A new year for forming Christians, making disciples
Four years ago I wrote that 2016 may well be remembered nationally as a year of divided opinions in the U.S. Looking back from 2021, all that seems like just the beginning of our nation’s quarrels and contentions. How different that is from the church! In Christ there is unity. Our fellowship is blessed with a lot of strong personalities but a lack of uniformity is not disturbing to us in the way it is perceived in the world. Jesus calls for us to get along!
A culture is a people’s acquired understanding of life, and ours is more concerned with openness than identity. Our world seems to be ever helping individuals become more assertive and expressive of their own personal wants, desires and rights.
The gospel though, is a story about something that has happened to us, from the outside.
Christian identity is not brought out of us but brought to us. This story is, in the words of the Reformers, an “externum verbum,” an external word. It claims that by rooting around in our own egos or by searching self, we really won’t discover much that is worth knowing, unless we know the Jew from Nazareth, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
It is only by listening to this story and allowing it to have its way with us that we learn anything worth knowing. Christian formation then gives us the skills, insights, words, stories and rituals that we need to live this faith in a world that neither know nor follows the One who is truth. As Tertullian said, “Christians are made, not born.” Christianity without Christian formation is no match for the powerful social forces at work within our society.
Being Christian is more like learning to paint or to dance than it is like having a personal experience or finding out something about oneself. It takes time, skill, and patience with oneself and others.
Discipleship implies discipline — forming one’s life in agreement with the desires and directives of the Master.
We are an alternative culture, an intentional, visible community, made up of people who are willing to pay the price of community.
When one asks people how they became Christians, one is often surprised by how unspectacular and mundane is the process of formation: an admired Sunday school teacher; the habit of being brought to church by parents, a pastor who was attentive to the myriad of seemingly little things that is does to make people feel a part of a community. The daily, unspectacular acts of caring and living together: the hospital call, the covered dish delivered, the card, the hour spent preparing food for the Pop-Up Pantry.
I pray day by day and year by year that being a Christian is more fundamental to your identity than your family, your ethnicity, your work, your sexuality or your personality. You are not your own. You were bought with a price, and you can depend on Him!
Finding Faith is written by area pastors. This week’s column comes from Pastor Taylor Camerer of Great Island Presbyterian Church, Lock Haven.