I have been a Lutheran in name for as long as I can remember. I entered the Lutheran parochial school system in preschool and continued in it through my senior year of high school. After that, I seriously considered attending a Lutheran college and getting a seminary education. I went to church every weekend, confirmation classes for four years, and even attended an adult confirmation/refresher course with my parents until youth group started. I attended all sorts of bible studies and small groups. But for all the classes I attended, something just wasn’t “clicking.” For the longest time, I just didn't understand the Blessed Means of Grace.
This should not be construed as a bad reflection upon my catechesis. To be sure, my pastor consistently taught (and teaches) about the Means of Grace. But my ears were closed. I just couldn't believe that Baptism is salvific, much less that it “gives faith” to babies. Yes, pastor taught the orthodox position, but I heard what I wanted to hear. Likewise, I knew that pastor taught the Holy Supper is Christ’s true Body and Blood under the forms of the bread and wine. But I understood this in a “spiritual,” Reformed way. Indeed, in high school I was heavily influenced by Reformed ways of thinking. I listened to Reformed apologists and conversed with Reformed people on the internet. I considered myself a Protestant in the fullest sense of the term.
But how did this happen? Why was I so resistant to my Lutheran upbringing? One answer is that I thought I knew it all. I thought I had everything figured out. I never entertained the possibility that I didn’t actually know everything there is to know about theology. Worse still is the fact that my acquaintance with Reformed theology led me to view the Christian faith in anthropocentric terms rather than Christocentric ones. This was compounded by the fact that, to the shame of the "Lutheran" schools (especially high school) I attended, my familiarity with the Lutheran Symbols was almost nil. When the truth of Lutheran orthodoxy finally “clicked,” it was because the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to to the teachings of Scripture as I read them in the Confessions. It was because He led me to this revelation: Christianity isn’t about what I do for God! My biggest epiphany came when I read the following excerpts from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:
"And the difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers" (IV:49).
"Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God" (III:189).
It was like a light-bulb went on. It’s when I finally understood the point of going to Church - why we do the things we do. Why we have the Sacraments. It’s not about remembering something that happened 2,000 years ago. It’s about receiving the grace of God right now! It’s about receiving the forgiveness that Christ won on Calvary here in the present age. It’s about connecting us with Christ. No longer did I sing “we stand forgiven at the cross” with Keith Getty & Stuart Townend. My refrain became “I stand forgiven at the Altar, Font, and Pulpit.”
I finally understood that it all started in Baptism, where I was clothed with Christ by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Word-empowered water. No longer does God look at me as an enemy; He looks at me as a son. As His Son. He declared me righteous and just, seeing Christ’s life in me. I am justified. More than a cosmic facade, though, God’s declaration of righteousness made me righteous. My old nature was crucified with Christ and I was raised to life with a new nature. I was recreated in Christ’s image. This was the beginning of the work of sanctification.
But that old man doesn’t drown easy. He’s a good swimmer. Thus, as the Blessed Reformer once wrote in his 95 Theses, the Christian life is one of repentance. Through daily repentance that old man continues to drown in the waters of my Baptism. In Holy Absolution, I receive the forgiveness of sins that Christ acquired for me. My new man is empowered to live a new life. Likewise, when I hear a pastor proclaim and expound upon the Word of God, my old man is slain with the Law and my new man is empowered by the Gospel.
So too in the Holy Supper - that Most Blessed Sacrament - Christ condescends to me and physically gives me the tangible forgiveness of sins; His Body broken and His Blood outpoured. I receive new life through His death, peace through His suffering, and salvation by His condemnation. These gifts are made mine as I kneel side by side with my brothers in the faith, who have also been justified by the saving work of Christ. I commune with the whole body of Christ, the Ecclesia Catholica, whether in this temporal sphere or around the Throne of God.
This is the true Catholic faith. Christ comes to us and forgives us in real time. He isn’t a God far-off, watching the eons roll by. He is a God-with-us. A God Who deigns to dwell with His children in more ways than one. A God Who physically dwells with His children in such earthly means as human flesh and water and bread and wine.