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Ask the Pastor

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

10 January 2007

Beginning a New Life as a Christian

Q: I’ve recently discovered religion and there’s something pulling me to God. I want to explore the Christian faith more. My problem is, I’m scared. I just moved to a new town. I want to learn more about the Christian faith and to attend Church, but I’m scared about what people will think about a grown adult not knowing anything about the Bible, God, or Jesus. I wholeheartedly want to accept Jesus Christ and God into my life, but I don’t know how to go about doing it.

Fear is one of the greatest barriers between people and God. Not only does fear of God slow down or stop our relationship with Him, so do fears of unbelieving friends and of believers whom we do not know. That’s why I want to touch just a bit on each one of your sub-points.

How do I start going to a Church?

Holy Cross ChurchBeing a Lutheran pastor, I would, of course, suggest that you seek out a Christ-centered Lutheran congregation as close to you as possible. If you have no friends who are members of a church in which you are interested, I suggest that you use the phone book or the WWW to find contact information. If you need help in this, you could call or email me and I’d gladly assist in the “matchmaking” process.

While you certainly shouldn’t consider yourself to be a “buyer,” it won’t hurt to keep in mind the old expression, “Let the buyer beware.” Often, “nice” people are part of a cult or sect that doesn’t fully understand or teach the Christian Faith.

Will people look at me funny because I don’t know anything? What do I need to know?

QuestionsWhile a few people can’t avoid staring, most church members are happy to see new faces. Get to know the pastor before ever attending. Once at church, if you’re particularly outgoing, you might actually ask someone friendly looking to help you with figuring out the order of worship. Otherwise, the pastor should know who’d be a good introductory match for you as you learn how Christ’s Church worships. He’ll also begin at your knowledge level as you study God’s Word.

Depending upon where you go, it might take a few weeks or even months to become reasonably comfortable in the Scriptures or the worship services, especially if the church has formal (liturgical) worship. This isn’t at all bad: The differences between church and everyplace else help to emphasize that our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is different from any other relationship we’ll ever have.

Christ CrucifiedAs for knowledge, you need to know a “who” more than you do a “what.” You need to know Jesus Christ who died and rose for you. The specifics are things that you’ll pick up with time and experience. The practice of Christian instruction is often called catechesis while a learner may be termed a catechumen. Through this process, you’ll also learn how Christians worship and discover how to understand, interpret, and apply God’s Word more fully in your own life. You’ll learn how to pray and discover which people good mentors in the Faith and how to seek forgiveness from God.

Your questions lead me to think that you haven’t yet been baptized. As you continue, you’ll be prepared ahead of time to receive this “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)” and to trust that “Baptism ... now saves you. (1 Peter 3:21)” Your pastor will then help you learn to seek and receive absolution and to believe wholeheartedly, on the basis of God’s Word, that when he speaks forgiveness, he speaks truly on behalf of our Savior. You’ll also learn to examine your life in preparation for reception of the Lord’s Supper and will be taught that the bread and wine of Holy Communion are also truly the body and blood of your Lord Jesus Christ.

What version of the Bible should I get?

Bible StudyYou might hold off until you find a church home so you can see what version they use in worship and Bible study. I’ve used several different Bibles and currently do most of my reading and teaching from the English Standard Version. Since you write like a bright, educated adult, I assume you’ll have little trouble with the vocabulary or sentence structure.

With a Bible, I recommend some sort of companion to help you make sense of certain difficult passages, especially when you cannot quickly contact your pastor. I suggest the Concordia Self-Study Commentary. Another option would be to get your hands on a good study Bible, such as the Concordia Self-Study Bible.

How do I make people understand I’m not a bad person because I wasn’t raised in church?

CongregationYou’ll probably discover others who also grew up outside the Church. My wife was one of these until near the end of high school. Not going to church, of itself, makes no one any worse than even the most regular attendee. Nor does merely growing up in a Christian congregation make one “good” — nor even a Christian. By birth, we are all “bad.” Yet as I commented to the previous questioner, it’s us “bad” people whom Jesus came to save. He didn’t die on the cross for good or nice people — He died for us.

We may not be grossly violent, immoral, or the like, but all of us are “bad” by birth because we are born outside of a faith relationship. Truly “good” Christians realize just how sinful they are and give thanks for their free and full forgiveness through Jesus. These are the same people who will give you the warmest welcome and the truest comfort as you start becoming integrated in the congregation.

Please, Pastor, I’m ready to start accepting God in my life, but I don’t know how to. There’s an empty hole I want to fill with the love of God and Jesus, and I just need some guidance.

Sermon on the MountYour questions show me that God has already been busy accepting you. He’s moved you to a point where you are “hearing” His call and are turning toward Him in response. He can create longing or use existing loneliness, emptiness, and the like to show us our need for Him. He then fills that need through His Word, through His Church, and through individual believers. Listen to His love and salvation preached and taught: You’ll have all the guidance you need and will find yourself not only filled up, but overflowing into blessings for others.

I thank God that He’s brought you this far and I pray that He would continue leading you to a more complete relationship with Him, to unwavering belief in His Son Jesus Christ, to a loving church home, to a life guided by Him and blessed by His presence, and finally, to eternal life with Him.

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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