Originally Posted March 2009
I became a Christian twenty eight years ago. The first nine years of that period were spent in a Holiness Church. (For those who are unfamiliar with this form of Christianity, its main focus is on becoming ‘entirely sanctified’, or to live without any known sin in your life. They are big on rules.) I went to their Bible College, and ministered in a small congregation in that denomination for a couple years. The Bible College president got up in chapel one day and stated that “If you miss God’s will for your life, you will end up a knick-knack on the back shelf of God’s five-and-dime.” Of course he and the other administrators were more than happy to tell us what that will was. (It involved moving with the college from Texas to its new location in Oklahoma.) The stress of avoiding and overcoming sin was bad enough, now we had to worry about ‘finding God’s will’. More than a few kids just broke. Some walked away, others abandoned the faith entirely. Still others got kicked out going down in a blaze of drinking and sex. Me, I was naïve; I figured this whole Jesus thing must work, I just hadn’t figured it out yet. So I stayed.
I felt like I was living a lie though. No matter how much praying and Bible reading I did, I just couldn’t seem to gain the “victory” over sin. In fact, reading Scripture and praying only made me realize how truly bad I was. It also helped me to see where this group was biblically lacking. I embarked on a search for a better way, a better theology, one that would deliver on the promise to rid me of my lusts and hatred, that would enable me to live the ‘Christian Life’ that I had been taught we needed to live to please God, and not move to Oklahoma.
My search led me to a very large Southern Baptist Church which I enjoyed greatly, but I still had the nagging guilt that I was a sinner and possibly outside of God’s grace. These were some miserable years. I was obsessed with following Jesus, but convinced that He pretty much hated me because of whatever sin was troubling me at the time. I heard the gospel at that Baptist Church, but after my fifteenth rededication realized that this wasn’t doing it for me either.
Shortly thereafter, my wife and I moved to California and discovered the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Finally, we had found what we needed. God’s Spirit was ‘moving powerfully’, renewing believers who were discouraged and defeated, people were being converted to Christ, and there were all these really cool ‘manifestations’ of God’s ‘power’, or so we thought. After a string of scandals we were having some serious reservations. Then the ‘prophets’ showed up. They were clearly false prophets expounding heretical doctrines and using threats of God’s judgment against any who would question them. By this time we had become deeply involved in this ministry, but it was just too much. I declared a church fast and we quit attending church altogether. We quit our small group, we quit working with the ministry to the homeless; we just stopped everything. Our faith was almost completely extinguished.
There was one thing that I felt I was obligated to do, and that was to call my friend and mentor in the faith, the man who had first shared the Gospel with me, and tell him I was done with the church. About six months after we had quit attending I called him. I told him that I really liked Jesus, but that the church sucked and I was done with it. In fact I was even beginning to wonder about this whole Christianity thing. He listened patiently and even sympathetically. As I was wrapping up our conversation he said to me “I am going to send you a book, if you consider me to be a friend, read it.” I gave him the standard “yeah, yeah” and promptly forgot about it.
A week later a package shows up on my doorstep. It’s a really thick hardcover book entitled ‘Book of Concord.’ Taking a quick glance through it and seeing that it was well over four hundred pages, I said to myself “yeah… right” and promptly put it on a bookshelf somewhere.
The following week my phone rang, and it was my friend checking to see if the book had arrived and if I had read it yet. I told him ‘No’ and mumbled some feeble excuse. He said ‘If you consider me a friend you will read it.’ Before I could say anything he added ‘You owe me your soul. I shared the Gospel with you; if that means anything to you, you will read it.’
Not being one to back away from a solemn charge by such a close friend, I read it.
Until this point I had heard of justification by faith alone, but never really heard a clear and biblical explanation of it. This theme is pounded home over and over again in the Lutheran Confessions, from Scripture, from the church fathers, clearly and powerfully. Finally, like the nail submitting to the last blow of the hammer, it took, I understood God’s grace in Christ, and that it’s not about what goes on inside me, but what Christ did for me.
Hope returned, and the smoldering wick of my faith started to come back to life. I am not going to lie and tell you that everything was miraculously better in my life, or that there have not been some really hard times. But, I finally see the truth about Christ’s work on my behalf and my existence here as both sinner and saint, and I am at peace with that. I have a faith that I can live with and die with.
The Confessions also answered a bunch of other important questions, helping me to understand the Scriptures as both Law and Gospel, and showing me that I serve God in fulfilling the vocations that He has given me. Basic stuff that gives me hope and the will to keep going.
My immediate question upon finishing the book was ‘Why aren’t people shouting this doctrine from the house tops?’ But that is the subject of another post sometime. It also gives you some insight as to why we started New Reformation Press.
We found a Lutheran Church and began Catechism classes in the fall of 1989. I have been a member of a Lutheran congregation ever since.
So, there is the story of how the Lutheran Confessions brought me back into the church.
If you are interested in reading them for yourself, we have the new Pocket edition at a price that won’t break the bank. For those of you who prefer a more scholarly edition we also have the Reader’s edition in a nice hardcover with helpful study notes and some cool introductory material. Both editions have a Scripture reference index that allows you to check out the pertinent passages.By Pat K