Recently, I began another new member class for those desiring to learn what we believe, teach, and confess. In a small amount of research across the synod, I have found that there is not one synod-wide practice for teaching young confirmands and new members. Rather, there are a variety of options that pastors use. Some pastors even develop their own curriculum. This is not an article on curriculum, but we at Saints Peter and Paul use Lutheran Catechesis by Rev. Peter C. Bender. The deal is, no matter if you are teaching youth or adults, the question of “how long,” is bound to show up. “How long, Pastor, before my son or daughter is confirmed?” “How long do I have to attend classes with you before I can be a member here?” This question is not altogether a bad question. One should have expectations in order to make oneself more available for the sake of growing in the knowledge and wisdom of God. On the other hand, pastors should approach the answer to this question with caution because the rush to be confirmed can be the driving force rather than the desire to dwell in the faith forever.
And it is forever, isn’t it? “Do you intend to remain steadfast in this confession and Church, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” That is the question we ask our catechumens. Adults and children alike give answer to a question that makes them contemplate their death as martyrs. The word “martyr” comes from the Greek word “martur” which means “to bear witness”. Will these children or adults bear witness and confess Christ in their death rather than deny the faith to live on earth? That is a most serious question, which many have answered, but have now denied the one true catholic faith for far fewer rewards than life on earth.
How long before one can joyfully give answer to that question with the response, “I do, by the grace of God”? That is not a good question. When we make catechesis into a graduation of sorts, we have lost the forever nature of being a student of the Word and of being a witness even in death. It becomes a point in our past rather than our future reality. Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33). It is not a matter of speed, but it is a matter of sincerity of truth. “ That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
Let’s face it, we are living in a land that runs on time, and there is scarcely anything more valuable to us than time (and money). The Scriptures and the study of them should have more value to us. We should be willing to make sacrifices of time and money in order to rest at the feet of Jesus and learn the Scriptures. Sadly, the God of convenience sits on the throne of teaching. New member classes have been whittled down to a fragment of what they once were. Are those same words which Luther spoke in the introduction to the Small Catechism now being said of us?
“The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare [publish] this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form. Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the [common] holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts” (Introduction, Small Catechism).
I realize one can make no law about the length of time in which to instruct those before receptions as members into the church. However, when we consider the droves of people that have left the confession of faith over the years, we should at the very least reconsider how we have instructed youth and adults in the faith, both in the matter of content and speed. The Small Catechism is nothing without the Scriptures that inform it, and neither can be understood fully, even if we were to study them from the moment we could read until the day we died. We cannot plumb the depth of God’s Word, so let us not act as though a few hours of rushed teaching is all the time the Scriptures are worth studying. Instead, may we teach what it means to be steadfast and immovable in the confession of Jesus before asking to answer, “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” And, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”