I have a couple of adult friends who are discovering, or rediscovering, the joy of Christian faith, and the value of Christian community and worship. The thing is, their newfound delight in knowing Christ is at a juvenile level such as one might find in a third grade Sunday School class. According to Mark and Luke, Jesus said that one needs to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child” in order to enter it, but Paul expressed some discomfort with his churches that should have been ready for the meat of the gospel,yet were capable only of a baby food version. I’m with Paul, and I think Jesus intended a childlike trust in God rather than a childish way of believing.
The thing is, pushing for a more sophisticated understanding of scripture and faith can risk discouraging any development, if it is done too early or in the wrong way, but what is too early or the wrong way? For that matter, why push at all? Isn’t a childish faith in Christ sufficient, and certainly better than no faith?
My objection is that a childish faith is a weak faith unable to withstand the vicissitudes of adult life. It’s likely to crumble into the dust of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, or harden into an unrealistic fundamentalism that makes coping with life more difficult. Adults need an adult grounding in what it means to be a Christian. Scripture, Tradition, and Reason is not a bad formula for that, if it’s understood that tradition is not the way we’ve always done it, and reason is not one’s prejudiced opinion. Moreover, it requires some understanding of from whence scripture has come and the multitude of ways in which it can be interpreted.
It’s not an easy thing. One adult friend was horrified to learn about the messy way that the bible was assembled in the form we have it from among available writings purporting to be scripture. It shook her faith in the bible as The Word of God. Another is strengthened in his belief in the literal and inerrant truth of the bible by discoveries of pieces of the real ark on Mt. Ararat. If the flood did not happen as described in Genesis, then could anything in the bible be trusted? Yet another is certain that God intends all events for some godly purpose, even the most heinous crimes and tragedies.
I do not want to put an obstacle in the path of their newfound faith, but I also do not want to see them fall flat on their faces stumbling over their own obstacles of childish belief, when a well reasoned adult faith is what is needed to navigate through a life strewn with many obstacles.
These are friends, not parishioners. They attend other churches led by other clergy. And yet they are enthusiastic about their new faith and want to talk about it with me and other friends. Would that staid old lifelong Episcopalians felt the same way. What I want to do, as a friend, is find the right time, place and way to lead them from childhood to adulthood, if they show an interest in developing a more mature faith. Perhaps they will. Perhaps they won’t. Perhaps I’m not the right person. We shall see.