Encouragement for the denominational "stray dogs"

Encouragement for the denominational "stray dogs"

You know something’s up when a once southern baptist- then- fundy finds herself scouting out a Lutheran pastor’s sermons online and then seriously contemplates stepping foot in a Lutheran church for the first time in her life.

 

“Will they blow incense in my face? Is it okay if I take communion? Even if I have to hold a live chicken during the service– as long as someone will preach the gospel to me– I don’t care if it’s awkward!”

 

That’s not a slam against Lutherans, by the way- those were playful jabs to the ones that I’ve been rubbing elbows with and have come to appreciate greatly. However, it is a direct blow to my own protestant church background, because the gospel is scarce among us. What is incredibly interesting to me is that during my stint with the fundies, they guarded us away from the Lutheran church with vigor, though I could never put my finger on why. My particular “reformed” fundy camp praised Luther for sticking it to the Catholics on justification by works, but then turned right around and sold us the same indulgences under the guise of “holy living before God”. We paid penance with our good works to keep ourselves in good standing with God. We trusted in our discipline of memorizing the law and beat ourselves with it in hopes that somehow we would change. Which, as any Law-Gospel theologian knows- that’s a recipe for complete disaster. (Luther would agree wholeheartedly- ding ding ding!!! That must be what freaked out the fundies!)

 

We’ve tried various different churches in various different denominations and found that they each had their own brands of moralism that they clung to. Self- help instructions derived from various bible passages…mostly pulled woefully out of it’s beautiful context and thrown about with a giant smile and a joke or two- or even more sadly, a fist pounding followed by a thunderous bellow of discouragement. We’ve wandered far and wide, desperate to hear the one thing our entire faith is founded upon: “It is finished”. Sadly, we’ve yet to find it. I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard countless other stories of people who are in the same boat that we are- wondering why Christianity has traded in the good news of the gospel for seemingly everything else.

 

I’m not suggesting that the Lutheran church is the answer to everyone’s gospel-less church crisis nor am I here to present the Lutheran church as “the denomination that has it all right”. Before you get your feathers all ruffled, I’ll openly admit that the Lutheran view of baptism trips this twice- dunked-girl out a little bit…but I also admit that I have mentally scrapped the way protestants make such a show of our baptisms anyway. I guess what I’m getting at in my ramblings here is that the gospel has turned everything I thought I knew completely on it’s head to the point where I’m willing to step out of my comfort zone in search of the gospel. For the majority of my Christian life, I’ve had people telling me what to believe, who is “safe” to read, spoon feeding me every step of the way. It turns out that those guys weren’t as “right” as they thought they were. They were big on “reformed theology” but it was the wrong kind because it was void of Christ for us. Grace rescued me from the burning building of legalism, and now that I’ve walked away from the rubble that represents my life as a fundy, and the teaching of one of it’s “fathers”. I’m ready to begin from scratch. I’m willing to put down everything that I trusted in and approach the scriptures understanding God’s two words: Law and Gospel, letting the Holy Spirit teach me everything from the beginning…and yes, even step foot in a Lutheran church as a protestant woman because in all of my searching, I’ve learned that the Lutherans do speak a word of gospel to broken sinners like me, they consistently remind the church that their sins are forgiven – they speak of absolution.

 

 

I know there are other people who feel the way that I do, like a denominational “stray dog” going from place to place, sniffing out scraps- trying to piece their beliefs together. Trying to figure out where we fit within the Church. May I speak a word of encouragement to you? I know it’s a scary place to be but hear me out– it is a wonderful place to be. I too have wanted to find a “denomination” of Christianity to identify with because it’s comforting to have a “place”.  Not to mention, you get less strange looks if you can name a church that you attend regularly…you know…that keeps you from “backsliding” or “going off the deep end” according to the morality police. There is a comfort that comes with identifying with one particular brand of thought and feel like it’s safe to trust what they have to say on all things. For the first time, I’m starting to see my inability to sign off on one “brand” of Christianity completely as a blessing. It means that I have to keep asking questions which means that I have to keep wrestling. I have found that coming out of a camp that forcefully and unlovingly had an answer for everything, it’s refreshing to not have answers for once. The one thing that anyone needs to be certain of is that Christ took all of our sins and nailed them to a cross. He finished it. Jesus identifies Himself with the sinner. We don’t have to look to a denomination, theological camp, or church name for our identity. He is our identity- and that is our rest during the wandering. Honestly, I think for the first time I’m beginning to let that truth be my one comfort. Now it’s just a matter of finding a church who is comforted by the same thing…and I’m not in any hurry to settle. You’re free to not be in any rush either, fellow wanderer. I promise you that no where in scripture was Jesus ever frustrated with anyone for struggling to find a church. I also promise you that Jesus isn’t wringing his hands over the fact that you and I haven’t. Jesus isn’t up in heaven frantic that you and I will fall into some pit because we don’t know where to go to church on Sunday morning. He understands our wrestling, our frustration, our “lostness”.  We can rest knowing that He isn’t wrestling, He isn’t frustrated, and we are not lost from Him. He’s got us tight in His grip. Now we can just relax and enjoy the journey.

Might I also be so bold to throw out there that Jesus enjoys podcasts? Well, the good ones anyway….

 

16 thoughts on “Encouragement for the denominational "stray dogs"

  1. Sarah- I totally get where you are. Lutherans were at worst ignored and at best treated like the weird uncle that never comes around. I’ve been studying Lutheran theology (in earnest) for about 6 months now. Some of it I really like (Law/Gospel distinction, two kinds of righteousness) and other parts not so much. We’ve visited a few Lutheran Churches, too. I’ve come to the point where I agree enough to park and be involved in one. But you know what I’ve discovered? Gospel anemia isn’t a reformed problem or an evangelicalism problem. It’s a human problem. Me, you, and any preacher/pastor can have a squeaky clean theology, but if we’re not personally trafficing in the finished work of Christ and His great love for us…internalizing His amazing grace (and I leak badly…so I need constant reminding), then our theological precision won’t help us. We visited a Lutheran Church twice recently and although the content of the services was edifying and gospel rich, my wife I noticed that the sermons left us feeling like bricks had been added to our backpack. Ugh. Yet I know of Reformed guys whose messages are steeped in grace and breathe life to the weary. So far I know this: we want to find a place where the leadership “get” It Is Finished. And I’m willing to flex theologically to find it. Thank you for the reminder of God’s patience, love, and care in the process.

  2. Sarah, you described my current journey so much I think you’re reading my mind. I’m exploring Lutheranism for the same reasons and I come from the exact same background. I love the Lutheran distinctions of Law/Gospel, Cross/Glory, etc. And the Lutheran doctrine of vocation actually makes me want to go to work. I am going to visit a Lutheran church very soon. I’m worried there will be stuff I don’t agree with, but I have found that when the gospel is truly preached I can look past and even reconsider a lot of stuff.

    1. Cody,

      Thanks for your comment! YES! I love the same things you do about the Lutheran distinctions! My heart echos yours in a willingness to look past things that we aren’t used to or perhaps don’t fully embrace in order to hear the gospel. Amen!!!!

  3. Sarah this post nourished my soul this morning. Thank you. While I am not considering Lutheranism I am growing to appreciate many things about it. As a reformed pastor I think these things are in line with the confessions and can be taught from a reformed position. The problem is that they are not lived out in our churches as they should be. So many good things in this post. Such a good work that God is doing in this time. Be encouraged and do not grow weary sister!

  4. You nailed it.

    I have heard this a few times lately: Not all who wander are lost.

    I think the next big move of God will be the ones who follow the Holy Spirit and not a denomination.

  5. This is such a wonderful post Sarah! I followed this over from another blog this morning and was so blessed by both. Actually, I cried. It is so much like how I was raised. It reminded me of that little girl I once was trying so desparately to gain my fathers approval and not getting it. Then trying to get it in other men and never getting that approval I so longed for. Then finally meeting a man who didn’t have a bunch of demands for me to please him. He just told me he loves me and put all his effort into fulfilling my needs. Only I wasn’t a church it was men. I know this doesn’t make much sense and its not the church but only relationships. But it reminded me so much I just cried. *sigh* thank you for lifting me out of a funk this morning.

    1. Serena,

      Thank you for reading and leaving your thoughts! I absolutely know exactly what you are saying. I was also that girl longing for love from her earthly father – I’ve written about that here as well a couple of times. I hope those posts give you encouragement as it pertains more to relationships than the church specifically. All of the demands our Heavenly Father had for us, He met for us in His son Jesus. The demands have been met, dear one and because of Christ we are loved immeasurably.

      I appreciate your heart here, it is a blessing to me. So thank you! 🙂

  6. Boy I relly need to read those ones lol! Longing for my dad to love me has been huge in my life and still has a hold on me. It taught me that if I want to be loved that I need to earn it and that led to a lot of sin which ended up in pregnancies and abortions. It has taken me so long to even admit that. To believ that I am loved by God and by my Joseph even thou I hav these ugly sins in my past and its not even juest my past! Those sins are still here and when I feel unloved oh boy do they come out in bad bad ways! But God is good and he is changing me and gives me friends who teach me grace and acept me.

    1. Serena,

      I can relate to your story very much. Here is the first post that I wrote about my father. This is a wound that takes a very long time to heal- and may not fully heal this side of heaven. What I can say is that one day you and I will run and fall into Jesus’ arms. And there the pain of this life and lost love- heartbreak- will all melt away. Jesus will make all of the sad things untrue. (I think Tim Keller said that). Anyhow, here is my post about finding my father and some of my testimony. Sometimes it just helps to know that you aren’t alone. Someone else understands. Love and hugs, dear one! http://sarahtaras.com/uncategorized/finding-my-father

  7. Sister Sarah –
    Your article is thoughtful, thought provoking, and I can tell heartfelt but what gives me joy into seeing God’s providence are all the comments that follow. Looks to me that part of the reason the Lord has you wandering is to round people up!
    Blessings
    A Brother in Christ

  8. Sara,
    Thanks for this honest post. I find myself on a similar journey from a very different starting point. I grew up in the Lutheran church (Missouri Synod flavor) and have worked on church staffs for almost 20 years, the last twelve as a pastor. This past January, God led my wife and I to resign my call, sell our house and give away most of our possessions to rediscover Jesus and His freedom for us which was unfortunately getting buried more and more under law. We are excited about where He has next for us vocationally, but right now we are just basking in His pursuit of us and His deep love for us! Thanks for sharing.
    Steve

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for reading and sharing your story with me! You guys are on an exciting journey!! It is such a comfort to follow Christ knowing that He is not bound by anything- certainly not by denominational lines. And oh there is nothing more wonderful than basking in that beautiful love. So freeing!!! 🙂

  9. Sarah you nailed it on this post and you nailed exactly where I am at right now to. Not that I am searching for a church, but I have been searching for voices out there that are Law Gospel Grace Christ alone proponents and I seem to only be finding them in the Liberate, Key Life or Lutheran circles…I was looking for a good study Bible that helps point out Law Gospel distinctions and the only one I have come across so far is the Lutheran study Bible. I too grew up Southern Baptists and I am now at a non denom church. Such a very good article that hits home. Thanks for this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please wait...

Subscribe

Want to be notified when a post is published? Enter your email address and name below to be the first to know.