I've shared before a bit about my journeys among Pentecostals and charismatics when I was in college. For a lot of reasons, I've been thinking about this time again. I have relatives who have had similar experiences, and are now no longer Lutheran. As for me, for most of my college career and for a couple of years afterwards, I experimented and dabbled in various kinds of religious experiences: I went on a silent retreat at a Franciscan retreat center, I attended Catholic charismatic praise services and New Testament Churches and a tiny Foursquare Gospel church. I read huge sections of the Bible in my evening devotions, and went to a lot of Bible studies. I think I missed some passionate believing in the church of my youth, and I found it in these alternative experiences.
Some of my Bible study friends thought that the best thing for me to do would be to get re-baptized and join their church. But unlike my relatives, I never got re-baptized, and I never joined any of those different churches.
I think part of my reticence had to do with baptism itself. God knows, my confirmation studies in the early 70s had not given me a complete education. But somehow I got the idea that baptism had more to do with God than it did with me. Once, when I was in college, a friend asked me if he should be re-baptized. People had approached him and told him that if he was re-baptized, his eyesight might improve (he was legally blind.) So, he asked me, and I said, "Well, what do you think is most important about baptism: what you do, or what God does?" And he answered, "What God does." So I said, "Then you don't need to be re-baptized."
I'll tell you, during those years while I went to different Bible studies and pray meetings and worship services, I found the passion that I was missing in the church of my youth. For a while there, it was all Jesus, all the time. Why was anyone talking about anything other than Jesus, I wondered? Truthfully, I was insufferable for awhile.
But I continued to go to church on Sunday too. And a few books I read during that time began to broaden my perspective. (None of them were by Lutherans though; the three books I remember were The Living Reminder, by Henri Nouwen, Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, and Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, by Frederick Buechner.) Even though none of these writers are/were Lutheran, they are part of the reason I'm still Lutheran.
Another reason I'm still Lutheran, I think, has to do not with passion, but with compassion. I remember thinking about the things I admired about those who I met at the churches and Bible studies and prayer meetings I attended. It was evident that they took faith very seriously, and read the Bible very seriously.
But when I thought about people who lived gracious lives, with charity toward people they didn't agree with, I didn't think of them. I thought of the professors at the Lutheran school I attended, I thought of the people I had known in my church growing up, I thought of my godparents, serious Lutheran Christians who loved me even when I dissed their faith.
Passion and compassion. Both important qualities.
But if I had to pick, I'd pick compassion every time.