Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Catechesis needs community. . .

One of my many failings as a parent is that I believed that if I only explained myself better, my children would see that I was right, do it my way (the right way), and life would be oh so better.  Perhaps at some point I applied it to the Gospel and the world.  If only we explained the Gospel better, the people would get it, believe it, and live it.  At least, I thought that is how it could work.

Now I am beginning to wonder if people act on the basis of what they know at all.  Certainly our behavior does not reflect what we know to be true.  We do not eat what we know are good foods and we do not avoid the foods we know are not good and we are wrestling as a nation with the consequences (obesity, diabetes, and such).  Could it be true that there is this disconnect in faith as well?  How else do you explain people who believe rightly and then choose as their favorite hymn "In the Garden" or some other little ditty at odds with orthodox faith.  Could it be that people's behavior and choices are driven not exclusively or even primarily by what they know and believe but by what they love or want or imagine to be good?  I am not saying doctrine does not matter or that beliefs are unimportant but only that they may take a back seat to what what they love, desire, and imagine as good. If this is true, then catechesis are not the only thing that is needed but we also need to affect and transform the worldview of people.  Do we need to engage our people more or do we need to transform what they love, desire, and imagine?  

It is possible for Christians to give consent to all the orthodox doctrines but to live as practical atheists in terms of what they desire, want, and love?  I fear it is.  I fear that people can believe somewhat orthodox doctrines of God and live in conflict with what they believe.  Their faith is not rooted in them and they are not anchored to that faith so that their worldview and lives are shaped by these beliefs.  We are constantly told that parents—not catechists, parishes, or schools—are the most important factor for passing on the faith and they do this not simply by instruction but by developing the habitas of the faith in the lives of their children.  It is for this reason that instruction may take place and the faith may be formed in words in the home but without the requisite regular and enduring attendance in worship, faith is detached from how one lives and what one does.  It cannot therefore be merely a matter of teaching the faith but forming the Christian.

Our young people and even our adults are not  leaving the Church in droves because they have first been swayed by bad arguments or changed their beliefs or reject the doctrines of the faith, they are leaving because the truth, beauty, and goodness of the faith were never really imprinted on their imagination in the first place. They mouthed the right words but their hearts did not find source and summit in the Word of God and the absolution and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood and in the liturgy that is home to this preaching, reconciliation, and communion.  It is not the mind which altered the faith once taught to them but the imagination which remained aloof from and unaffected by the faith -- insisting that they believe as they always have but finding themselves more at home in the world than in the House of God.

Culture and community are as essential to the endurance of the Christian in the faith and in their practice of the faith in daily life as faithful catechesis is.  Modern religion rejects the doctrine in favor of the practice and the old religion presumes the primacy of doctrine over piety but both liberal and progressive religion and conservative doctrine lose for the failure to connect both catechesis and culture/community.  We dare not stop teaching doctrine but neither can we presume that the classroom forms the faith.  We dare not defer to the liturgy alone to form piety but neither can we presume that liturgy is not an effective part of the whole.

This is part of what I mean when I say restoring a weekly celebration of Holy Communion to Lutheranism is not the same as nurturing a Eucharistic piety.  Having a weekly general confession and absolution does not itself nourish a life in which mercy is the center.  Hearing a sermon and attending a Bible study every week do not equate to the profound and lively understanding of the Word as an efficacious voice that actually does what it says and delivers what it promises.  We must do more to connect what is believed with how it is lived and we must do more to connect how we live to how and what we believe.  All of this happens less within the isolation of a me and Jesus framework to faith an more in the community of the saints gathered at God's bidding in His name.


Wurmbrand said...

Yes, yes, yes. As a layman, I also think that the Faithful need to be told, explicitly, that you are a member of the "community" to which you give your attention habitually. It sets for you what feels like Normal. So if you habitually give your attention to various mass media, to electronic games, and so on, it is at least quite possible that that is the community to which your imagination belongs; you need to question the assumption you may have that your attitude is "neutral," and that what your eyes see and your ears hear habitually is something detached from yourself. What you see and hear habitually colonizes your imagination. Even if you feel that, now, you are quite well able to turn your thoughts away from un-Christian imaginings, you should consider that if your are eventually in a debilitated state due to illness, medications, anxiety, or advanced age, you may not have that control that you think you have now.

Perhaps the 17th-century Anglican Isaac Ambrose went beyond what we can say certainly from Scripture; but he said that angels good, and angels evil, are close to us, and they can't impart to our imaginations novel imagery -- but they can work with what we have chosen to dwell on. This may be an advantage that the Orthodox have over the Protestantized church interiors familiar to many of us Lutherans. That is, "church" may have little imagery, the worship space may be almost bare; at the same time that our minds are teeming with imagery supplied by mass media. If Isaac Ambrose is right, God's angels might have little to work with as regards our imaginations, while the evil angels may have a preposterous abundance of imagery suitable to their purposes. (Just consider the difference in available imagery between Ambrose's time and ours!)

Dale Nelson

Janis Williams said...

The community needs catechesis. The two are wedded as Christ and His church are. The Church cannot be (exist) without Christ, and He will never let go His Bride. The bride who does not know or want to know her husband will not long stay with him. Wurmbrand, I agree. That which we see and to such give our attention will become us. We are what we consume. The reality of demons all working to distract us and make our thoughts/actions turn to evil is a tell on ourselves. We don’t believe that what we hear, see, read, think upon, etc can change us, or that there are unseen powers manipulating them to our good (angels) or sin (demons). We indeed need catechisis that focuses on Truth and Scripture, but also on what is good, virtuous, and beautiful.

If we are well catechized mentally, audibly, and visibly, we will be a cohesive community.