I'm constantly led back to merit.
For instance, don't the vows we take with one another rely on the merit or work of the ones making them?
Considering that Oklahoma has one of the highest divorce rates in the country, I wonder if this shows that people don't take vows as seriously as they once did. Does this show too much of a reliance on the grace of others to us?
This Sunday, many of our youth who have been involved in confirmation classes will be taking the vows of the church for themselves for the first time.
I've tried to explain integrity to them. I've tried to explain the importance of follow-through after taking the vows. I've tried to explain that confirmation is not graduation from church.
Rather, this is a new starting point for their faith journey in Christ.
Yet as I look back on our past confirmation classes, I have to wonder, what's happened to all of the youth we've confirmed through the years?
Many of them have moved outside of our community. But there are also quite a few living in Piedmont that simply choose not to attend. The church hasn't done a very good job in reaching young adults - even those raised among us.
It is frustrating as I think back to all of those youth that I've confirmed. Of course, all pastors would love to have every church member become more active in the faith - to truly take seriously our discipleship in Jesus Christ.
When we vow to support the church with our presence, this means that if we are not sick or out of town, we need to be in worship. There is merit in this!
|Is your word your bond?|
As I consider the confirmation classes, I know there are always some that I likely won't see again after we confirm them. Their parents check it off as if baptism or church membership is a commodity to be gained for their children. My struggle has always been the question of do I confirm a youth if they haven't taken it seriously? If they've missed multiple classes? If they haven't attended worship?
I've always erred on the side of grace. I realize that the choice to attend at their age is not entirely up to them. If this is the main exposure to the church that they receive as minors, I don't want it to end in rejection. And so I confirm all those desiring to take their vows before God and God's people.
My hope is that the seed is planted for each of these. For some it grows almost immediately as they take leadership roles in youth group. We've raised up leadership for our church and for our conference and even beyond! This is always a joy to witness! For others, maybe it will lie dormant, waiting for someone else to water it.
I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Dr. David Lowes Watson who was our Wesleyan expert at a clergy retreat. I was lamenting the lack of disciples that we actually make as the church. He answered that when Jesus fed the 5,000, not all of them dropped what they were doing and followed him. In fact, probably not even a very large percentage of this crowd became his disciples.
But they were hungry.
And Jesus fed them.
And this is the difficulty when we get caught between grace and works. We lead with grace and hope that people will see that works do indeed follow.
As I said, grace is important to share, but difficult to grasp.
Yet we continue to try.
Picture by Doug Gansler (swearing_in) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons