How Do We Know Which Story is True?

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The Christian Reformed Church Order Article 63 b reads: “Each Church shall instruct the youth in the Scriptures and in the creeds and the confessions of the church, especially the Heidelberg Catechism.  This instruction shall be supervised by the consistory.” How well are we following this article of the Church Order?  Having been out of full time ministry in a church for some years, I confess I am not certain how well it is being done. 

My concern is based on a conversation I had with a Christian School Administrator.  The conversation occurred a few years ago and it made a lasting impression on me.  He detailed for me that students learn differently than when “we” went to school.  He said, “When we went to school we learned “abstract concepts”. He told me that today when students learn through story telling and they affirm its validity by stating, “It is such a beautiful story, it must be true.”  My response was, “How do they tell the difference between a fairy tale and a historical event?”  I never received a direct response to the question.  I have a sister who has taught English for many years in Christian School and when she was proofreading a book I wrote shortly after the conversation, she questioned me concerning that conversation and told me she had never heard that explanation of how things are taught today compared to the past. 

But that made me think about the educational process within our churches.  As a child, I had to memorize many Bible passages as well as Heidelberg Catechism questions and answers.  I am not advocating that the method of teaching our doctrines should be the same, but I do wonder how well we are teaching the confessions to our membership in general and specifically to our youth. 

How well do the elders monitor the materials and the teaching methods in our churches?  My concern is if this school administrator would be a member of one of our churches we would assume that he could teach our educational classes. 

I admit that I have not always monitored the educational programs in the churches I served as I perhaps should have, so I am wondering how well we are implementing Article 63 b of the church order?

Posted in: Elders; Blog Photo courtesy Dave - http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveblog/99932651/ Image: See Credit

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You ask a very good question, Al.  We are going thru planning of the sunday school program, and it includes a bit of a struggle with where catechism classes should begin.  Some say earlier and some say later.  I'm inclined to think that if the youth only go through or cover the catechism material once, they will not learn it very well.   Between missing a few classes, and missing out on the repetition at different ages, they will miss out also on the opportunity to grasp the concepts better.   It seems to me that there are different ways of teaching by the catechism and about the catechism, which should be appropriate to different ages.   The sunday school classes and bible stories seem to cover the stories of Jonah and the big fish, and David and Goliath, many times over.  The repetition of that does not seem to be a problem. 

As an elder I also agree that I have not monitored what has been taught, and particularly not the teaching of the catechism, very well.  One of the ways of improving that perhaps is to have the elders teach some of the catechism classes;  at least that will lead to a better understanding of what is taught and how it is learned.  But teaching catechism classes must come from the heart, it must be not just a use of materials or going thru a program, but it must be a conviction of the faith, and a passing on of this faith as a lifeline of hope and trust. 

And I think we should not underestimate the capacity or abilities of our young people when they are learning. 

 

Christian education is a lifelong process. So materials must be appropriate for the developmental and intellectual stages of the student. (I didn't mention--and I am not talking about--age!). The church is a secondary support for the primary teachers: THE PARENTS. (The primary support should be their own parents, siblings, extended family members, and accountability partners--i.e., other Christians.) The church should make sure all adults (especially PARENTS) are mature and healthy individuals relationally and spiritually. (They should also know how to define "mature" and "healthy" in those contexts and the process.) We are then to train them to be good discipleship makers (teachers and life coaches) to their own family and spheres of influence.

          The following are good resources to start using:
(1) THE PARENTS' GUIDE TO THE SPIRITUAL GROWTH OF CHILDREN
(2) THE PARENTS' GUIDE TO THE SPIRITUAL MENTORING OF TEENS

(3) THE TRUEU DVD Christian Worldview Curriculum young adults: (http://www.trueu.org/)

(4) REWIRED: A Teen Worldview Curriculum (http://www.colsoncenterstore.org/product.asp?sku=2191_REWIRED-KT)

You will then know how concrete and/or how abstract your material must be. For example, you shouldn't try to teach the doctrine of the Trinity until the person is intellectually capable of handling abstract math concepts like Pi and infinity (and after they are ready for Algebra and Geometry). They will then be able to understand the difference between 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 and 1 + 1 + 1 = 3 without much trouble since they will have learned that certain mathematical concepts have unique properties (e.g., “one” and “zero” with multiplication and Pi).  Consequently, they can then apply the same contrast to the Trinity as being an argument more like 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 rather than 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.  They will also have the capability to distinguish different denotations for the homonyms (1) "person" used in everyday speech as an “individual or individuated being” and (2) "person" used in theological speech to mean a “distinction, subsistence, role or personality—distinct thing [res]”.

 

Contemporary physics, for instance, has discovered an apparent paradox in the nature of light. Depending on what kind of test one applies (both of them “equally sound”), light appears as either undulatory (wave-like) or corpuscular (particle-like). This is a problem. Light particles have mass, while light waves do not. How can light have mass and not have it, apparently at the same time? Scientists can’t yet explain this phenomenon, but neither do they reject one form of light in favor of the other, nor do they reject that light exists at all. Instead, they accept what they’ve found based on the evidence and press on.

Like physicists, we are no more able to explain the mechanics of the Trinity than they can explain the apparent paradox in the nature of light. In both cases, the evidence is clear that each exists and harbors mystery. So we must simply accept the facts and move on. Just because we cannot explain the Trinity, how it can exist, or how it operates does not mean that the doctrine must be rejected, so long as sufficient evidence exists for its reality. (Defending Your Faith by Dan Story, pp. 100-101).

 

In short, if you are teaching confirmation class to those still in a concrete thinking stage and rules stage (the majority of those 10 and under), they won’t be able to understand the catechism. Nor will they be able to understand the various forms of proofs (verification versus falsification; scientific versus logical versus historical, etc.) and their uses and limitations.   

 

You will have to make sure your Parent education program (i.e., Christian Education program) is structure and designed to revisits the contents of the catechism with the students again when they reach more abstract stages of ethical and intellectual development (around the time they can grasp Algebra and Geometry) and use abstract principles in their ethical thinking like umbrella concepts for positive and negative rules and regulations: e.g., the Great Commandments versus Laws and regulations. They must be able to know--as well as know how to determine--"the right means, the right goals, and the right proofs" for the subject at hand: historical, social scientific, scientific, logical and/or philosophical, etc.

Study until the cows come home. You will not know which story is true in this life.

When do the cows come home?  But there is something like historical research so we can distinquish between a fairy tale anda  story from a historical perspective.

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