This week on “Ask the Pastor.” I have some questions from an anonymous teen. Before I begin, I want to say that it delights me to receive and answer such questions from a young person. Our faith is not about having all the answers, it’s in learning to find God in all things. A faith that is alive and growing, is one that trusts God to be there, no matter the question. Having it all figured out it God’s job, our job is seek God’s grace and goodness in the midst of all things, the things we are sure of, the things we don’t know, the things we doubt, and the things we could never understand. The crisis of our faith is whether or not we are courageous enough to question it, and humble enough to be transformed in it.
And so, on to the questions:
Do we have to believe the same things our parents believe?
First, I’d like to talk about the “have to” of this question. While it may seem as if because you are young, you “have to” do a lot of things, it can even seem this way as an adult. The truth of the matter is, is that we do always have choices on how we act and behave. Therefore, we know from simply observing through the generations the many children who didn’t believe what their parents believed to know that certainly, no one has to believe as their parents did. For this statement to be true, we’d still have to believe the world was flat, or something like that.
Now, as a general statement, I’m sure you ask, because you value obeying your parents, and your relationship, and questioning a belief that they have, may seem like it will cause tension, or discord, between you. Either that, or you’re simply trying to figure out what it means to be an adult, and you’re not real sure if your parent, and their clothes, their weird taste in music, and their rules is how you’d do things if you ran the world. Or, perhaps, you don’t like going to church on a Sunday morning, and saying you don’t believe seems like a sure fire way to get out of it. It’s probably all these things and more.
So, to the point, you don’t have to believe what your parents believe. BUT, I would guess that you aren’t even sure what your parent believes, and they might not either. While it may seem awkward, I would encourage parents and their children to sit down and talk about what they believe. One way to do this, is for parents to share their own experiences with faith. What was your religious upbringing like? What similarities does it carry into today? What questions do you have about faith? How does our Christian Faith affect our daily life? Is everything in the Bible true? There are all kinds of ways to have these discussions, and they don’t need to be “big conversations”, like talking about where babies come from.
In a conversation that is open, people, like parents and children can walk together in their faith, and learn from each other. On a larger scale, the community of the church, is where more people, very human people, come together and learn to walk together in faith. Even as a church, and as a pastor of a church, our individual beliefs aren’t what ultimately matters. What matters is learning to believe in the way of grace and love that God has given to us, and which holds us together through all things.
Do we inherit our parent’s religion?
Do we inherit our parent’s religion?
In the Christian church, and generally, in the Lutheran expression of the Christian church, we do inherit our parent’s religion. In a way, our faith was designed this way, as we see from the stories of the Bible how the Word of God, was handed down from generation to generation, Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph, and eventually to a whole nation of people named the Hebrews/Israel/Jews. While most of us who are Christians are descended from the bloodlines of these people, we have been reborn into the promises of God through the waters of baptism. While we don’t necessarily inherit the Christian faith from our parents, we do inherit it from Abraham, Jesus, and the Christians who have died before us.
In our congregation at Christ the King, most people have inherited our Christian faith, and our Lutheran expression of it through their parents. Sometimes this can be a very positive thing, but because we are human, and imperfect, with the passing on of our faith we can pass on some elements that can cause people to equivocate negative aspects of human behavior, with faith. Throughout our history, and in the present day, sometimes those bearing the name Christian do terrible things, like support segregation, which others may see as representing the Christian faith. It is unfortunate that God’s gift of faith can be so easily abused, but we are all under the captivity of sin, and send the wrong message about our faith ourselves. This is why, the inheritance we receive in our baptism, and the gift of Christ’s life we dine on in Holy Communion are so important, because they continue to show us the true gift of our faith, and they have done so since its very beginning.
So yes, you probably inherited your parent’s religion, but it is always important for us to know that our religion is always best expressed by its truth, not necessarily how that truth is lived out.
Another important note, is that we as a society are often quick to say that a person who commits terror in the name of Islam is representative of the Muslim faith. Those who make headlines, whether it is in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or whatever faith they claim to be representing, are usually far outside the mainstream of what people in that faith are like, and perversions of their faith, not true representations of it.
Do I have to go to church after I am confirmed?
There is a joke that goes around, “What is the best way to get bats out of the bell tower? Confirm them.”
As I mentioned before, you don’t have to do anything. Many people don’t come to church much after their confirmed. If you decide that church isn’t for you, my question would be, why do you want to be confirmed? Really, confirmation is an affirmation of the baptism that so many in our Lutheran tradition receive when they are very young. Up until confirmation, parents really have the responsibility for the faith life of their children, and make vows to God, to their children, and to the congregation to carry out the following tasks on behalf of their children:
to live with them among God's faithful people,
bring them to the word of God and the holy supper,
teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in their hands the holy scriptures,
and nurture them in faith and prayer,
so that your children may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.
When they are confirmed, or affirm their baptism, young people, like yourself, then promise to take ownership their faith, and commit to these task.
to live among God's faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth
task.When it is your time to affirm your baptism, if you can’t make a commitment to these things, than your confirmation is doesn’t really mean much. Of course, there may be times when these things don’t happen, there may be a lot of them, but they are vows to continue to hold yourself accountable to, and ones that will help the fruits of faith grow in you.
I will close, by saying that often, children do inherit the religion of their parents. If one’s religious practices are to make commitments to raising their children in the Christian faith, and then putting worship attendance, spiritual formation, Christian fellowship, and service in the congregation as the lowest of priorities, this faith is certain to be passed on. The Christian faith is not about rites of passage, or about knowing a little bit about God to help shape our moral development. The Christian faith is one of being struck by the grace of God, and following Christ.
To the young person who asked these questions, thank you. You are a child of God and God will love you no matter what. Your salvation, along with that of all of creation has been accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross 2000 years ago. You can find no more favor with God, than you already have, but you can learn about and grow in trusting how precisous and life-giving that favor is, and how rich the life God has given us. This rich, abundant life is the life of faith, and it is the life of Jesus, that has been given to us. I hope and pray that you continue hear him calling you to follow him, and that you will continue to grow in your trust of this calling.
Peace! Pr. Mark