Traditions fascinate me.
For many of us, we do things without really thinking why. It’s just the way we’ve always done it.
In church, traditions are even more apparent.
But I want to know why. Why is it that we do things a certain way?
Take prayer for example. As a teenage I was encouraged to pray out loud. That this was some kind of ‘badge of honour’ that showed you were a real christian.
In my current place of work, I also try to encourage young people to pray out loud.
It seems to me that asking young people to pray out loud really has nothing to do with prayer at all. If it really was to do with prayer then we wouldn’t ask our young people to pray out loud. Why should we pray out loud? Does it make a difference? Doesn’t God hear it anyway?
Praying out loud is more about affirmation. Affirmation for the prayer(er) and affirmation for the hearer.
We affirm the one praying is doing a good job and we affirm the listener because more than likely they have asked for a prayer request.
Corpororate ‘out loud’ prayer then is more about us than God.
Would you agree? And is that necessarily a bad thing?
I read this on JR Daniel Kirk’s blog and found it really helpful and inspiring.
In a previous post he talked about how problematic using a theological statement (like a creed) is to define what a Christian truly is. It makes faith very static and turns it into a list of rules rather than a relationship.
Here is the Nicene Creed as an example:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Is that what defines a Christian? What if, as I do, we read through that and do not agree with everything that is written? Does that make us not a Christian?
This type of understanding is known as bounded set theology. A second way of understanding Christian identity is what is known as a centred set and is defined below”
“…a centered set is created by defining a center or reference point and the relationship of things to that center. Things related to the center belong to the set, and those not related to the center do not. Kingship groups… are relational categories.”
It is a relational category. Our Christianity is defined by how close out relationship is to Jesus. Some days we may be close to the centre and other days we may be further away.
Sometimes, by what we say and what we do, we are closely identified by Jesus and at other times we are not.
This makes so much more sense to my understanding of what a Christian is.
Christianity should not be understood as a series of rules that we need to adhere to inorder to be “in”, rather it should be defined as a relationship with God.
In the same way, Christians should not be defined as those who adhere to a set of rules but by their relationship with Jesus. Sometimes we are closer to Jesus and sometimes we are far away but we are always ‘in christ’.
Youth workers, do you agree? If so, how do we communicate this to the young people we work with?
Disclaimer: These are just the start of some ramblings so please don’t judge me too harshly yet.
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[g] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted[a]by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[d]”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
The three accounts of Jesus’ time in the wilderness in the synoptic gospels all start after Jesus has been baptised. He has spent the first 30 years of his life learning the Jewish ways, being instructed and then he gets baptised and is sent out to begin his work.
But inbetween his learning and his doing is 40 days in the wilderness.
Jesus goes through a rite of passage. A rite of passage is understood as a “ritual event that marks a person’s progress from one status to another”. I’ve never thought of it like this before. The time in the wilderness was there to make sure he was ready to undertake the work. To go from a place of learning, to a place of doing. To make sure he was up for the task.
In Britain, culturally rite of passages are age bound: 16, 18 and 21.
When you are 16 you can legally have “heterosexual” sex and smoke.
When you are 18 you can vote, drink and have “homosexual” sex.
When you are 21…well I’m not sure about that.
But I wonder in christian youth work, whether we focus enough on the rite of passage of the young people we work with?
yes we have communion. yes we have baptism. But is that enough?
Do we teach the importance of a rite of passage? Should we teach it all?
For me, when I think back, although not necessarily defined as a rite of passage, the first time I went on a mission trip to London was a turning point in my life.
Do you put enough emphasis on rite of passage with your young people?
What rites of passage do you have?
Do you think we even need them or are theologically sound?