Non-Denominational Roller Coaster
Listen to the presentation here.
Presented at the Higher Things Conference in Valparaiso, IN (July 25-28, 2017)
If you have a friend who belongs to a Bible-believing, non-denominational church, raise your hand. (Comment on the percentage.) The idea of getting rid of denominational structures has been highly tauted in recent years. For the next forty minutes or so, you will follow along on the journey of a young man who grew up in a non-denominational church, questioned the Church’s teachings, and wandered around in the dark for answers until he found the Lutheran Church and became the Lutheran pastor standing before you today.
Not all non-denominational churches are the same, but they all have many things in common. Primarily, their distinct dislike of bureaucratic denominational structure. Each congregation is allowed to decide what they believe. Their elders have final say over the ministry, including the hiring and firing of the pulpit ministers. This fact will come into play later in my story. The congregation is completely self-sufficient and self-supporting. There is no necessary kinship between congregations as it can be found in our Circuits, Districts and Synod. My story will focus on the group I grew up in.
I grew up in the Church of Christ. Ever heard of it? Have one in your town? (Comment on percentage.) The Church of Christ is a loose affiliation of congregations around the world. They are primarily found in the southern United States. The largest concentrations of congregations are around their Bible colleges. The closest of these to us at this moment is Rochester College in Rochester Hills, MI, a northern suburb of Detroit. Their most well-known college is Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. The Church of Christ’s most prominent contemporary figure is Max Lucado.
The Church of Christ is one of the results of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. This movement began as two separate movements started by disgruntled Presbyterian ministers. Barton W. Stone began holding revivals in Cane Ridge, KY in 1801. The resulting group of congregations became known as the Christian Church. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, father and son, were holding revivals in Washington County, Pennsylvania (southwest of Pittsburgh) in 1809. Their congregations took on the name Disciples of Christ. The two movements joined together in 1832.
The Restoration Movement sought to restore true Christianity to earth. They believed that true Christianity had disappeared completely from the face of the earth. Have you heard that before? Three hundred miles away, around the same time, Joseph Smith was teaching the same thing. Not surprising, several of the founding leaders of the Mormons were part of the Restoration Movement.
Now that we’ve given a brief study of the origins of the Church of Christ, what do they teach? How are they different from the Missouri Synod? Actually, there aren’t a great number of differences between the two. However, the handful of differences are extremely important.
Their greatest creed (although they wouldn’t dare call it a creed) is this: “We speak where the Bible speaks. We are silent where the Bible is silent.” Their biggest problem is that they succumb to replacement theology, where the New Testament replaces the Old Testament. The Church of Christ is based primarily on the New Testament. When the Old Testament is needed for something, it is referenced with a caveat.
Their greatest teaching tool for Bible interpretation is the acronym CENI. For it to be a biblical doctrine, there must be a Command, an Example or a Necessary Inference. The commands include things like evangelism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). You make Disciples of Christ, or Christians, through Baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:37-38). The example they cite most often is the congregation at Troas in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them.” Based on this verse, every Sunday worship service must include both a sermon and the Lord’s Supper.
The necessary inference is the trickiest part. Which inference is necessary? Which inference isn’t? One of their greatest inferences is their insistence on singing hymns a capella, without instrumentation. Since there is no command or example of using instruments in worship in the New Testament, the Church can’t use instruments. It’s that great argument that’s used for so many different social issues that Jesus didn’t say anything about (fill in the blank). It’s awfully hard for them to have a doctrine that’s not written in red letters.
Another inference involves the clergy. The Campbells believed that there shouldn’t be a distinction between clergy and laity. Stone believed that only an ordained minister could preside over Communion. Stone pointed to Jesus’ appointment of the Apostles and St. Paul’s reference to laying hands on Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6) for his defense of ordained clergy. The Campbells referenced the Sanhedrin’s understanding that these same Apostles were “uneducated, common men” (Acts 4:13) to show that ordination was not necessary. Eventually, the Campbells’ position against ordination prevailed. Ministers in the Church of Christ don’t go to Seminary to be trained. There is no required formal training. Any baptized male is allowed to preach as long as the elders allow it. I preached my first sermon in a small Tennessee congregation when I was younger than all of you sitting here.
Son of a Preacher
And that’s where my spiritual journey begins. For about four years, from kindergarten until third grade, my father was a Church of Christ minister. He served several congregations in Kentucky and Tennessee. We bounced around as the elders of each congregation fired him for a variety of reasons.
So I was in worship twice on Sunday. Bible study on both Sunday and Wednesday. Every week. I was learning a great deal, but my great learning lead me to question things that I was supposed to take for granted. Many Bible passages memorized, but no understanding of when or how to use them. Lots of trivial Bible knowledge, but the doctrines kept escaping my understanding.
Thankfully God blessed (and cursed) me with an analytical mind. I’m a whiz at math. It makes me more accepting that things are they way they’re supposed to be. Someone says, “You have to be so old before you can even consider being baptized.” You just accept it. You haven’t been given any other option. Someone else says, “Anyone who uses instruments in music is going to Hell.” You accept it because you’ve grown up without instruments in worship. You hear, “Only members of the Church of Christ are true Christians.” You simply accept that Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists—anyone who doesn’t have Christ in their church name—aren’t true Christians. You just accept things because God made them that way.
Then you hit puberty. Where everything seems to be scrambled, upside down and inside out. You begin to question everything. But non-denominational churches don’t want you to question them. They have you memorize so much of the Bible so they can give pat answers for most questions. Those questions where they can’t quote the Bible they just shoot down as not being important.
This lead to a plethora of questions that rolled around in my analytical mind. Questions that could not or would not be satisfactorally answered by the teachers in the Church of Christ. I’ve chosen six to present briefly.
1. Who are Christians? Are you a Christian? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Probably not. Most of you have probably known yourself as a baptized Christian for as long as you can remember. You can’t remember a time where you didn’t know Jesus as your personal Savior.
The Church of Christ will say Christians are only those who hold to Christ’s name in all things. Anyone who belongs to a church that has some other name than Christ’s name in it cannot be a Christian. How many of you belong to a congregation who has Christ in their name? There’s not many. How many of you belong to a congregation with Lutheran in their name? That should be about everyone in this group. And because you have Lutheran in your church name, the Church of Christ does not consider you a Christian. Because you elevate Luther above Jesus. You are breaking the First Commandment by having Luther as your God and Savior instead of Jesus. They might not say it that bluntly, but that’s their thought process.
The Bible says a Christian is a person who has been baptized into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Anyone disagree with that statement? Anyone want to add to that definition? Do we need to say that a Christian must be baptized in a certain church? Do we need to say that there is a specific way to be baptized? No. We don’t need to add to this definition. It’s a perfectly biblical definition. It doesn’t matter if you’re baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church or Broad Street Church of Christ or in a river, lake or pond. Where and how don’t matter. That you were baptized matters.
2. Is original sin taught in the Bible? I had an unclear idea of this one as a child and young adult. I was willing to have my kids baptized even if I wasn’t Lutheran. I couldn’t accept an age of accountability. My children would be sinners. I just wasn’t sure about whether it started at conception or birth.
The Church of Christ says, “Absolutely not.” Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:14-15). Since there is no mention that these children were baptized, they are already saved. They cannot be sinful already. Jesus doesn’t accept sinners. He only accepts saints.
The Bible says, “Absolutely.” You can’t rationally tell me that you somehow learn how to sin. I’ll give you an example. How many of you have watched two-year-olds? What are their two favorite words? No and mine. Who taught them those words? Nobody. They are natural words to them. Independence and selfishness are natural to them and to you.
David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). There are three ways the Church of Christ tries to debunk this verse. The first, and the one I heard most often, is to dismiss the verse out-of-hand automatically because it’s in the Book of Psalms. The Psalms are poetry and filled with figurative language and therefore cannot be used to establish doctrine. But if you accept the entire Bible as God’s infallible, inerrant Word, how can you say that you can throw out some of it when it involves figurative language?
The second way is to twist the context. Since the superscription for Psalm 51 says, “When Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba,” you can say that David is writing this entire Psalm from the viewpoint of David and Bathsheba’s child who was condemned to die (2 Samuel 12:14, 18). This way it can be true, but it is a one-time deal.
The third way is to twist the words a bit. You can accept that David was born through a sinful relationship involving his mother. Did David’s mother sin through the sexual activity where she conceived David? Highly doubtful. David had seven older brothers. Jesse was the father of each of the older ones (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Why would David’s mother, Jesse’s wife, be involved in a sinful relationship after having given birth to seven children? It doesn’t make sense.
Any method you try to use to debunk this verse is filled with holes. If this verse isn’t a universal statement of all mankind, how do you limit it? Any limits will be imposed by fallible men who are fighting against thousands of years of belief in original sin.
3. Can infants be baptized? Do you have to be able to verbally confess your faith before you can be baptized? As I said, I was willing to have my children baptized. This question is one where CENI is definitely helpful even to us.
Is there a command to baptize infants? The Church of Christ would say no. But Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Where does Jesus say you shouldn’t baptize infants? It doesn’t. What does St. Peter say on Pentecost? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
Is there a direct example of infants being baptized in the Bible? The Church of Christ would say no. We would have to agree. There is no direct example of infants being baptized by Jesus or the Apostles. However, there are three instances in the book of Acts where entire households are baptized (Cornelius, 10:44-48; Lydia, 16:15; Philippian jailer, 16:33). Can you tell me for certain that none of these households had infants or small children? No, you can’t.
Is there a necessary inference for infant Baptism? The Church of Christ would say no. Without a doctrine of original sin, the Church of Christ sees no need for infant Baptism. Therefore they see no necessary inference for it. But we’ve already seen the inferences necessary for proper understanding of infant Baptism:
- Infants are part of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus doesn’t restrict age when He commands His disciples to baptize.
- Infants, the proper word for the “little children” in Mark 10, can receive the kingdom of Heaven.
- Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are available for little children (Acts 2:39).
- Whole households were baptized in Acts.
Probably the most important inference, Baptism is the new circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). Circumcision was the initiation rite for Israelite boys to enter into God’s OT covenant. Baptism is the initiation rite for entrance into the Church. Circumcision is a foreshadowing of Baptism. Since circumcision was done on eight-day-old boys (Genesis 17:12), Baptism should be done on infants. Baptism doesn’t have any special ritual requirements to discriminate gender or age.
4. What is the deal with the age of accountability? Most non-denominational churches work with an age of accountability because they don’t want to deal with original sin. They can’t ignore sin, although many TV preachers make their lack of “sin talk” one of their claims to fame. Sin is out there. It is in us. But do we need to worry about it all the time?
The Church of Christ would say no. “The times of ignorance God overlooked” (Acts 17:30 ESV). Since God overlooks times of ignorance, there must be times in everyone’s lives when God doesn’t count their sins against them. This would include the very young, the very old and the mentally challenged. The extremes of age are times when understanding can be difficult. The mentally challenged are generally regarded as set aside in God’s mercy because He made them not be able to understand His Word.
Nowhere does the Bible say that there is a time when we don’t need Jesus’ death on the cross. The Bible points out that everyone needs Jesus’ death on the cross. There are no restrictions for salvation. Anyone can be saved, regardless of age, mental capacity, ethnicity, gender, etc. God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
5. Do we have to worship with a capella singing only?
The Church of Christ would say that you must use only voices in worship. They will ask you to look throughout the New Testament and see where an instrument is ever used in worship. You won’t be able to find one. They will point to verses like Ephesians 5:19-20: “Be filled with the Holy Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”; and Colossians 3:16: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Singing is stressed in these verses. Not instrumentation.
They will bring out two instances from the Old Testament against instrumental music in worship. The first is Jubal, the sixth generation in Cain’s line (Genesis 4:21). He was the father of all who played the harp and flute. Since it was one of Cain’s descendants who invented instruments, we cannot use them to praise God. Secondly, Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, offered “unauthorized” (ESV/NIV) or “strange fire” (ASV/KJV) to the LORD. They were consumed by fire from God for their lack of reverence and respect for God (Leviticus 10:1-2). There are some cherry-picked Old Testament verses for you.
Again, this issue is another time when they throw out the book of Psalms. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 150. Let’s look at it for a moment.
1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
What do you find striking in this psalm? There’s a ton of instrumentation choices to praise the LORD. But the Church of Christ will throw all these out because it’s in Psalms and not in the New Testament.
But I ask you a simple question. A question I asked when I was your age. Why would you make a big racket if you were doing something illegal? If you were breaking into someone’s house, would you make a bunch of noise to alert the home owners or the neighbors? Of course not. That would be ridiculous.
In the Roman Empire of the first three centuries after Christ, Christianity was an illegal religion. Both the Romans and the Jews were after them to arrest Christians or worse (Acts 8-9). The Christians didn’t gather together and make a big ruckus with their meetings. They were trying to stay safe from their persecutors. Only after the Edict of Milan, and its legalization of Christianity, did instruments make an appearance in worship again.
Just a note of historical interest: the most contemporary instrument used in worship today is the electric organ. It only dates back to the 1890s. Every other instrument you can think of has predecessors thousands of years older.
6. Is Jesus really present in the Lord’s Supper? Is Jesus a liar? When He says, “This is My body,” does He really mean that? Or is He using figurative language here?
The Church of Christ would say no. The bread and grape juice are mere representations and symbols of Christ’s body and blood. One idea is figurative language. Another is the rational thought that Jesus’ human body can’t be in Heaven and on the earth at the same time. It can’t be spread all over the world with all the churches having communion at the same time. After all, there would come a time when there would be no more body for Jesus to give. There is only so much flesh on a human body and only so much blood. It would have run out hundreds of years ago if it were truly there.
The Bible paints a completely different picture. The time around the insitution of the Lord’s Supper was a very serious, straightforward teaching moment for Jesus and His disciples. Read through the whole Passion narrative. Why would He want to use figurative language at this point when He’s been so straightforward with everything else?
Jesus holds up the bread and says, “This, My body.” He takes the cup and says, “This cup, My blood.” In the original Aramaic, there is no verb. You have to supply it. What other verb could you possibly use to make sense than “is”? It is a prophecy of His death and burial. It is the assurance of where the disciples would find strength after Good Friday and Easter. Where you find strength today. You cannot use “represents” or “symbolizes.” It doesn’t make sense in the context.
After a while, as I questioned these things, I began to search through everything to find truth. As a sophomore in high school I began to wrestle with Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). I remember sitting in a Sunday School class where the teacher made the blanket statement, “We believe the Bible is God’s Word because it says it’s God’s Word.” I took issue with the statement. If we accept the Bible as God’s Word because it says so, why don’t we accept the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an? Both of these claim to be God’s Word. I was asked not to return to the Sunday School class. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think my question was that bad.
So I wondered about real truth. Ultimate truth. I went through the motions of going to church. I sat through sermon after sermon preached by a guy whose degrees were in sociology and not theology. In my junior year, I took World History. We began in ancient India. While studying this unit, I became greatly enamored with Hinduism. I began praying to the Hindu triumvirate: Brahman the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.
One of the great tenets of Hinduism is its universalism. Hinduism credits itself with being the ancestor of all other religions. Their doctrine of reincarnation brings about this relationship because their god Vishnu is continually reincarnated into the various different religious leaders throughout the world: Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, etc. Because these are all incarnations of the same Hindu god, every religion owes its existence to Hinduism.
By the time I went to college, and I went to a Church of Christ college, I considered myself a Hindu-Christian-Mormon-Jew. Hinduism came first as it was the “ancestor religion.” I still held to the basic beliefs in Christ and His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. I held Jesus as an incarnation of Vishnu. I continued to delve into the Gnostic Jewish and Christian texts. It’s the first time I picked up a wonderful little volume called The Other Bible. That deepened my quest for ultimate truth wherever I could find it.
I accepted Judaism because I have always had an interest in the Old Testament, especially since it was so “taboo” in my upbringing. One of my analytical ideas was that you need to understand the Old Testament if you want to understand the New Testament. So I made a strong study of the Old Testament so I could understand what Jesus was doing when He appeared on the earth.
The Mormon portion is more fun story than actual strong portion of my faith journey. It started out with a serious question in response to a comment made in Sunday School. The reaction sparked the interest into reading the Book of Mormon. It provides an interesting account for the Jewish origins of the Native Americans. It’s a good story, but it’s completely fictitious.
The fun story belongs to a semester in college where I wrote a persuasive paper for two classes: English Comp II and Revelation. I wrote an apologetic that strove to have the Book of Mormon, the Apocrypha and many other books added to the Bible. Only part of it was truly my opinion, but I was very persuasive. During the writing of this paper, I began to really wonder about the logic and truthfulness of what I was doing in my search for truth.
Having written it and received the consequences from it, I slowly began to come back to pure Christianity. I still enjoy the Old Testament and the necessity of understanding the Jewish religion for the Gospels. I read through the Book of Mormon every three or four years, just in case I’m ever home when the Mormon elders knock on the door. I don’t bother with the Hindu aspect of my journey any more. It was an avenue that brought me more issues than solutions, more questions than answers.
Return to Christianity
These four religions are completely contrary to each other. You can’t truly hold all four of these religious systems and stay sane. Especially when you try to bring it all into a Hindu framework. There are so many contradictory statements and doctrines that cannot be meshed together.
Through my last year of college, I began to slowly to drop the other portions of my religious framework. The first to go was Hinduism. You can’t have multiple gods in a pantheon and have one, singular God. Also, the ideas of reincarnation and the resurrection of the body don’t mesh. While Hinduism prides itself on the quest for absoulte knowledge in any place, there are many basic Hindu doctrines that just will not mesh with other religions.
The Book of Mormon is a wonderful, fictional story. After you’ve been confirmed, I would offer this as good reading, but read through the whole Bible and then you can pick this up. When you know what you believe, you can differentiate what is true and biblical from religious fantasy.
The Jewish part is still a strong part of my ministry. The Old Testament still provides a strong influence on my preaching and teaching the New Testament. The only issue with Judaism is the continuing anticipation for the Messiah. The Jewish portion is good for understanding the Old Testament, but it is not complete in itself.
That leaves the Christian faith. But out of the thousands of denominations and non-denominational churches, which one is right? I grew up in a church that taught it was the only true Church, but there were too many questions. I couldn’t stay in that church.
I kept attending because I needed to go to church somewhere. It was familiar, but I wasn’t comfortable. The questions were still there. I needed a place to worship. I thought I could go and just believe what I did, even though it wasn’t what was being taught from the pulpit. Although this idea floats around, it’s complete crap. If you don’t believe what’s being taught in the pulpit, you need to find another church. After all, you promised that in your Confirmation vows. I didn’t have any Confirmation vows in my past. It was just my confession of faith I made at my Baptism. And that was my faith in Jesus Christ.
I had graduated college and was living on my own. As I began to date, I did as many people do now. I went online. However, this was before Match.com and eHarmony. This was simply the an online version of the old personals section of the newspaper posted on Yahoo. Through that, I met my wife Renee, a life-long Missouri Synod Lutheran. Lutheranism wasn’t one of the avenues I had thought of. I had been taught that Lutherans were really no different than Catholics. After all, you have Luther as your Savior, remember?
When our relationship started to strengthen, the religion difference became prominent. As it does in any relationship. Religion is one of the most important aspects of every relationship. As we began to discuss, the questions that circled around in my head again. After a few heated discussions, our relationship almost came to a halt. All over religion.
I didn’t want this wonderful woman out of my life. So I started to look deeper into Lutheranism. And the first place I looked was the place everyone should start. Luther’s Small Catechism. From the very beginning of reading that short, little book, some of my nagging questions were being answered. There were also a couple more being raised. However, when I got to the Explanation at the end, those extra questions were being answered. While most confirmands’ eyes glaze over looking at the Explanation, it is a gold mine with faith nuggets everywhere for someone with religious questions.
Listening to Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism (unfortunately put at the back of most catechisms and overlooked), I moved on from the Small Catechism to the Large Catechism. This works because the Small Catechism is a condensation of the Large Catechism. Luther compiled the Large Catechism out of series of sermons he preached on the Six Chief Parts in 1528 and 1529.
The Large Catechism takes a deep, ministerial look at each of the Chief Parts. Each commandment, article and petition is taken in itself so that it may be expanded to cover almost any question that one could ask. After all, Luther was still asking those questions when he wrote it. He wrote these sermons based off his own study of each of these doctrines.
Book of Concord
By the time I was accepted into the communicant membership at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waterloo, IL, in 2001, I had read the entire Book of Concord. Not just the Catechisms. I gobbled up the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. I raced through the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. But when I got to the Formula of Concord, I met probably the most underrated document in the Book of Concord. The Formula of Concord is both a doctrinal and a historical document. It describes the doctrinal stance of the Lutheran Church, but it also gives a historical survey as to how the Lutheran Church got to this stance. There are many things that have been controversies over various doctrines. Wars were even fought over some of these.
The Book of Concord is a wonderful place to expand your understanding of the Lutheran faith. You can get it for $35 from CPH for the regular format or $19 for this handy pocket edition. On occasion, you might find either edition in the “Not Quite Perfect” section of CPH’s web site like I did for much cheaper. Regardless of the price you pay, it is a very great investment into your faith. By that investment, you will have the ability to help support your current congregation and other congregations wherever God will send you.
So, where did He send me? As I stated earlier, I am the son of a former preacher. I had been told throughout my childhood that I should be a preacher when I grew up. I swore up and down that I would never be a preacher. Always be certain what you’re “never”ing. It might end up being the thing you’ll do when you grow up.
I thought I knew what I was doing with my life before becoming Lutheran. I graduated from college with a degree in Computer Programming. Now, before you get all excited that I can do all the high-tech things in programming today, I can’t. I learned the old stuff. The stuff that made me a valuable commodity for companies seeking to make sure their computer systems would still work January 1, 2000. And that’s what I helped to do with the Postal Service for six months at their St. Louis hub. I looked through a bunch of the old code on their systems (because I was one of the few who could read it) and made sure what changes needed to be made. Honestly, there weren’t that many.
From the Postal Service, I went to working for the United States Transportation Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base outside St. Louis. I spent almost five years there, expanding my skill set, but also growing more and more impatient with every passing day. I didn’t feel like my job was a blessing to me. It felt more like a burden. Something whose sole purpose was to show it shouldn’t be there.
With this going on in my professional life and while working through the Book of Concord, there was this gnawing sensation in my heart and soul. Those comments from childhood kept playing themselves over and over again, like a vinyl record skipping. The comments just kept coming. I began to see exactly where God was sending me. I could see the dominoes toppling over with each major event in my life. He brought me into St. Louis so I would meet my wife. So I would look into Lutheranism.
My wife likes to tell people, “I just wanted him to be Lutheran, but he had to jump off the deep end.” I did, but I couldn’t fight that voice in my head. As I was going through Adult Instruction, I was also looking into the two seminaries. I was originally looking at the Master of Sacred Theology degree. Maybe the theological education would quiet that gnawing voice. Looking closer, I saw that you have to have your Master of Divinity before you can start that. And the Master of Divinity degree is the platform for becoming an ordained pastor. Again, another domino God was knocking over for me.
Since I had already moved more than thirty times by the time I got married, I quickly chose to go to St. Louis seminary. Through the teaching of men like Dale Meyer, Jeff Kloha and Joel Biermann, I saw that this was truly where God wanted me to be and what He wanted me to do. I took classes that stretched my basic knowledge of Greek and Hebrew to better understand the text of the Bible. I took classes that helped form the shape of what my pastoral ministry would look like. I took classes that made me question once again what it means to be Lutheran. Then there were the history classes. They serve the occasional purpose for an illustration in a sermon or in Bible class. The one thing I can tell you is that I am in a completely different place now than I was at your age.
When I was ready to graduate from seminary in 2007, God called me to serve the saints at Trinity Lutheran Church in Slayton, MN. I’ve been there for the last ten years. Slayton is a small town of 2200 nestled right in the southwestern corner of Minnesota. It has been a wonderful place for me to grow as a pastor. To give me the confidence to stand before you today and really believe that you want to hear my story. To grow my patience as I reduce forty years of life into less than forty minutes.
The journey of my life, both physically as well as spiritually, has taken me to many places I never thought I’d be before. Nowhere exotic. Places where real people live. Cities of two million people. Towns with two hundred people and seven hundred cows in the city limits. Other towns that only show up on the huge road atlases. Many places like where you’re from. Where God’s people live, work and thrive. That’s where God has taken me in my forty moves in my life.
It’s been a roller coaster of a ride. But at the end of the journey, parish ministry is a wonderfully challenging life. It is a living roller coaster with hills and dips and corkscrews, but if you’ve got that gnawing voice inside your head already, listen to it. It’s well worth the ride. Know some friends, whether non-denominational or not, that are struggling with the differences between what their church teaches and what they believe? Help them on their own journey. Be with them with the Bible and the Confessions. It will be a benefit to them and will likely strengthen your own faith as well.