Through questions and the Word, one man finds his final church home.
Sept. 11 is a somber day for many people in the United States. But Sept. 11, 2016, gave Greg Porter something to celebrate. He describes this date as one of the happiest days of his life. On that day Porter officially became a member of Abiding Grace in Covington, Ga., the place where he finally ended his search for peace and truth.
For the first 45 years of his life, Porter was a member of the Baptist church. He grew up in a house with strong Christian ideals and actively participated in his congregation. But after studying certain passages in the Bible, Porter saw some issues with the doctrine being taught in the Baptist church.
One of its central teachings is that if a person was baptized as a baby or was not fully submerged during his or her baptism, then the person must be re-baptized. That troubled Porter. He turned to the Bible for answers. When he read Ephesians 4:5, he discovered that Paul says there is only “one baptism.” Then looking at Matthew 28:19, he found that Jesus said that we should baptize all nations. That includes babies.
In addition to the teachings on Baptism, Porter also found issues with the Baptist teaching on Holy Communion. For the Baptist church, the bread and wine are only symbols of the body and blood of Christ. They are not truly the body and blood of Christ.
Porter wanted to find a church that addressed his questions and taught what the Bible taught. He looked at Lutheran churches, but he was not sure about the theological differences between the many different denominations. At first he avoided Lutheran churches. But he saw that Catholicism only had one branch. There were no different denominations, so Porter started attending a Catholic church.
He said it “started off well,” but over time he developed new questions about some of the Roman Catholic teachings. These included the Catholic church’s stance on divorce, as well as certain rules on Holy Communion. Porter attended the church for eight years but could not reconcile these issues. In addition, he felt uneasy that the Catholic church made salvation so difficult. Instead of saying that Jesus paid for all sins on the cross, Catholics still had to do things to undo their sins and failings.
Over the years, Porter received cards in the mail from Abiding Grace Lutheran Church, inviting him and his family to attend its Fall Festival, an annual event featuring lunch, games, and a worship concert. In 2015, he finally decided to attend the event.
“I always thought, These look like nice people,” Porter says. “So I thought I would go and check it out. There would be other people there so they wouldn’t know I was visiting.”
During the worship portion, Porter filled out the church’s friendship register, where he checked off that he would not be interested in a visit from the pastor.
“He didn’t listen,” Porter shares with a laugh. “He came to the house to visit anyway.”
But Porter is glad that Jonathan Scharf, pastor at Abiding Grace, ignored the card. This visit began Porter’s journey in the Lutheran faith. He soon began attending weekly Bible information classes with Scharf to learn more about Lutheran doctrine. Porter found that there was not enough time in the classes for all his questions. He wanted to speak more with Scharf, so he asked to meet with him outside of class.
“I wanted to make sure that when I made this change that it would be the last change that I ever made,” he says.
So Porter meet with Scharf before class each week at the Waffle House for breakfast to privately discuss more about the Bible. Porter had a hunger to learn, reading about the congregation and its teachings on its website. Scharf answered any of his questions that came up, giving him more materials and passages to read. Their discussions ranged from creation versus evolution to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
“He had a lot of questions, realizing that a lot of the different teachings he had heard in his previous churches weren’t lining up with Scripture,” Scharf says.
Porter says Scharf was extremely patient in answering all his questions. “He has a way of explaining the Bible in a way that no one else has been able to.”
During one of their breakfast sessions, Scharf loaned Porter his Lutheran Confessions, a collection of confessions written by Marin Luther and others during the time of the Reformation. The collection is not a small pamphlet, but a large heavy textbook. Within the week, Porter had read the entire book and had passages picked out that he wanted to talk about. Scharf was amazed at Porter’s passion and devotion for God’s Word, even while balancing a full-time job and a family.
“He has this insatiable desire to keep learning and is excited to have an opportunity to learn and grow in God’s Word,” says Scharf.
Before joining Abiding Grace, Porter took several months to think and pray about becoming an official member. He had a lot to consider. He had to think through his early Baptist background and his current Roman Catholic membership. Was he sure he wanted to turn his life in a new direction? When Sept. 11 finally came, Porter was ready to make his final change and become a Lutheran.
Still learning today
Today, Porter still has his enthusiastic drive to learn more about the Bible. In addition to attending church on Sundays, he also listens to sermons from other WELS pastors and reads Meditations and Time of Grace devotions.
Scharf and Porter still meet regularly, never running out of new topics to discuss. They also attended the National Worship Conference in Kenosha, Wis., together this past summer. Porter is heavily involved in Abiding Grace, volunteering to help whenever he can and participating in Bible studies and choir.
“He has really jumped in anywhere there has been a request or opportunity,” Scharf says.
Porter reflects that becoming a Lutheran and finding answers through the Bible has been a great comfort in his life. He knows that the Bible is the final authority, providing clarity to all of life’s questions.
“It gives me a type of freedom knowing that you don’t have to jump through any hoops,” he says. “You’re free in the truth that Jesus gave us.”
Gabriella Moline is a member at Zion, Crete, Illinois.
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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018
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