I am a WELS member and will soon be marrying a man who is studying to become a pastor of another denomination. His church teaches that there is salvation only through faith in Jesus, but beyond that its doctrine can be described as being on “shifting sand.” Is it wrong to convert because I do not fully adhere to the doctrine of my future husband’s denomination?
James F. Pope
My response to you addresses the confessions of faith we make and how important it is that those confessions be consistent.
The confession of the heart and mouth
Faith is a matter of the heart. Faith certainly involves knowledge and the affirmation that such knowledge is true, but faith is primarily trust in God’s promises. Perhaps you have seen that truth illustrated in a picture in which a heart is tilted, leaning against the cross of Christ. Saving faith is known only by God and the Christian involved. God alone can see what is in a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
When we confess our Christian faith, as we do when we speak the creeds, we tell God what he already knows, but we also tell others what is in our hearts (Romans 10:10). That confession is important.
We all make another significant confession. It’s not one of words, but actions.
The confession by church membership
Think back to the day of your confirmation. At that time, you confessed your faith publicly, you answered questions, and you made solemn promises to God. While the questions might vary from one congregation to another, it is likely you were asked if you believed that the teachings you learned in your course of instruction were correct explanations of biblical doctrines.
You were not alone in being asked such a question. Adults who wish to be confirmed are asked a similar question. That question also is presented to people who wish to join our congregations by way of profession or affirmation of faith. That question is appropriate and necessary for people who are seeking communicant membership. Membership in a congregation sends the signal to others that their faith matches the church’s teachings. Their membership is a tangible way of doing what Jesus said— acknowledging him before others (Matthew 10:32). Others would have every reason to conclude that your faith matched those of the church you joined. If that were not the case, someone could naturally wonder why you affiliated with that church in the first place.
A consistent confession
It can be misleading and confusing when the confession of faith made by your membership in a church is different from what you believe in your heart. In your case, joining the church of your future husband would naturally lead people to think you believe what that church teaches. While that church correctly points to Jesus Christ as Savior, you indicated that its doctrine beyond that is on “shifting sand.” Your membership in that church would be an endorsement of teachings you do not accept.
Many have faced similar decisions. Those situations are not always easy. Take the matter to the Lord in prayer and begin a discussion with your fiancé about your questions. I do not know how you will make a consistent confession. That is a conversation for you and your fiancé. Both of you will want to determine how best to make a confession that is consistent—before your Lord and before others.
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017
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