Category Archives: The Church

Our Lives as Catechumens

Some churches offer a formal series of classes before confirmation, normally called “catechism.” It is designed to be an instruction in the faith so that those coming for confirmation are informed and equipped as they make the faith their own. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement in itself, and some particular churches do a better job than others. The problem arises when we think of catechism as a certification instead of as a process.

When one joins the military, a period of preparation follows. This basic training or “boot camp” is a catechism for the particular branch of service one is entering. A lot of learning and shaping takes place in those weeks. Just the physical training alone can make a significant impact. It would be ludicrous for a recruit upon completion of basic training to think they are “done.” No more PT for me! I can go on about my business as a Soldier and not worry about PT, rifle marksmanship, and all those other basic tasks. I have completed that.

Yet, often, we view catechism in that very way. I’m done. I can go back to whatever it was I did before my Thursday nights were spent at the church learning the creeds and the history of the church. To do that is not to be done with catechism; it is to change how we are being catechized.

We are all catechumens. Every day we are being informed and molded by our habits. As we were all told when we were growing up, “You are what you eat.” That is true in all aspects of our lives, not just physical nutrition. Jesus said that food does not make us unclean, but the Scriptures are clear that we need to mind what we take into our hearts and minds. Psalm 101:3 (KJV) reminds us, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.”

It is nearly impossible to keep everything from our eyes (or ears) that is not wholesome and edifying since we are bombarded by such intrusions every time we go out. But that does not mean we should slouch down and throw our hands up in surrender to the onslaught. We can control what we read, watch, and hear for at least part of each day. Are we being deliberate to make sure we continue to be catechized in the faith, instead of passively assenting to being molded by our culture? Are we seeking to continue to be informed and shaped by the Church?

Since we are all catechumens, the question is: what are we being catechized in and for? Are we passively assenting to be catechized into materialistic consumers? Or, are we consciously, deliberately, seeking to be catechized for Christ?

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Filed under Discipline, Growth, The Church

I Met a Saint Today

The first few verses of the twelfth chapter of Hebrews has long held a special place for me. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” is the opening phrase. What does it mean to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses?

I had a thought the other day as I was completing a “wellness assessment” for work. The survey asked if I had people I felt I could turn to in need, if I felt I had enough friends, that sort of thing. I realized that I do; I have a multitude I can turn to anytime I want.

The Church has long held there are three categories of the faithful: the church militant, the church expectant, and the church victorious. The church militant is us, the faithful still “fighting the good fight”. The church expectant are those who have died and are awaiting glorification. And the church victorious are those who have already been glorified.

The amazing thing is, as we say when we confess our faith, we have communion with the whole Church — the communion of saints. What does that mean? It means that because we share one head — Christ — we are one body. Death does not remove us from the Body of Christ.

That means I am surrounded by people I can turn to, both physically living and dead. And I feel like I am meeting new people all the time. I was just telling my wife yesterday that I “met” a new saint. In this case, it was Saint Vincent of Lérins. He was a fifth century monk and writer of whom not a lot is known, but he wrote a work call the Commonitorium, which has been frequently translated and preserved through the ages.

The quote that caught my eye and led me to this particular saint was this:

“Yet teach still the same truths which you have learned,
so that though you speak after a new fashion,
what you speak may not be new.”

Commonitorium, Chapter 22

Good advice, and another way to state Jude verse three, “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

Our duty is not to be innovators of the faith, but transmitters. I am glad there is a cloud of witnesses so that I don’t have to make things up, but I can largely see what the saints before me have believed and taught. If I can but faithfully echo what they have passed on, I will have been faithful in my duties as a minister of the Gospel.

So I continue to read, study, and pray as I enjoy my ever-widening circle of fellow members of the Body of Christ. I look forward to the day when we can worship God side-by-side in a the great multitude in Heaven. Maybe we’ll get to chat. Or maybe it won’t matter, because we’ll finally be face-to-face with God.

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Filed under Creeds, Saints, The Church

No Place to Aspire to

desert-island

It is startling how often desert (or deserted) islands come into play in questions of theology and ethics. How many times have you heard the desert island scenario proclaimed as a possible counter-example against some doctrine or practice?

There are two significant issues with the desert island trope. First, it tries to establish normal practice by means of an exceptional one. None of us live on desert islands. We live on continents with millions of other people. We have resources of family, friends, church, healthcare, education, and much more. It may be an interesting thought experiment to consider some situation in light of a desert island scenario, but we should be careful drawing any sweeping conclusions from such.

The second, and more distressing, issue with desert islands is that they reveal who we are and what we value as westerners, particularly Americans.

Self.

When we place ourselves on a desert island for the sake of argument, we are revealing that not only are we supremely interested in ourselves, but that we also see ourselves as the ultimate authority in our lives as we alone make our own decisions. These scenarios reveal how we really think. They strip away the distractions and isolates what we see as the crucial variables in the discussion.

A problem this can cause, however, is that the desert island can serve as a distraction. By eliminating so much from the discussion, we can cut out inconvenient (to our cause) factors. Consider a classic example: “If you were alone on a desert island with only a Bible, is it possible to be saved?” For much of the Protestant world, the foregone answer would be, “Of course.” And therefore, we see church as an aid, not as an essential. But there is a serious problem with this line of reasoning.

We are not alone on desert islands. We are on continents, and those continents have churches — even Antarctica. We must factor the church into our questions on faith because it is a significant variable which exists in our set of things to consider.

A more accurate phrasing of the question above would be, “Can we ignore the church and be saved by our own efforts?” I daresay we may garner a different answer if we posed that query to a selection of theologians.

Some would still affirm that yes, we can. Some would not. The Church Fathers would certainly look askance at such a stance. Cyprian of Carthage argued this point by writing, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”

A desert island is no place to seek to dwell. It is to be alone and left solely to our own devices. We should seek to live in community with our fellow man and in submission to the authorities which God has established. To seek to be our own supreme ruler is to place ourselves in bad company. Lucifer was cast out of heaven for such action.

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Filed under Authority, Questions, The Church