Rev. Paul T. McCain, the former Interim CEO/President of Concordia Publishing House, and now the Executive Director of the Editorial Division and Publisher claims that Mr. John Fenton, has “turned his back on Christ and His Gospel,” and “Fenton’s reununciation [sic] of his ordination vows, and confirmation vows, is nothing less than an act of treason against our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel.” See the complete comment here. McCain posted this missive all over the internet, apparently on every blog that mentioned Fenton at all. Many bloggers refused to allow it to be posted.
Rev. Randy Asburry has been carrying on a response to McCain’s views on this blog, and I wish to thank him for his measured Christian responses. I’ve been holding my pen. But several things still need to be addressed.
1. The Eastern Orthodox Church is Christian. Our confession of the Trinity is the same as theirs. Our confession of Christology is the same as theirs (and BTW, we got it from them). If John Fenton “turned his back on Christ” in becoming an Orthodox Catechumen, then Lutherans have never faced Christ either. We preach the same Jesus Christ, one person, two natures, neither confused nor separated. Accusing him of treason, apostasy, or anything of the sort is neither accurate nor Christian.
2. Mr. Fenton was presumably confirmed with The Lutheran Hymnal’s Agenda. I do not know what vows he took then. I do know what vows I took when I was confirmed with Lutheran Worship’s Agenda. After I had confessed the Triune God, as expressed in the Apostle’s Creed, I vowed never to leave that confession. After that, I expressed my intellectual belief that the teachings of the Small Catechism are true. Here is the exact wording:
P: Do you believe in God the Father Almighty…
R: Yes, I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker…
[after the third article is confessed…]
P: Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
R: I do so intend with the help of God.
P: Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from them, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?
R: I do.
The confession of faith in the Holy Trinity is a binding vow which includes our intent for the future. I would rather die than renounce this faith. However, our “vow” to remain faithful to the Lutheran confessions does not ask this. It only asks, in the present, “do you believe them to be faithful and true?” These are different promises and testimonies we are giving.
It should be noted that Lutheran Service Book does something sectarian here. It moves the “death vow” to after the confession regarding the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Small Catechism. Beware, parents! If your child is confirmed using the new rite, they may be damned if they ever leave the Lutheran Church–according to the vow they take.
3. What about the ordination vows? What did Mr. Fenton promise therein? Here is what he said
P: Do you believe that the Unaltered Augsburg Confession is a true exposition of the Word of God and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church; that the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Authority and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord–as these are contained in the Book of Concord–are also in agreement with this one scriptural faith?
R: I do.
P: Do you solemnly promise that you will perform the duties of your office in accordance with these Confessions, or Symbols, and that all your teaching and your administration of the sacraments will be in conformity with the Holy Scriptures and with the aforementioned Symbols?
R: I do.
Notice: Neither Fenton, Hogg, McCain, nor anyone ordained with this rite ever promises to hold these beliefs till death or never depart from them. These cannot be compared to marriage vows in any way, shape, or form. In marriage we vow behaviors that will continue “as long as we both shall live.” Departing from marriage before the death of a spouse constitutes breaking the vow. Fenton, Hogg, McCain or I could not possibly “break” or “renounce” this vow, unless we remain in office and teach contrary to the Book of Concord. Fenton resigned in order to avoid this very thing. He said he was no longer Lutheran and could not remain their pastor as he admitted in his letter of resignation.
Any speculation on that he did not “perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with these Confessions” is sinful. We dare not speculate in how he performed his duties. His private opinions are private, and unless we are party to his daily public ministry, we do not know what he said or did. Just because some people from his parish intend to depart from the Lutheran confession with him does not mean that he broke his ordination vow. It may seem likely to us with our sinful minds. Our skepticism and suspicion may point fingers and judge. But let us put the best construction on this, and leave judgment alone. I will be generous, and I pray God is generous with me.
I realize this blog lies on a slightly overgrown footpath in the Lutheran “Blogosphere” and few read the comments (ranting) here. But let us stop accusing men of adultery, treason, and all kinds of nefarious sins, when in reality they have changed their minds. Mr. Fenton simply changed his mind. Perhaps he says he was converted to the fullness of the truth. But he changed his mind in regard to certain doctrines of the Lutheran Confession. Regardless of how you think this or that Church body proclaims the Gospel, remember: Fenton is not a Buddhist, nor did he become a Moonie, Mormon, Muslim, Rastafarian, or Raelian. He still confesses Christ in word and deed.
Would every Lutheran pastor publicly administer his duties according to the Confession’s norm! Would all the Lutheran pastors out there who do not or no longer hold to the Lutheran Confessions do the same!