Lecture 6: When?
III. When Do We Teach What?
A. Scriptural Basis:
Once we look at the question of what, tied to that is the question of when do we teach what? We have already been addressing this by saying that there are certain things that should be taught as a first importance in the Christian life. The when question is seeking to ask that; are there some things that should be taught first and other things that should be taught later? The Bible certainly hints that this is the case. For example, Peter talks about craving spiritual milk; like new born babies (1 Peter 2:2-3). Paul says that there is a time that we should move beyond milk and get to the meat as solid food. He rebukes the Corinthians (1st Corinthians 3:2) because they should have been ready for solid food, but they were still on the milk stage of life. The author of the Book of Hebrews rebuked his readers for not being able to go on to the deeper truths as they should have. They were still stuck on foundational truths as seen in Hebrews 5:11-6:3.
B. Church History:
Again, we can appeal to church history as well. In the ancient church as the ministry of catechesis was developed in the 2nd and 3rd century, there was a wide pattern in a place called the catechumenate, a sort of school of the faith for those who were new comers to the faith, for those who wanted to become Christians. There was a clear emphasis on being sensitive to spiritual development. At different stages of the catechesis, there were different kinds of instructions and a different kind of content that was taught. For example, in one common form of catechesis in the ancient church, if someone was an enquirer, a curious person, someone we might call a seeker today, Saint Augustin argued that person should be instructed first in the Biblical story. So, Augustin in writing about the ministry of catechesis in the late 4th and early 5th century, his emphasis was such a seeker should be given a Biblical overview of the redemptive story. Augustin said that they should be with creation and go right up to the present history of the church to unpack the major events of God in dealing with people. They should tell that story in a compelling way. Augustin thought that the story itself would be very appropriate and very powerful for someone who was interested in Christianity, but not yet a formal Christian. Augustin’s wisdom, I think, is very good for us today as narrative in general seems to be a highly prized item. Narratives have always been powerful and we are returning to understand just how powerful narrative is today. As we are dealing with such seekers, the use of a narrative approach, the Biblical story, told in a compelling way, can be very powerful. In the post-modern context, for example, there is a belief that we all live according to our own stories. There is really no meta-story that ties all of human families together.
So, people are very interested in stories and as Christians are given opportunities to tell what we believe is our story. Then we trust that the Holy Spirit will bring home to the hearer that fact that this Christian story is indeed the story; it is the one Meta narrative that makes sense of all human history. The ancient church thought that this was a great place to begin. For those who had said yes to the Biblical story and desired to be formally instructed in the Christian faith; the next stage of learning while someone was in that catechumenate stage of development as a formal learner. They would be back and forth between those poles of what we believe and how we behave. This was doctrine and practice, Seral of Jerusalem in the 4th century in Jerusalem. His instruction was a cross between pious doctrines and basic moral instructions. For Seral, those two things needed to be kept in balance all the time. What do we believe and what is distinctive about our belief and how do we behave? Someone would be instructed in that kind of Christian moral and doctrine phase until they were ready to be baptized. In the ancient church, baptism was often delayed until someone had been instructed in the faith, much like we saw earlier in the case of adult wanted to convert to Catholicism. Today, they would have to be instructed first or in converting to Judaism as an adult today, they would be instructed first before they were received in.
Such a practice was in place in the ancient church because many who were becoming Christian were coming from such radically pagan backgrounds. There could be no assumption that they understood the same things in terms of ethics and theology. This was a radical revolutionary move for them to become Christians. It was of great concern that they be instructed well in the faith. While we may not like the idea of delaying baptism until after such instructions, we may do the same after baptism. They would be instructed by way of the Biblical drama, a catechumen, formally instructed in doctrine and practice. Then a candidate for baptism would be instructed in the Apostle’s Creed. That was perceived as being the deep mysteries of the faith. Only when someone had been newly baptized would they be instructed in the Lord’s Supper and allowed to receive the Lord’s Supper. Those who were mature members of the church were continually instructed in such Biblical text and themes. It is intriguing to see that there was concern in the ancient church; that something be taught appropriately to the developmental stage of the person. I would love for us in Christian Education today return to this idea and to be concerned about readiness on both the level of natural development and spiritual development. There are somethings that children are naturally capable of and other things that they are not capable of in terms of their cognitive and intellectual development. The same thing is true on the spiritual plain.
C. Organization and Communication Within the Church:
As we build our educational ministries, the teaching ministry within the church, one thing that we want to be careful to do is to try to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. For example, if we do have certain instructions for children and then those children graduate into the youth program, we want the children’s pastor to know what they have been taught. If the junior high pastor should speak to the senior high pastor and let the senior high teachers know what these students have learned. The senior high pastor should be concerned about preparing people for college and what they will experience there. Of course, there will always be movement in the church with people coming and going. But on both a natural level and a spiritual level, there should intentionality be a plan in place that helps people to be informed comprehensively and strategically so they build upon previous learning. This is done in preparation for subsequent learning so that continuality can be achieved in the life of the church.