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Ask the Pastor

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






14 June 2006

Changing Towns, Changing Churches?


Q: I’ve been Lutheran all my life, raised my family Lutheran, and demonstrate a strong presence in the Lutheran Church and community as a spiritual and religious Lutheran women. My husband was transferred to a small southern town where 90% of the town attend the main Baptist Church. I feel the need to be baptized Baptist and join this church to help me fit into the town and participate in church groups and functions. My husband will not be baptized Baptist but has agreed to attend the church with me but still support the Lutheran Church. Is this a spiritually shallow approach to religion? I know once we get transferred out of this town and return to the North, I will resume Lutheran practices. How does the Lutheran Church feel about this?

Faith LutheranA: I probably have a good idea about the place you’re going. My first call from seminary in Saint Louis was as pastor serving two small Lutheran churches in Jasper and Woodville, Texas. During my time there, our family lived outside of the religious “mainstream.” When asked our beliefs, we usually didn’t get technical; most only wanted to make sure we weren’t a cult and were satisfied knowing we believed in the God-man Jesus Christ as our Savior. At work, my wife learned to paraphrase the Apostles’ Creed — its simple words were enough to convince most questioners that we were, indeed, “Bible-believing Christians.”

As we lived in Jasper, we “fit into the town” well enough without attempting to believe or worship contrary to Biblical Lutheran teaching. When we didn’t exactly match others’ ideas, we still firmly believed that the first place we wanted to “fit in” was in practicing what we believed was true to God’s Word. The differences we had didn’t keep us from serving on the local Boys & Girls Club board of directors or prevent me from becoming an officer in the Jasper Lions Club.

You speak of your own feelings, saying, “I feel the need to be baptized Baptist.” You also ask about the Church’s feelings: “How does the Lutheran Church feel about this?” Feelings are certainly a part of our makeup, but they can shift and change so easily that they make fickle guides at best. In matters of faith, we do better to let Scripture (and intellect) lead our emotions rather than following our feelings and then trying to find Biblical, logical justification for our actions.

As a corporate entity, of course, Lutheranism cannot have feelings. However, individual Lutherans — both clergy and laity — probably would have strong feelings about your proposed actions. An active, vital faith often prompts powerful emotions.

Compare your desire to fit in with Paul’s response to Peter: “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest ... acted hypocritically along with him.... But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile ... how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ (Galatians 2:11-14)” Was Peter “spiritually shallow”? He knew and believed one way. Yet when a majority taught differently, he went along with them.

If you grew up a well-instructed, worshiping Lutheran, you’ve long confessed “one Baptism for the remission of sins (Nicene Creed).” You’ve believed that the Lord’s Supper “is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine. (Small Catechism)”. No mere memorial, ordinance, or demand of the Law, Holy Communion is an active participation in Christ’s body and blood and it truly forgives our breaking of the Law’s demands.

You ask about being “baptized Baptist” — how is the Christian Baptism you already received in any way deficient? Wouldn’t being “rebaptized” say that we don’t believe that God accomplished in our “first” Baptism what His Word says He does: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things.... (Titus 3:5-9; emphasis added)”

Lutherans teach that in Baptism, God makes us “fit into” His family the Church by forgiveness and adoption. He chooses us — we don’t choose either Him or a particular community of believers. He says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)” Sometimes “this world” includes living among of professed Christians who nevertheless believe and practice differently than we’ve learned from Scripture. Do we “conform” or does His transforming Word compel us to walk a sometimes less-peopled path?

Going through with this change joins you with a body that officially denies baptismal regeneration and Christ’s real presence in Holy Communion. If Baptism is “not because of works” but is God’s action “by His grace,” what does it mean to accept another “baptism” in order to fit in with those who believe that it is primarily human obedience to a divine rule?

Infant BaptismIf you already have children, what will it mean to tell them that their baptisms were not valid because they received it as infants? If children were to be born while you’re down there, would you withhold this life-giving washing from them until you were back in a church that believed it was the right thing to do? And if Christ is really present in the Supper, will you pretend He isn’t?

Imagine your home congregation receiving a new member who moved from another part of the country and had grown up Baptist. Suppose she went up front after going through instruction class and heard your pastor ask this question from the Rite of Confirmation: “Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?” If she didn’t agree with what she’d learned, should she answer, “I do,” in order to fit into your largely Lutheran community?

Can you set aside those things you grew up believing were Scripturally true or allow them to make no difference during your time spent away from the Lutheran heartland? Consider what you were taught, what you believe, and — most of all — what God’s Word says. If you believe like a Baptist, then become a Baptist. If you believe like a Lutheran, then remain a Lutheran.

For further reading, you might also examine Lutheran and Baptist Compared (Briefly).

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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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1 Comments:

Blogger Bob Waters said...

Well said as usual.

16 June, 2006 02:37  

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