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….