home Network, a Zanesville, Ohio, ministry that supports Protestant pastors wishing to become Catholic, says people are seeking a church tradition that goes back millenniums instead of centuries.
"Usually it boils down to the question of authority; where is your authority for your doctrinal basis?" says Mr. Anderson, himself a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism in 1981. "And which authority can be traced back to Christ?
"Then it subdivides: What church has scriptural authority? And a lot of people are coming to the Catholic Church over the confusion over moral authority. And over the sexual issues that Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches are struggling with: contraception, homosexuality and female clergy. I've been e-mailing back and forth with a Lutheran in Finland who wants to become a Jesuit."
Of the 613 ministers who have contacted his network, the largest group has been Episcopalian (127), then Baptist (69), followed by Lutheran (66). The Official Catholic Directory says 187,000 adults entered the Catholic Church in 2000. Half had been baptized before, which means about 90,000 would have come from Protestant denominations.
Perhaps the most famous Lutheran minister to cross over is Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine in New York. While Lutherans going Catholic is not a pronounced trend, the quality of those who convert is high, he says.
"The Lutherans who are becoming Catholic tend to be notable theological and intellectual figures," he says. "We're talking about theologically informed intellectuals. For most of them, the issue is: Where do you find the church? It's a question of ecclesiology finding out which church is in continuity with the apostolic community of the New Testament."
One such convert, Patricia Ireland of Westfield, N.J., is a former Lutheran minister. Raised Catholic, she joined the Lutheran church during graduate studies because its rich confessional and theological heritage stimulated her intellect. Her becoming a clergywoman, she writes in the book, was part of her embrace of the feminist movement.
It wasn't until 1993, while she was studying theology at Drew University in Madison, N.J., that her interest in the Catholic Church was stimulated through studying the "fathers" of Christianity such St. Augustine. Meanwhile, her denomination, the ELCA, was offering abortion coverage on its clergy insurance plans and talking of full communion with the Episcopal Church.
"I was appalled," she wrote, "because of the Episcopal Church's self-admittedly loose view of normative doctrine and morals."
She left Lutheranism in 1996, much to the consternation of her Missouri Synod husband. Like several people interviewed, she says she misses the singing and preaching the most.
"But not the Church," she says. "The Lutheran Church is in a moral and theological abyss."
The Rev. Paul T. McCain, director of Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, begs to differ. Rome was wrong in the 16th century, he says, and is wrong now.
"Christians who think they are returning home to Rome are really taking a wrong turn and are headed down a darkened alley of error and confusion," he says. "Rome has mixed human error with divine truth. We dare never rest our hope for salvation on any human agency, human leader or on any human effort. We look to Christ alone, for He alone is our hope and salvation."
Tony Gerring, a Missouri Synod Lutheran who became a Catholic in 1997, is used to hearing such arguments. When he informed his family about his conversion to Catholicism, "My dad took it pretty hard," he says. "He wasn't happy about it.
"But I know it was the right decision. Watching the unraveling of Protestantism has confirmed this to me. There is no Martin Luther today who can say there is a correct Lutheran way to worship. So no Lutheran can say that, either, and it's only going to get worse."
Jennifer Ferarra, a Pennsylvania Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism in 1998, says it was the ELCA's pro-choice position that repelled her.
"At first, I very much missed the music because a lot of the music in Catholic churches is awful," she now says. "But not now. I feel Lutheranism is the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church and now I am experiencing the fullness of the faith."
Peoples' reactions, she says, were muted.
"We live in a society that values tolerance above everything else so people are afraid to say much," she says. "Some were upset that I'd given up my ordination as a female."
William Marshner, a former Lutheran who now teaches at Christendom College in Front Royal, made the switch in 1967.
"I made the mistake of reading Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop who was martyred in 107 A.D. and a disciple of John the apostle," he says. "Ignatius left behind several epistles full of Catholic-sounding doctrine about bishops, the Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin and so on. This was Christianity as of 107 A.D. I'd been raised on the idea that early Christianity had been much like Lutheranism and had gradually been corrupted with the addition of extra sacraments. In Ignatius, I saw an opposite picture."
He began comparing Luther's writings with those of Catholic authors and, "I found Luther very confusing and intemperate," he says. "I found the Catholic presentation lucid and coherent. My parents were livid. I was disowned and disinherited for a while but ultimately they patched it up."

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