Thursday, January 6, 2011
Imparting Religious Information But Leaving Our Kids Unchurched
By unchurched I mean those who have an identity separate from an identity as a baptized member of the Church, who are not a regular member of the worshiping congregation, and whose faith is not nurtured by the life together around the Word and Table of the Lord. I am not saying whether or not they may be Christians -- that is not for me to decide. But I echo Luther's fear that persistent absence from worship, preaching, and the Table of the Lord leads to no other conclusion than the absent despise the Sacrament and are not Christian.
My point is that for a long time we have focused on personal faith more than on bringing folks into the life of the Church and having an identity as a baptized member of the Body of Christ. Some of us do this by emphasizing Christian experience. Whether pentecostal or decision oriented, some have attempted to arrange an experience of Christ or the Spirit -- or at least set up an arena where such experience might be expected to take place. Some of us do this by emphasizing knowledge. Whether the old pattern of memorization of Bible passages and the Catechism or knowledge of truth propositions that must be believed in order to be Christian, some have worked to Christianize the person by imparting a certain set of truths and have expected that consent to this dogmatic canon is what makes a person Christian. Some of us do this by emphasizing moral behavior and a changed lifestyle as evidence that Christianity has taken hold. Whether this is living in distinction from the world through, for example, abstinence from drinking or sex outside of marriage or the outward behavioral change of goodness, love, and compassion, some have suggested that faith is evidenced by what you see in a person's life.
I would suggest that for Lutheran Christians, we bring people into the Church less by imparting religious knowledge than by leading them into active participation in the worship life of the congregation. Lutherans are not so much theoretical people as we are practical. Faith is confessed within the liturgical assembly and faith is formed and nurtured in that same liturgical assembly (through the means of grace). We do not make Lutherans by imparting religious information nor do we make Lutherans by having a shared experience. Lutheran piety is not shaped by certain behavioral changes but in the absolution, at the pulpit, and at the table of the Lord. We are doing our children (and adult converts) a disservice if we impart religious information (as good and needful as this is as a component of discipleship) but fail to connect them to a specific baptized people where faith is confessed, the Scriptures taught and applied, sins forgiven, and the Eucharist is the source and summit of their piety.
You can bring your kids to Sunday school and catechism and make sure they are confirmed and yet you have left them unchurched. They have the information but not the culture and life of the Church gathered around the Word and Sacraments. Their faith will be crippled because it is not tied to a place and a people in which and among whom the Word and Table of the Lord impart divine grace, forgive sins, restore the fallen, uplift the sorrowful, sustain the weary, calm the fearful, address dying with the Word of life, and feed the hungry with the body and blood of Christ. They will always feel on the outside of the Church, as if they have the secret information necessary to open a door but once it is open, what is inside turns out to be foreign and strange to them. They view God at a distance because the religious information supplied to them does not have a practical outlet -- our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord.
I remember Archbishop Fulton Sheen saying Two glasses that are empty cannot fill up one another. The parents who are functionally unchurched cannot help their children to be churched without themselves being filled and nourished in the means of grace.
The first and most important duty of parents is to bring their children to the House of the Lord, to prepare them for their place at the Table of the Lord, and to model their own faith in a life of prayer, forgiveness, and love. Perhaps the reason we are losing so many folks (youth and adults) is that we have imparted all the information but left them unattached to the Word and Table of the Lord, separate from the community of the baptized gathered weekly at His bidding to receive His grace. Naturally this is not the only thing. Religious information must be imparted and the life of the Lord's Table extended in the way we forgive one another, serve one another in love, and pray together as one people in Christ -- even in our homes. But these flow from our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord and not the other way around.
Just some thoughts after teaching catechism to a full room of kids -- some churched and some who get the information but do not have a clue for what purpose this information is given or what it has to do with their lives (the unchurched). . .