Autistic & Lutheran: My Journey to Faith

Many people wonder where my journey in life has taken me. My journey as a Christian specifically, has led me to the Lutheran Church. This post is an attempt to explain that journey of faith as both a person who is the Spectrum, and as a Lutheran specifically. I hope this post will help explain things that about my past that I’ve only revealed in bits, and pieces before.

I grew up in a conservative Evangelical Baptist family. My parents both had born again experiences in college, and carried over those views, and beliefs in our family life. Growing up I was expected to go to church despite my sensory difficulties, and differences as a person with autism. Any meltdown, or distractions on my part were dealt with swiftly, and harshly by my parents. This went on for years, and it took a toll on my well-being.

By the time I had reached high school, I was burnt out by the harsh discipline, and the rigidity of my parents church. I started refusing to attend church. I wanted nothing to do with Christianity from then on. My relationship with my parents began to deteriorate, as did my mental health. By time I left High School, I had been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, and was officially on my own for my entire freshman year of college beginning in the fall of 2010.

I ended up flunking out of my freshman year of college, and was hospitalized for a suicide attempt in the fall of 2010. My autism combined with the mental health problems had caused me to hit rock bottom. I came home, and entered intensive treatment for my serious mental illness. In 2012 my counselor suggested that I should consider having a spiritual component to my recovery.

At first I was apprehensive. The only spirituality I knew about was religion, and that religion was Christianity. I had a lot of hurt, and angry feelings towards the church, and my parents for how they had treated me in high school. However, the only spiritual things I knew about were in the Bible. So in December of 2012, I opened my Bible for the first time in many years, and found myself staring at Luke 4:18-19:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Those two verses right there, read from a Prophecy in Isaiah, hit me like a rock. The first thing my autistic brain instantly realized was that Jesus was talking about me. He was talking about about setting me free from the oppression, and legalism of my parents church. Here was this Jesus, the greatest man who ever lived, and he come to free me. That alone, made me keep reading.

I was amazed that this Jesus stood up for the poor, and sinner alike. He stood up for people like me. Yet, he didn’t win very many friends from these actions, and he was put to death as a common criminal on the cross. To me it was unthinkable, this great man, who stood up to pharisees, and legalistic religious hypocrites, like my parents church, but executed as a common criminal. As I finished Luke, I literally wept, not yet realizing the significance of Christ’s resurrection. The miracles hadn’t made sense to me yet, as a person with Autism.

When I finished the book of Luke, I asked, What’s next? So I read the Book of Acts which talked about the early church, and the Apostles acts following Christ’s ascension into heaven. I read about the martyrdom of Stephen, who was killed for his faith in Christ. I also read about how Peter, and Paul were beaten to a point near to death, and then thrown into prison. Yet, neither of these men renounced their faith. I saw the importance of baptism as a rite of entrance into the church.

When I finished Acts, I knew I wanted to be a Christian like these men, and follow Jesus. So I rushed to the nearest church, a United Church of Christ congregation, and asked to be baptized. So on December 23rd, 2012 I was baptized, and adopted as a child of God. Yet, soon I realized I needed more than baptism. I was missing something.

I began to read the Book of Romans. I soon began to realize the importance of all Christ’s miracles, especially the virgin birth, and the resurrection. With my reading of Romans, I found that I needed faith. I couldn’t figure out how to get this faith though. I was stuck. Soon, I began to read early church history. I always wondered what came after the Book of Acts, and soon read about people like Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr.

Each of these men talked about faith, and miracles. Like many people with autism, I was a concrete, and literal thinker. The idea of a virgin giving birth without sex, or a man rising from the dead without CPR, or an AED were difficult for me to understand. I began to study theology, and came to four conclusions.

  1. That belief in miracles, especially the virgin birth, and resurrection were not optional in order to be Christian. 2. That faith, was the only way to be saved. 3. Baptism, and Communion were more than just mere signs, and memorials. 4. That the early church had an ordered liturgical format for worship.

I began to study Reformation theology. As I studied the Reformation theology of Martin Luther, and John Calvin, I soon realized that I couldn’t have faith on my own. There was nothing I could do to get to God. There is nothing any man can do to get to God for that matter (Romans 4). You cannot work your way to God. Yet, the Bible also said, God is love. And because God loved us, he would make a way to save us. It struck me then, that Jesus was more than just a man. He had two sides, a human one, and a divine one. Jesus was also God.

And then it all made sense. The virgin birth, allowed something called the incarnation to happen. The passages John 3:16-17 came into my head from Sunday school as a kid. God loved the world so much, that he would come to us, as a mere human. God became man through the virgin birth. And this man, who was fully divine, and fully human, was Christ. And Christ had to come into human form, and died a horrible bloody death on a cross, to make a way to have faith possible again. God gives us faith because of us.

Christ died for a horrible oppressed sinner such as me. Christ didn’t die to satisfy some wrathful urge God had, no! He died, and rose again, in victory over the forces of darkness, and sin because God loved us so much, that he wanted to be with us again. I knew then, I would trust God that the Bible’s miracles were true. And then I realized something, since my baptism, God had already created faith in me.

Yet, I became more, and more frustrated with my home UCC church. My pastor was a low church Disciples of Christ pastor who wasn’t very liturgical, and believed baptism, and communion were mere signs. My theology was growing more, and more high church. As I read more, and more of church history, I began to look at Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy as being more biblical than the UCC. I tried to stick it out for several years, but change was coming.

I did an entire study of the early church, and read as many books of the church fathers as I could. I especially loved the apostolic fathers who came immediately after the Apostles. Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius of Antioch were all balms for my soul. I loved their writings, and they brought me into the high church movement. I soon knew early was both liturgical, and traditional, centered around the Eucharist, and that contemporary style Evangelical worship was wrong.

At the same time, I realized that Roman Catholics mixed faith, and works in their doctrines of justification. I was heartbroken. They had the history, the historical liturgy of the Mass, and the church fathers, yet they mixed faith, and works. I could not imagine doing anything to merit my own salvation, I just couldn’t. While I consider Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians my brothers, and sisters in Christ, I just can’t imagine climbing a ladder to God. 

I decided to go back to the Reformation theology of Martin Luther to look for answers. John Calvin’s theology depressed me because it denied both real presence in the Eucharist (no, spiritual presence doesn’t count(, and the validity of the Mass. In my eyes, Calvin was also very legalistic in how he ran Geneva, so I wanted nothing to do with him. He reminded me too much of my parent’s church.

Soon, just from reading Luther, and the Augsburg Confession, I realized how Catholic Lutheranism was. Lutherans affirmed both real presence in the Eucharist, and that baptism created faith. I loved how Lutherans kept the historical liturgy of the Catholic Mass, albeit with a few justified reforms such as removal of prayers to the saints, and the canon. While the Lutheran reformers affirmed Scripture alone as their guide, they said nothing in their faith conflicted with the Creeds, and Ecumenical Councils of the church in the Lutheran book of Confessions (Book of Concord).

Even more, I was excited over how the foundational Lutheran confessional document, the Augsburg Confession, was peppered with references to the church fathers, and allowed for private confession before a pastor. Yet, Lutherans also had a biblical definition of justification. I knew then that I would make a better Lutheran, than a Reformed Christian. Nothing the Lutheran reformers taught conflicted with teachings of the Apostles, and Fathers of the ancient catholic church. It dawned on me suddenly, Lutheranism was thoroughly both catholic, and evangelical.

In February of 2016, a controversy in my UCC church erupted over homosexuality. Although still in the closet at the time over my attractions for other men, feeling burnt out, and afraid, I asked for a letter of transfer transfer to a Lutheran Church near where I lived.

When I visited this church for the first time, I was awed by the pastor, who was a high church Evangelical Catholic (high church Lutheran). Vestments, and candles, and a chanted Mass convinced me that this church was where I belonged. I was also able to receive the Eucharist with real presence for the first time in my life, “Body of Christ given for you,” “Blood of Christ shed for you.” I remember feeling nourished, and strengthened at that moment after I had received, and taken the elements of the Eucharist.

I am reading a book my pastor gave me called Where God Meets Man by Gerhard Forde. This book talks a lot about a “theology of the ladder” where most Christians think they have climb up a ladder in order to reach God. Lutheranism, Forde says, turns this on its head, where God comes to us on Earth in Christ through the incarnation. God comes in Christ, who died, and rose again to make a way to have faith possible. And God gives us this faith through His sacraments in baptism, and Eucharist. We do not need to do anything at all to earn this faith. It is a gift to us out of God’s love for us. There is no need for us to climb that ladder of works righteousness. That is why I am Lutheran.

Today, I’ve been an Evangelical Catholic Lutheran for one year now. I love coming to Sunday Mass, and receiving the Eucharist every Sunday. I also look forward to the absolution, and grace I receive through confession before my pastor. God gave me this gift of faith, and Lutheranism is the perfect church home because of that.

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