Children of the covenant?

 — Jan. 23, 200623 janv. 2006

“I want to transfer to the Presbyterian Church because in this denomination children matter.” I don’t remember the name of the speaker. It has been 20 years or so. But his words left their imprint.

by Jack Haberer, The Presbyterian Outlook

We were proceeding through routine approvals of minister transfers in a stated presbytery meeting. Interest picked up when this longtime military chaplain, a Baptist, shared how his journey of faith had led him to the Reformed theological camp. “In my former tradition, we dedicated infants and educated children in the hope that they someday would profess faith in Jesus Christ. Upon their profession, they would get baptized and thereby be welcomed into the body of Christ. In the Reformed tradition you all baptize them into the body and educate them into personal faith. I think that’s the right sequence.”

As a fairly recent convert to Presbyterianism at the time, I found his words reassuring, especially so, since the one theological sticking point for me had been the practice of infant baptism. Exercising my office under the Presbyterian Church’s constitution, I had learned well how to present to parents the covenantal concept of baptism, rooted as it is in the practice of infant circumcision dating to the eighth day of Isaac’s life. But I still harbored some doubts about such a practice. This chaplain helped convert me into a passionate advocate of our denomination’s sacramental theology.

One problem rings out from this memory. If, indeed, children matter so much more in the Presbyterian Church, given our longstanding brag about the seriousness with which we study the Bible, the confessions and major theological works, why is it that the Baptists have led the way in the development of children’s education in the church? Why is it that the Baptist churches excel above the Presbyterians in drawing children into Sunday school participation? Why do their children seem to memorize more Bible texts, command better knowledge of Bible stories, and even pray more comfortably in public?

These generalizations are overly one-sided. Exceptions abound. But we ought to face facts. It is stylish to dismiss the achievements of other faith traditions while congratulating ourselves for whatever successes we can parade, including those that are eclipsed by the others. The presence of Baptist and other churches with thriving Sunday schools presses us to take a fearless educational inventory, to paraphrase the 12-step program, of our efforts at nurturing the faith of covenant children (unchurched children, too).

If we can muster sufficient humility to take such an inventory, the payoff could be better formation of disciples of Jesus Christ.

For starters we must inventory the calendar. How well can we nurture children’s faith in just four hours per month? Vacation Bible School provides one way to enhance such an effort. More is needed, whether it entails assignments for parents to oversee, home learning projects to pursue, afternoon Bible clubs to join, intergenerational events to attend, or, well, any number of learning experiences a creative Christian educator (in the church or presbytery) might propose.

How about inventorying our financial investment in learning? Exploring multi-media learning tools and purchasing hardware and software that teach with zing may draw inquisitive minds into the subject via media so many are utilizing on other topics. At the same time, reviving some of the old-fashioned methods, like memorization, and constructing related crafts can compel children beyond the surface into the heart of the message.

One really helpful step to take might involve the ultimate humiliation (note: tongue-in-cheek). Why not ask that Baptist neighbor of yours what they are doing that’s working especially well? Ecumenism has long promised the possibility of learning from and emulating the best that sisters and brothers in other traditions have learned throughout their journeys in discipleship. Learning from others’ journeys in disciple-making just might help us all the more, even if they baptize their children a bit later than we do.

Posted: Jan. 23, 2006 • Permanent link:
Categories: OpinionIn this article: baptism, catechism, Presbyterian
Transmis : 23 janv. 2006 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : OpinionDans cet article : baptism, catechism, Presbyterian

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