Updated: Jul 27, 2019
Change is scary. Changing churches even scarier. Changing denominations and theological views scarier still. This past week was the one year anniversary of my husband, Bobby, and I becoming members of the LCMS here in little old Mountain Home, ID. A dear friend took pictures that day but I was scared to post them because so many of my other friends were reformed. However, it soon leaked out that we had converted to Lutheranism. It has been quite the journey from growing up Pentecostal through the charismatic world in various forms to Dutch reformed and now Lutheran. My friends were questioning how their "reformed gal" could now be Lutheran. Granted, over the past decade as reformed believers we were assured that Lutherans were our brethren and so we did not think it much of a change. We have been pleased that many of our friends have asked why we went from Heidelberg to Wittenberg* (Nancy’s upcoming book is titled The Accidental Lutheran: The Journey from Heidelberg to Wittenberg published by Wipf & Stock release date March 2019) and this is a condensed answer.
God Moves in Mysterious Ways
That is actually a line from one of my favorite hymns by Cowper and it proves true all the time. Our conversion from Dutch Reformed to Lutheranism was not intentional. Rather, we simply needed to find a church closer to us. You see Winter 2016-17 was pretty rough and from Thanksgiving weekend with the first snow clear through into the first week of May we either had snow storms or deep freezes. The roads became icy and with only one plow in town our little cul de sac just did not get touched for months. Since moving here in '14 we had attended a reformed church in Boise which meant a 100+ mile round trip each week. The highway was not forgiving that winter and God providentially kept us home.
However, after several weeks of missing church we were hungry for God's Word and fellowship. Bobby did find Worship for Shut-Ins (now Worship Anew) on TV and we began watching. It filled in what we were missing in the preached Word but we both were longing to join together with those of like faith for worship. By March I was asking him if we could just find a local church to attend and he set me out to find a faithful congregation. Thankfully the folks at Worship Anew connected us with one such church here in town. That is when everything changed.
Two Key Points
There are two areas, primarily, where Lutherans differ from the Reformed be it Presbyterian or Continental. They are: Baptism and The Lord's Supper
1. Baptism Now Saves
For over a decade we held to the Heidelberg that the Sacraments are "signs and seals" (Lord's Day 25 Q. 66) which meant that baptism and the Lord's Supper only "direct our faith to Christ" but do not actually confer faith upon the recipient. In baptism the catechism taught us that "just as water washes dirt away the "promise" is that Christ by His Spirit washes us by His Blood with no connection to the Word and the waters of baptism. What I had found odd was that in Q. 71 it refers to Titus 3:5 where it says “the scripture calls baptism ‘the washing of regeneration’ and ‘the washing away of sins’. However, the very next question says that the external baptism with water is “not at all the washing away of sin itself.” Instead, baptism points to the spiritual washing but does not actually wash us from our sins.
In contrast the Lutheran confessions teach that baptism is not simply water but it is God’s Command connected with the Word and the Water which now saves. Indeed baptism works forgiveness of sins and is required as our Lord said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
Clearly there was a difference between the two positions so I looked up the scriptures on baptism and found that with each command to be baptized was the promise of sins forgiven, regeneration, the washing of our souls. Then, when I read 1 Peter 3:21 without any presuppositions, I was quite shocked to read that baptism actually saves us.
Repent and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. (Acts 2:38
Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 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… (Titus 3:4-6)
In each of these verses baptism is said to “forgive” “wash away sins”, “regenerate” and/or cause one to be born again. Then there is Peter, who so plainly writes “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience… (1 Peter 3:21)
One of the effects of understanding that in the waters of baptism, with the Word, we are justified is that I no longer look to a day of conversion or even to the fruits in my life. A friend and I would always joke that many navel gaze to check and make sure they’re in the faith. While making our calling and election sure is commanded it is where we look that is important. Are we looking at our own fruit which, I don’t know about you but in my life often is not ripe and too often crooked and still worm-infested by sin? However, if one looks at their baptism as the place where God has washed away their many sins, has forgiven them and declared them just, then when Satan comes against us with accusations we point to God’s Work in those blessed waters. No longer will one have to go through the “three parts of true faith” as taught in the Heidelberg as the litmus test for salvation.
These three parts are: Knowledge, Ascent and Trust. You must have accurate knowledge, must agree with them and then trust only in them in order for you to know if you have true faith. However, my own soul wrestled with these because I would ask myself, “Is my knowledge true? After all, I’d taught heterodox doctrine in the past. Did I agree with everything the Bible teaches? What of those things I may doubt? Do I trust the Lord completely? What of those nights I awake wondering if I’m saved at all?” Yet, instead of looking to things in me, now focusing my gaze upon the finished work of Christ given to me in baptism, not of my own doing but by His hand pouring water and washing away my sins, I have peace and comfort…finally.
2. Hoc Est Corpus Meum (This is My Body)
Now I come to the point of teaching which I had wrestled with even decades ago when a Pentecostal. I would read John 6 where Jesus told the crowds, “Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you have no part in me.” (cf. John 6: 49-50, 53-56) This passage made me wonder why, when the crowds walked away from Him, Jesus just didn’t say, “Come back, I was using an analogy…” Then, when Jesus passed around the Bread he did not say, “This is a symbol of my Body” or with the Wine, “This is just a picture of my blood…” No. Jesus said, “This is my Body broken for you…This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Another text is from Corinthians where there is an actual warning of sickness and even death if one takes the elements unworthily. If this was just a cracker and juice, then why the warning? Why does Paul also speak of us “participating in the Body and Blood of our Lord”? (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16)
So when Pastor came over and went through the doctrines of the faith to examine us for membership as he spoke of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper it became so very clear to us that the is the True Body and True Blood of our Lord for us…for me.
No longer do I view the elements are symbols or signs but as the Body and Blood of our Lord. I am not about figuring out how this can be, after all, God is God and I am not. This is no longer about us humans being brought up spiritually into the Presence of God via the elements (which is the Reformed view), rather it is Christ coming down to us and feeding us, strengthening our faith and forgiving us our sins each time we partake. This is where comfort and peace can be found.
While there are a few others areas where the two are different (i.e. election and reprobation, warnings against falling away etc) these were the two which caused us to convert to Lutheranism. We still love our reformed brothers and sisters and hold them with high regard yet we have found that Lutheranism holds out a simpler and more faithful approach to the Word of God. Many of our friends still question why we converted and this was the simplest way to explain two of the main reasons we changed. As an apologist (that’s my field of study) I am always asking “Where is that in the Scriptures?” This happened with many varied teachings in the Three Forms of Unity (the compilation of beliefs for the Dutch reformed) and when I could not find an answer there I did find a satisfactory one in the Church of the Augsburg Confession and Concordia the compilation of the Lutheran Confessions.
Certainly Winter did come and everything has changed. It has been an interesting year digging into the Word of God, reading it plainly without presuppositions and having much corrected in my thinking and beliefs. If others have more questions, just ask me and I will share. While we did not intend to convert to Lutheranism, God’s Providence moved the weather to keep us in town and caused our hearts to long for fellowship closer to home. Since changing, which as I said can be scary, many things have changed for us including a renewed passion to defend the faith, which will be the topic of my next blog post.
 Ibid. 6671–73.