Last week I started a confirmation class at our church. We’ve got a group of six middle-schoolers. This is the fifth group of confirmands I’ve taught in 10 years of pastoral ministry. It is such a joy to pass on the faith to another generation. That’s one of the most important, absolutely vital aspects of the role of pastor.
Over the years I’ve struggled with what resources to use. One curriculum – I think it was “Claim the Name” – provided too much information and too many options – to me anyway. Other years I developed my own basic curriculum centered around the basics of Christian discipleship that I often teach for adults. To it I added a couple of lessons on Trinitarian theology and church history. It was heavy on practical discipleship, but probably a little too light on the content of the Christian faith.
While planning the class for this year I chose the “We Believe: Basic Belief Studies for Youth” curriculum, which seems to strike a very good balance between theology, history, and practical discipleship. I also ordered copies of Tim Tennent’s short catechesis, “Thirty Questions” for each student. The “We Believe” lessons should take the students about 30 minutes to go through on their own each week and about 45 minutes for us to review together during our sessions. The “Thirty Questions” lessons should take less than 10 minutes. I asked the students’ parents to read those lessons with their children 5 days a week, and look up at least one of the suggested scripture readings at the end. I wanted to have the parents involved as much as possible, and the catechism lessons will benefit them as well. The students may also need a little help as the reading level required may be a little higher than where they are. My prayer with this is that it will spark some good conversation between the students and their parents, and be a blessing to both.
The total number of weeks for confirmation class is 13. They will complete the catechesis about half way through. For the remainder of the time I will ask them to read a chapter from the Gospel of John each day with their parents as well.
I would love to be able to take the confirmands and their parents on a pilgrimage to the holy land, but I think we might settle for a day trip to Lake Junaluska and the World Methodist Museum along with the other youth. I’ll also strongly encourage them to go on our youth district mission trip this summer as part of their response.
What a joy to pass on “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)! I’ve earnestly asked the church to be in prayer for our confirmation class. It’s about so much more than just learning facts and knowing about God. It’s about experientially knowing God through covenant relationship in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, that doesn’t negate the importance of learning the details of the content of the faith, the right answers to life’s most important questions.
I watched a video a couple days ago of Peter Enns, a professor of Biblical Studies. In it he said when it comes to the Bible it’s not about “getting it right.” He even said, the Bible doesn’t intend to provide us answers. If that’s true then I suppose what I said above is … wrong? I suppose the premise of Tim Tennent’s catechesis is also wrong, that there are questions for which God has revealed answers. My question for Professor Enn’s would simply be is his approach to the “messiness” of the Bible the “right” approach? Is the fact that supposedly the Bible is not concerned about providing answers the final answer on the subject? I would certainly agree that there are no easy answers and there is much more to the reality to which the Bible points than we will ever fully comprehend, but what exactly is Professor Enns trying to say?
The truth is that over and over again the Bible does convey the importance of getting life and our relationship to and with the God who created us right. The Bible does offer answers to life’s biggest questions. Just think of Daniel’s prayer on behalf of his people in Daniel 9. A good summary of his confession would be, “Lord, we got it wrong and you are in the right!” Just think of Hosea calling Israel to repentance and God telling them: “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6 ESV). Was Jeremiah wrong to call Israel back to the “ancient paths, where the good way is”? What about Jesus who clearly said there’s a right road and a wrong road, the difference between life and destruction? (Matthew 7:13-14). Paul too sure did think the Galatians and Corinthians were getting it wrong!
I’ve also had an enjoyable time over the past several weeks working with ministry candidates, one in our own church who is seeking to become a certified candidate soon, one fine young man, who is going before the conference board for commissioning and two others who will be interviewing soon for Elder’s orders. Are they just wasting their time trying to get it right? People from all points on the theological spectrum all certainly seem to have ideas about what is good and what is bad theology.
In reality there is no such thing as a content-less faith, even if it is a faith that rejects orthodoxy. In that case there has just been an exchange of one set of specific beliefs for another.
The call of Jude 3 is an important one. We are called to contend for the faith passed down from the apostles, and pass it on to others, especially our children. That has always been an important calling for God’s people. I think “We Believe” and “Thirty Questions” are excellent tools to that end. May God forgive us where we have fallen short and help us to do better in living up to that great calling in the future.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord …” Deuteronomy 6:4-18b