A Journey to Lutheranism
When I was sixteen months old, my parents had me baptized at a Presbyterian church. I have my baptismal certificate framed and hanging on my bedroom wall now. Unbeknownst to me, in my baptism, the Lord bound Himself to me and forgave me of my sins, and I was guided by the Holy Spirit. I remember learning the Old Testament Bible stories in elementary school. In my family, we always prayed before meals and at bedtime. I remember going to a few different churches; one we visited was a Unitarian church and I was impressed at that very young age that they did not talk about Jesus but ate pretzels and made masks during Sunday School...
When I was sixteen months old, my parents had me baptized at a Presbyterian church. I have my baptismal certificate framed and hanging on my bedroom wall now. Unbeknownst to me, in my baptism, the Lord bound Himself to me and forgave me of my sins, and I was guided by the Holy Spirit. I remember learning the Old Testament Bible stories in elementary school. In my family, we always prayed before meals and at bedtime. I remember going to a few different churches; one we visited was a Unitarian church and I was impressed at that very young age that they did not talk about Jesus but ate pretzels and made masks during Sunday School.
A few years later my parents and I (an only child) moved to California and I attended a Baptist junior high school and church. As I was preparing for high school, my mom wanted to send me to a good school so we joined the Catholic church in order to get a hefty discount at the private Catholic school. I was baptized, again, as a Catholic. Very shortly after that my parents divorced. My mother was a secretary at a Unitarian church so we began going there. They were a caring community of friends who saw us through a difficult time.
In eighth grade, while I was attending the Baptist church, one of my teachers asked me if I had ever invited Christ into my heart. I simply told her, “He’s always been there.” She continued, “Yes, but have you ever prayed the sinners’ prayer?” I told her I had not, and she asked me if I’d like to. I agreed. The Baptist church and school taught me how to memorize Scripture and study the Bible; that I should be a witness and win people for the Lord.
I left home after high school and attended non-denominational churches, where I was baptized yet again. I became very upset that the people sitting in the congregations of these types of churches would just nod their heads at whatever the pastor said in his topical sermons. I remember thinking: “hook, line, and sinker.” I would always go read my Bible to see if what the pastor said was true or not. I noticed that there was not a cross in those churches, something in future years I would understand the negative significance of. I would study the Word on my own, unaware it was the Holy Spirit that was ministering to me and causing spiritual growth. Eventually I joined a charismatic church. When the churches would talk about witnessing to others, going and knocking on the doors in a neighborhood, I knew in my heart that unless the Holy Spirit calls you to do it, you would be casting your pearls before swine, so to speak. Something just did not seem right.
Twenty years later, I was church shopping with my husband after a split in the Baptist church we had been attending. We walked into a Lutheran church, which my husband characterized as “Catholic Lite.” Something resonated within me. I knew I was in the right place. It was not an emotion; it was more like a settling in my heart. Over the years, and the several different types of churches I had attended, I noticed a few things about them. There was the most reverence for God at the Catholic church; the Catholic church had one-on-one confession, a real focus not only my sin but on my forgiveness too—and that had to happen before I could take communion. But as I grew I realized there was a lot of manmade tradition in the Catholic church, a lot of things that were just not true to Scripture.
So here I am at a Lutheran church hearing words I’ve never heard before or remembered hearing: vocation, sacraments, absolution, means of grace, liturgy, law and gospel. There was quite a lot of focus on church history, which was all but absent at the other churches. When I first began attending the Lutheran church, I was disappointed to notice congregants did not come to church with their Bibles in hand. At the Baptist church there were so many people with Bibles that when we were told to look up a Scripture passage there was a great sound of pages rustling, reminding you of the middle of autumn when the wind would stir up all the leaves in the yard and blow them down the street. I then noticed that the Divine Service was taken right out of the Bible: Psalms, Hebrews, John, Philippians, Numbers. I noticed that there was catechism, but it appeared that after catechism, Bible verse memorization was not encouraged. I was wondering why there were no altar calls. The Lutheran church was definitely different. I decided to wait and see. I am glad I did.
After going through adult catechism and reading other books (Preus’s The Fire and the Staff, Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, Walther’s Law and Gospel), I began to gain a quite different perspective on being a Christian. This new (to me) perspective was very humbling and magnified God like never before. The Bible suddenly became extremely intertwined with itself.
Grace, grace, and more grace: I heard that so much at the Lutheran church. The means of grace—God doing for me what I could not do or even have a desire to do for myself. In the Divine Service I repeat that I am a miserable sinner (which I knew I was), but it does not leave me there. My favorite part of the Divine Service is confession and absolution—every week I am reminded that my sins are forgiven! Every week I am offered the body and blood of Jesus! I remember at one Baptist church, communion was offered quarterly at a Wednesday night service. But at the Lutheran church, communion is the focus of the Divine Service.
Vocation was another word that gave my anxious soul overwhelming peace. Previously I felt I was under pressure to convert everyone I could, to witness to everyone I could. I had a desperation about me that people were going to go to hell because I couldn’t get to them; was I doing all I could taking advantage of every opportunity? Then I learned about vocation. God working through me and where I am in my station in life to accomplish His perfect will. Whatever I am—a wife, a secretary, a friend—God will use me perfectly, exactly where I am, because He put me there. What a relief!
Studying about the Old Testament tabernacle has shown me how Lutheranism has preserved real worship: we all enter by one gate (Jesus), next is the bronze altar of sacrifice (the cross), following the laver (baptism), the lit candles (the candles on the altar continue with this tradition), the showbread (Holy Communion), the altar of incense (our prayers), and finally access to God the Father. Lutherans remember to approach God on His terms, not on man’s terms. Lutherans do not remove an element because it is unpopular with today’s culture, like a cross or talk about sin. There is a wonderful balance of law and gospel.
The most paradigm-shifting thing I have learned in the Lutheran church is that God serves us. He gives us the Word, He gives us baptism, He gives us His body and blood. We merely receive. In a world that is works-based world, this receiving is not only countercultural but very humbling.
I finally had formed a picture of the difference between being Baptist and being Lutheran. Baptists walk up to God and take salvation from Him. God holds salvation out to Lutherans and they accept it. Baptists sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” whereas Lutherans sing, “Lord, ’Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee,” penned in the nineteenth century by Josiah Conder. More than once this hymn has brought tears of joy to my eyes. I have noticed there is a definite difference between the spirit of the hymns of the Baptist church and Lutheran church. Precht writes of pietism in Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, “Hymns based on the objective facts of God’s redemptive love in Jesus Christ were discarded for hymns of human experience. The subjective and emotional held sway in corporate worship.”
What peace I have. He has already done it all. I simply confess and believe. Luke 23:43: “Peace be with you.”