Sunday, January 2, 2011

In and Out of the Family of God

Having been reared in a family that chose to be associated with the evangelical Baptist tradition, I faced as a child the push to make a personal decision to be associated with the family of God. In the same context, however, I was part of a Boy Scout troop that was sponsored by an Episcopal church, where the more liturgical tradition assumed association with the family of God and stressed that teenagers should “confirm” their faith at some point. Both traditions emphasized personal association with the family of God, but the means of entry were in sharp contrast.

My evangelical background nurtured me in the faith until it suddenly decided to exclude me from the safety of the community and demanded that I must make an individual and personal choice to “join” the family. I almost wrote “rejoin” here. Although I had been embraced by the community through my preschool and early elementary school years, the lack of my having made a “personal decision” to be a disciple of Jesus suddenly pushed me out of the family temporarily. The nurturing community that had loved and embraced me suddenly told me that I was a sinner on the way to hell unless I repented of my sins and accepted the love that God had shown for me through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—and the emphasis was on the death of Jesus, since my sins were so severe that they required an atoning sacrifice of supreme significance. The Jesus who loved me (because the Bible told me so) was at least temporarily displaced by an angry God who was incensed by my ten-year-old life of sinfulness; and I was on my way to hell unless I repented and was converted.

The liturgical tradition (that I witnessed but of which I was not a part) assumed the continuity of the association with the family of God, and its “confirmation” was secured by a series of educational experiences that “explained” the association and pretty much assumed that your had “adopted” the faith in which you had been reared. A strong emphasis was not placed on the radical decision to leave behind the faith of your father and mother and “take up your cross and follow Jesus.”

Quite frankly, I am not 100% comfortable with either of these traditions. The evangelical tradition divides the religious experience as sharply as the Old Testament is divided from the New Testament, but I think it is right in emphasizing the role of personal decision in becoming a disciple. The liturgical tradition provides more continuity in the religious experience, but the confirmation process seems deficient in eliciting a truly personal decision. I have tried in the “Making Disciples” Chart to emphasize the continuity of an experience in the family of God that is not disrupted by a sudden and arbitrary exclusion but rather builds on the developmental transition that occurs naturally in adolescence. I hold both of these under the umbrella of “God’s grace,” but I emphasize the shift of identity that comes when we transition from the family orientation of childhood to the individualized self-understanding that emerges in adolescence. The “family of God” transitions into a recognition that each of us is a “child of God.” The transition is not a disruption of grace; it is an extension of a grace that loves me in the family and loves me individually.

(NOTE: The “Making Disciples” chart that attempts to depict this transition is available to you via email. Send an email request for a copy to:

1 comment:

  1. Mike, thank you for your thoughts. Your uneasiness with both traditions is shared. Having been reared in an ultra-conservative Baptist tradition yet now serving as a Presbyterian (USA) minister I fully understand the tension we both obviously feel. Your thoughts are timely for me. Steve