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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

15 August 2005

Changing Churches: Presbyterian to Lutheran

Q: I am going through a rough time. My church is using a raffle as a fund raiser and I do not believe that a raffle should be used in the church. For this reason, I am leaving the Presbyterian Church and strongly considering becoming a Lutheran. I was wondering what must this man that has already been baptized and confirmed into the Presbyterian Church do to become a Lutheran?

A: Lutherans have always acknowledged the baptisms done in churches confessing faith in the Triune God. Luther and his fellows were baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and they were not “rebaptized,” nor did they demand it of others. The same can be said of Calvin, Knox, and many other non-Lutheran reformers of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Thus, Baptism will not be an issue no matter where in Lutheranism you end up. Technically, you were not baptized into the Presbyterian Church. While you were baptized in the Presbyterian Church, you were baptized into Christ (or into the Triune God).

As for Confirmation or acceptance into altar fellowship and communicant membership, practices vary considerably among different congregations and different branches of Lutheranism. I can give a few generalities which might help you.

If the congregation you are considering is truly committed to Lutheran teaching, the pastor will talk with you about your beliefs concerning important Scriptural teachings. These should include Law and Gospel, God, the person and work of Christ, Baptism, Holy Communion, and some others. I’ve discovered through the years that many who belong to one body actually have beliefs which more closely reflect the teachings of another.

Some pastors insist that prospective members from other churches follow a full course of instruction, regardless of the level of doctrinal agreement the prospect already holds. Others customize their new member classes. I normally tend toward the former. Not only does this make sure that you understand more fully the beliefs you’ll be asked to confess when admitted as a member, it also gives the parties involved an extended opportunity to learn more about each other.

You can also use the sermons and Bible classes as triggers for questions and springboards for discussion, especially during your time of catechesis (instruction in the faith). If you were to buy a home, I’d suggest you have it carefully inspected. If you were getting ready to buy stock or mutual funds, I’d encourage you to investigate every possible aspect of your investment. Because your church affiliation on earth has a tremendous bearing upon your eternal life, I even more strongly pray that you’ll carefully investigate all claims and teachings of any church you visit. Make sure that the church “maximizes your investment” of belief and participation and clearly expresses to you the wondrous heavenly treasure that is yours in Christ.

If a church you’ve contacted seems content to only talk for a few minutes, then make you a member, I urge you to look somewhere else. Such a shallow depth of care for the details of faith and fellowship at this time could well indicate a continuing pattern in the preaching and teaching of that church.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


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