“Man could say nothing to God, nothing from God, nothing about God, except an almost inarticulate cry for mercy and for the supernatural help of Christ, in a world where all natural things were useless. Reason was useless. Will was useless. Man could not move himself an inch any more than a stone.” – G. K. Chesterton on Lutheranism, St. Thomas Aquinas
Continuing from Part One…
As an evangelical Christian, I developed a deep love and longing for Christ. Then as a confessional Lutheran, I had great desire for Christ who is truly present in the two sacraments—baptism and the eucharist. I fell in love with Christ in the world around me, and with new eyes, I was able to see the sacraments in Scripture. I even cultivated a new appreciation for the faith handed down in the Church throughout history. This was a step in my journey to the Catholic Church; however, the distance present between the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Catholic Church is great, far greater than I ever realized.
Lutherans insist that faith alone saves. Our sin is covered by Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and we receive his merits by his promise. When God sees us, He sees His Son who stands in for us. We may be able to do good works for our neighbors, but before God, our good works mean nothing. Anything and everything we do is tainted by sin; therefore, our personal efforts to grow in holiness are futile. Our will to be holy only shows us how terribly unholy we are. Therefore, our desire to be truly holy is sinful, for we try to accomplish something only Christ can do, and something He has already accomplished for us.
This is what Lutherans believe. Entering Lutheranism, I was quite attracted by the humility I saw in the so-called “theology of the cross,” as it seemed it did not sugarcoat the state of humanity or the world. Instead, I believed Lutheran theology saw us in our true state, enabling us to recognize just how profoundly we need Christ.
The effects, however, are not so profound. My understanding of sanctification became confused, because there was no room left for true progress in the spiritual life. The fruits were supposed to come naturally, because now that we were free of the need to please God, we could love Him and our neighbors freely. We did not bear the weight of responsibility to do good, but only took responsibility for the sin we committed. But without expectation of growth in holiness, the striving for holiness ceased. I grew comfortable in my state in life as a student, a wife, and a soon-to-be mother.
I was told every Sunday that what Jesus tells us to do is actually Him showing us we cannot do what He says; He is the only one who fulfills what He asks of us, so it is foolish and sinful of us to think we can fulfill what He says. With this in mind, I thought a lot about my faith, God’s mercy and forgiveness. When I sinned, I prayed and asked for God’s mercy, and thanked Him for his forgiveness. However, I was not in the watchful for areas in which I might grow in holiness; if something came to my attention, I half-heartedly tried to get better, but I knew I would sin again anyway. How could I ask for God to offer me grace to not sin again when I was taught I could not do anything without sinning before God? It was arrogant to seek perfection in Christ, so having grown accustomed to the Lutheran air I breathed, I settled—largely without my knowledge.
As a Lutheran, I really wanted to grow, but I did not know how to grow or what to pray. As a Lutheran, I wanted to read spiritual classics, but Lutheran spiritual classics are mostly nonexistent. I desired some practice or devotion to enrich my spiritual life, but it seemed Lutherans only boasted of praying the small catechism, which for me, seemed to be an intellectual exercise. What did, in fact, help me grow during my time as a Lutheran were prayers and teachings that were not, in fact, Lutheran. The Jesus prayer of the Eastern Church—“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—was (and still is) incredibly transforming for me. Taking seriously Jesus’ words to pray without ceasing, making this prayer one with my very breath, has immense depth. I could bring this prayer into my daily life, seeking Christ to transform my entire being into His. It captured my imagination and was beautiful to me.
And when I finally read parts of Theology of the Body from Pope Saint John Paul II, I was absolutely captured by its beauty and convinced of its truth. My husband and I embraced the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage, sex, and family life. Though we had been exposed to this teaching earlier when we were engaged to be married, we were left to figure out what was right for ourselves, so we settled for what the world told us was “responsible.” No one gave us a definitive teaching about God’s will for sex and marriage when we most needed it.
I must say I am grateful to my Lutheran pastor and community for cultivating in me a love and desire for Christ in the sacraments and for fostering a love of the liturgy, helping me to understand the meaning of different elements of the liturgy, and for helping me to see that the liturgy is beautiful and demands reverence. Here, I developed a love of Christian art, such as icons, statues, and crucifixes, which all contributed to my reflection on Christ, on the Christian life, and on the cross. Even with all of that, though, my desire for life in Christ continued to point me elsewhere before Lutheranism’s time.
Check back for Part Three!