A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
Drumming it In
January 26, 2012
As Jesus prepared for his final departure, he instructed his followers to “make disciples” of all peoples. Disciples are marked not by knowing or believing a teaching – they live it. The task of making Christian disciples is about inculcating a way of living.
In Christianity’s early centuries, the church’s process of making disciples became known by a term we don’t find in the Bible: “catechesis.” This included an extended period - typically three years – of mentoring people in Christian living before they were baptized. For most of that time, a person interested in becoming a Christian shadowed a committed Christian to learn what Christian living looked like day to day. Only in the final weeks of the three-year period did the inquirer receive instruction on Christian doctrines. Christianity was understood to be first and foremost a way of life, not just a set of beliefs.
“Catechesis” derives from two Greek words meaning “sounding down,” rather like what we’d call “shouting down.” Literally, the sound in question is “ringing,” as in the sound of great bells, which would have been one of the loudest sounds ordinarily encountered in ancient times. Catechesis is to be engulfed with a sound that drowns out all others.
Christian catechesis is nothing less than immersion into a way of life. We begin with a set of core teachings that every Christian should commit to heart, but those teachings serve only to prepare a person to live in a distinctively Christian way. Beginning with ideas rather than with imitating a way of living carries a very real danger, namely that we could construe Christianity as primarily a set of doctrines, rather than first of all a way of living.
Christian catechism has historically been formed around a core curriculum of Christian instruction, sort of the “Cliff Notes of Christianity” – The Ten Commandments, the Sacraments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. One of the church’s central tasks is to “drum these in” to those preparing to profess their faith in Christ. Sound them so loudly and compellingly that they encompass the entire being of the hearer!
Each January many Christians join in a week of prayer for the year ahead. Some of those services are ecumenical, others are congregational. I am glad whenever Christians join to pray, but I grieve how few join in ecumenical prayer. John Calvin makes a point in his catechesis that when our Lord teaches us to pray, he begins with, “Our Father.” Who, asks Calvin, does this join us in prayer with? It must join us in prayer with all who belong to the family of God. And who may that be? Since the Lord alone knows the answer to that question (2 Timothy 2:19), Calvin holds that we ought to pray with everyone, since the neighbor with whom we pray may well be within the fold of God.
So, through the process of catechesis, this gets drummed in to each disciple – pray with everyone. Have we been drumming that into our confirmands? Have we been living that way ourselves? Good Presbyterians ought to be doing so; after all, the letters spelling “Presbyterian” can be rearranged to read “best in prayer”!
Here is a modest proposal for Christian disciples today: Pray with your neighbor. No matter their creed, no matter their race, no matter their affiliation, no matter their politics – pray with them. Let’s get even more specific – at a time when some Presbyterians wonder about whether they can affirm the integrity of other Presbyterians, can we not at least commit to pray with our fellow-Presbyterians, even if we do not understand one another? Not just for them(that’s easy), but with them. A rightly-catechizing church will drum this in to each member – we must never cease praying with each other. Never. Ever.
Praying with you,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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