The Faith That Was Once For All Delivered to the Saints.
As many of you know I have a facebook account. This is a way to use the internet to stay connected with friends from seminary, home, and other pastors that I have met in various ways. One thing I really like about facebook is it serves as a window to what is on people’s minds. For instance, there were a few weeks where there was a lot of discussion on the Mosque being built on ground Zero, that became the issue of the week. As of late there was a buzz on facebook about this new survey of American’s knowledge of religion. I’d like to share with you some of the report.
A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths. (For example)Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn't know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ (I hope and pray that most of you when asked could verbalize a Lutheran understanding of communion, much like Catholicism we believe that we receive the real body and blood of Christ with the bread and the wine). Also in the survey, more than half of Protestants (Including some Lutherans) could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. (Its cute when an 8 year old tells you Martin Luther was a civil rights leader in the 60’s; it’s not so cute when an adult tells you that)
Brothers and sisters perhaps the most startling thing about this survey was the lack of surprise with which I read the report. In my pastoral formation and in my various ministries I have seen the evidence of poor catechesis, the failure to teach the faith, all around me. I have seen one half of my own siblings who had as much exposure to the Body of Christ as me, choose to confess atheism. I have studied alongside pastoral candidates in seminary whose memory of Daniel and the Lion’s Den was a Saturday morning cartoon and didn’t learn until Systematic Theology that it was indeed in the bible. I have been blown away by decisions made by church bodies, including my own, that evidenced a disregard, denial, or ignorance towards the teachings that have been handed us through this beautiful thing we call the Body of Christ, the one holy catholic and apostolic church we confess to being a part of every Sunday.
However this struggle to faithfully pass on the truths of our faith that I have embraced as a called and ordained pastor isn’t a new one. St. Paul himself witnessed this in the churches he helped to create. As soon as he helped plant a church on his missionary journeys there seemed to be people that challenged his authority and re-interpreted the gospel that Paul had brought in Christ’s name. These re-interpretations were just similar enough that it seemed innocent and faithful until over time and various re-interpretations these communities all of a sudden find themselves embracing a Gospel different from the Gospel of Jesus Christ in significant ways. St. Paul spent much of his time recruiting and training leaders who would be willing and able to sustain the Gospel entrusted them in a bold and faithful manner.
Timothy was one such leader. In today’s second lesson Paul encourages Timothy to hold strong to the Gospel that was handed to him first by his grandmother and mother and then affirmed and strengthened by the ministry of Paul. And he does actually name these modes through which Timothy receives faith and comes to love the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First it is Timothy’s family, namely Lois and Eunice passes on their love for their Lord and savior Jesus Christ. The formation of faithful disciples begins at home but it also requires the discipline, education, and worship of a larger faith family. St. Paul alludes to this when he reminds Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in him through the laying on of St. Paul’s hands. It isn’t totally clear whether or not Paul is talking about a baptism or a rite of ordination but ultimately I’m not sure that it matters. The point remains that Timothy’s faith, a faith that began to take root because of the faithful work of his mother and grandmother found fullness in the ministry, instruction, and worship that takes place in the wider community that was blessed by St. Paul’s leadership. This is how the church functions, disciples of Christ working to make more disciples of Christ. A disciple is some one who does more than follow Christ, but it also implies a student or adherents of His teachings or doctrine.
Gasp…. I said a word that large parts of the western church are terrified by. Doctrine is often perceived by Christians as unnecessary or even destructive to a living faith. The recent survey that has everybody talking presents us with the fruit of those fears, Christians who don’t know what the church teaches, and I am not talking about simply Christ Hamilton or even the Lutheran church but the historical church, the Body of Christ. Lest you hear my message as a condemnation this morning especially if you’re one who hasn’t paid attention to the church’s teachings, let me tell you that it is not your fault and the reason its not is that there are many things you can do by yourself but being a Christian isn’t one of them. I think herein lies the great falsehood that has crippled the church, that faith is an individual thing. That real faith arises solely out of your experience with God apart from any external factors. In this atmosphere one of two things usually happens. Either Christians come to matters of faith having checked their brains at the door, to keep our mind from interrupting their heartfelt experience of God. These Christians therefore leave doctrine and theology for those who like such things. Unfortunately many of them experience faith at the other extreme. Refusing to check their brains at the door but sharing their understanding of faith as simply an individual matter the intellect with which they interpret their own experience is elevated to an inappropriate place, replacing the Lord as the ultimate authority and even the object of worship. Add to that the prevalent mindset in our society that change is a virtue in of itself and each generation due to progress is better and more capable than the last you have a church which has severed its connections to its past. Brothers and sisters we are a part of the story of God’s people and we are blest by the entire story of God’s relationship with God’s people, but only when we know that story and with Paul’s words to Timothy I encourage you to not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
The truth is we often use the relationship language in terms of faith all the time. This is not new at all, throughout the early church many loved to talk about faith as a relationship with the risen Lord, so I encourage you to think of your faith in those terms. And (these questions are not hypothetical I’d love to hear answers) do relationships grow when we refuse to learn more about the other person? How do we become more than mere acquaintances with, for example, co-workers? (We spend time with them learning about them)
Therefore I challenge you to spend more time with our Lord and savior learning about the faith that was once for all delivered to all the saints (Jude 1:3), claiming that faith as your own. Because that is what the church needs, Christians who can think and talk about the faith in a world that doesn’t always welcome it. I would even offer you some suggestions how to do that; when studying the bible expose yourself to multiple translations, use a bible with accessible study notes that can illumine the scripture even more, don’t simply fill your reading list with new books by contemporary Christians but occasionally pick up a book by a fellow believer written more than 50 years ago maybe even more than a thousand years ago, spend some time in Sunday school regardless of your age when pastor Brett is done with his class on St. john’s Revelation they’ll be 4 offerings for adult Sunday school and the Pastor’s class will be offered again on Wednesdays. Whatever you do brothers and sisters remember that God wants you to love Him with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22). And the God who gave himself for us, becoming man to live and die for our sakes, is worthy of that and so much more. Please pray with me.
You came to us in Christ Jesus so we can truly know you and love you. May you open the eyes of our heart and mind so we can come to you and call you Lord and sit at your feet and proclaim your truth to the world. In Christ’s name we pray.