Saturday, March 2, 2019

Explaining Vs Praying the Faith

Growing up when I did, the model of catechetical instruction was memorization.  There was not so much an emphasis upon understanding the faith as knowing Luther's Small Catechism.  In most of my early years as a pastor this model was the object of great disdain.  There was a deliberate movement away from memorization and toward understanding the faith.  Still later, the move shifted to experiencing the faith as at least an equal value with understanding what we believe.  Now it is hard to say where we are in this muddy mess.  Memorization is still important but it is more a memorization that gets the gist of what is in the Catechism and not the word for word style of memorizing that dominated when I grew up.  Understanding is very important and so is experiencing the faith but it seems that both are heavily influenced by feelings.  Perhaps others will disagree.

That said, this is not some isolated issue but actually involves many aspects of the faith.  Parents still want their children to desire the faith and going to church and there is resistance to forcing their kids to do anything they do not want to do.  That is because parents do what they want to do and desire is a very prominent motivator as well as evaluator of most levels of the church experience.  Bible studies vary between attempts to explain God to the expression of our feelings about God (and His Word).  For many in the church, the failure to impart understanding is blamed for the great numbers of children and adults dropping out of church.  For others it is the failure to reward desire and make the experience of church appealing.  For a certain segment of our members, church is boring and the routine of a consistent liturgical identity is more negative than positive.

When I speak with parents in the preparation for baptism, what I try to emphasize is that the faith is not simply taught or explained into the hearts and minds of their children as much as it is prayed.  This certainly means the intercessions of parents on behalf of their children but the bigger part of this is the common life of prayer within the family.  Parents who pray with their children and who use a set pattern of prayer (Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, Compline, or the Suffrages) incorporate worship and prayer into their children's lives by expressing it in their life together as a family.  This is one of the most profound means of growing our children in the faith -- literally by praying that faith on a daily basis.

This daily pattern of prayer lives out liturgically the faith confessed with lips and memorized in the mind and believed in the heart.  It is this that imparts to the child their most profound and abiding identity as Christians -- not logical answers to every question, not understanding of those answers, or even feelings which may or may not be sustainable over their lives but faith prayed!

I do not encourage parents to dwell on how to get their kids involved in the faith or in the church but rather to present to them the accomplished fact that this is how the family believes and lives out its faith together.  In my experience, the question “how do we get the kids involved in this?” is the wrong question and certainly the wrong place to start.  We pray the faith not for the kids but as the family. The children participate not because this is being done for them or to teach them or to give them instruction or to shape their feelings but because this is the family's identity, the natural expression of the faith of mom and dad. Like their life together within the parish church, the faith is prayed when it is confessed and even though the folks in the pews are not forced to participate in every way, they do not interrupt nor do they change the shape of this rhythm of faith heard and prayed in response.

Christians gather corporately to worship, because that’s just what Christians do, what they have done from the earliest days.  In the same way, they do this not only within the larger family of the church but in the home as well.  It is my conviction that this is what provides the surest background and foundation for our children.  Before the faith can be understood or felt, it is prayed into the hearts, minds, and lives of God's people.  We do this on Sunday morning together (and other times as possible) and we do this daily within the framework of the home.  Prayers at mealtimes are exactly the same -- we do not pray because we want to or because we ought to or because we like to but because this is who we are.  When we begin to recover this sense catechetically, we will see the results more profoundly but when we begin to recover this with the home life of God's people, together as a family, the fruits will be beyond measure.

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