Willful ignorance is not simple, childlike faith.
Simple, childlike faith in Jesus is good. In fact, children often make fine examples of the Christian Faith (note Jesus’ use of them to teach adults in Matthew 19). When Jesus wants to teach about simple trust, He sets a child before the adults. It is a Christian virtue to have such trust in Jesus as a child, accepting His Word without conditions or qualifications or superimposing our own reasoning in order to excuse and justify ourselves.
But how does this simple, childlike faith look when it comes to God’s Word (or things like the Catechism which teach God’s Word)? As I said earlier, it willingly accepts what it says without qualification. There is more, childlike faith will always want MORE of the Word. From experience itself, young children are found to be absolute educational “sponges” soaking up whatever they can (good and bad). Children love to learn, and the learning itself is considered a joy. This is of course before the world and its lies of boredom set their teeth into our little ones. At its core, simple, childlike faith in Jesus will constantly be asking for more of Jesus.
Even more than that, simple, childlike faith seeks to confess that faith. A child is not embarrassed to confess Jesus, and at times may even seem foolish for doing so. There is no thinking of personal cost to reputation or even of “tactics” to make this more palatable for hearers or any of that. There is just a desire to share truth with others.
Enter sinful adults. I have on a couple occasions heard adults using the phrase “simple childlike faith” to denigrate doctrine in saying things like: “I am not nit picky about beliefs, I just have simple, childlike faith.” That is not simple, childlike faith, but sinful world-like apathy towards the teachings of Christ. This goes for neglecting the regular study of God’s Word (and things of God’s Word like the Catechism and Confessions) also. It is not simple, childlike faith which casts Bible study opportunities aside lest the Christian “learn too much” or as if they have ever learned enough from the Scriptures. Sometimes adults even find ways to excuse their lack of confessing the faith before others as “wisdom” while all the while it hides their friendship with the world.
What is most shocking to me is that often these phrases are used by lifelong Lutherans who should know better. It becomes a defense mechanism to cover over their sins of neglect of God’s Word which have resulted in the symptom of ignorance of the Word. It takes humility to sit under God’s Word and learn from it. If ignorance has overtaken a person, then they have two choices, first to defend their ignorance through many different ways (including the “simple, childlike faith” card), or second repent and take the humble road to learn once again as a child, accepting what the Word of God says and asking over and over again for “more, please”.
A cousin to this is the symptom of doctrinal reductionism – the idea that Scripture teaches unimportant or “less important” things that are not worth focusing on or fighting over. This idea does not proceed from simple, childlike faith. Children want to learn more and more, and then they also are quick to defend what they have learned. This idea comes from a proud ignorance not wanting to learn more or a sinful desire for human built unity at all costs (even the cost of losing simple, childlike faith).
What happens a lot of times with this mindset is a certain arrogance comes to play (first of all the arrogance which judges for itself what is important and what is not important or less important). The people who advocate such sinful, world-like faith presume themselves to be wise in things spiritual but in the end are ignorant fools needing repentance (perhaps this may manifest in attempts to usurp pastoral authority as well – food for thought?). The Corinthian church had such things as well. Paul addressed their arrogant ignorance in in 1 Corinthians 3. He reminded them that he only fed them milk and not meat. They had lost their way and weren’t even ready for meat years later due to their sinful regard of God’s Word, becoming infatuated with their own thinking and making their own allegiances. They were doing everything they could to prop themselves up to appear as mature Christians without actually doing it Christ’s way, with a simple, childlike faith which sought to devour over and over more and more of His Word.
In Matthew 28 Jesus points out how disciples are made, through baptism and being taught (passive) all things. Simple, childlike faith doesn’t seek then to cast aside some of Jesus’ teaching (or usurp the tasks through which disciples are made). In Acts 2 the recent converts devote themselves to the Apostles teaching. They did not consider themselves masters and claim such mastery before others. Neither did they begin the work of hacking the teaching (doctrine) to bits and pieces, claiming some of it was less important or even unimportant. They submitted to it, there was a hunger which came from simple, childlike faith in Jesus.
We would do well as Lutherans to put our children before us and learn about the faith which Jesus commends.
Luther offers many a word on this wilful ignorance which pretends Christian maturity in the prefaces to the Small and Large Catechisms. Consider his words:
But those who are unwilling to learn the catechism should be told that they deny Christ and are not Christians. They should not be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at Baptism, or practice any part of Christian freedom. They should simply be turned back to the pope and his officials, indeed, to the devil himself [1 Corinthians 5:5].
Pastors, we would do well as to redouble our efforts to teach His Word and offer more opportunities for our people. Luther again from the Small Catechism preface:
Therefore, I beg you all for God’s sake, my dear sirs and brethren, who are pastors or preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office [1 Timothy 4:13]. Have pity on the people who are entrusted to you [Acts 20:28] and help us teach the catechism to the people, and especially to the young. And let those of you who cannot do better take these tables and forms and impress them, word for word, on the people [Deuteronomy 6:7]
But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people who have such assumptions and contentment. Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism. Every morning—and whenever I have time—I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such. I must still read and study them daily. Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. 8But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so. Yet these delicate, refined fellows would in one reading promptly become doctors above all doctors, know everything, and need nothing. Well, this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the souls of the people. Indeed, they even despise God and His Word. They do not have to fall. They have already fallen all too horribly. They need to become children and begin to learn their alphabet, which they imagine they have long outgrown [Mark 10:15].
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