Patty Meyers is a deacon in full connection with the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. She recently retired from teaching Christian Education at Pfeiffer University. Patty is President Emeritus of CEF and its current Treasurer. She and her husband Bob live on the Central Oregon Coast with Tacy, her loving chihuahua.
My contribution to the Faith Formation series will reflect where I start with most of the courses I teach: biblical foundations.
My starting hypothesis: We are children of God. Secondly, we are not intended to stay children, we are to grow into the mind of Christ, and it is a lifelong process. There are lots of periscopes (bible passages) in the Bible to support the hypothesis. Here is a brief overview.
Old Testament Examples of Faith Formation
Torah and History
From the beginning, the Judeo-Christian scriptures show the importance of spiritual maturity and the responsibility that each generation has for the next. Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 emphasizes the importance of educating our children and the primary place of faith formation: the home. The first part of this passage, the Schema, the great commandment, to love God with our whole beings, is a starting place for living a life faithful to God. Recite it again and again, at meals, before you leave the house, when you return, when you tuck the kids in bed at night. John Calvin wrote that nearly all the wisdom that we humans have consists of knowing God and knowing ourselves. Joshua continues the theme declaring that “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Wisdom literature examines faith formation through advice, proverbs, and poetry.
Psalm 78 contains an entire theory of religious education in the first eight verses.
Listen, my people, to my teaching;
tilt your ears toward the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a proverb.
I’ll declare riddles from days long gone—
ones that we’ve heard and learned about,
ones that our ancestors told us.
We won’t hide them from their descendants;
we’ll tell the next generation
all about the praise due the Lord and his strength—
the wondrous works God has done.
He established a law for Jacob
and set up Instruction for Israel,
ordering our ancestors
to teach them to their children.
This is so that the next generation
and children not yet born will know these things,
and so they can rise up and tell their children
to put their hope in God—
never forgetting God’s deeds,
but keeping God’s commandments—
and so that they won’t become like their ancestors:
a rebellious, stubborn generation,
a generation whose heart wasn’t set firm
and whose spirit wasn’t faithful to God.will open my mouth with a proverb.
(Psalm 78:1-8 CEB)
It gives the who, what, where, why and how of teaching about God’s redeeming acts of unconditional love for all generations. I think it’s brilliant.
Proverbs is full of wisdom. I sometimes imagine parents sitting down with a teenage child before she or he goes off to college, reminding the young person everything they’ve tried to teach so far in life. There are the practical admonitions of chapters 3 through 6 plus all the wisdom couplets. Ecclesiastes offers reflections of the Teacher for whom the book is named.
Isaiah 51 has three oracles of promise for Israel. Like many of the Major and Minor Prophets tests, these oracles provide examples of forming faith in the midst of difficulty and strife for the children of God.
The Gospels give a glimpse into the life of a disciple and how to lead like Jesus as a teacher. The gospels are not biographies but they are the best source we have in which to learn about and from Jesus. To be a disciple is to be a student, a lifelong learner, to be a follower of Rabbi (Teacher) Jesus. We hear his words and follow his example in our behaviors. Much can be (and has been) said about teaching the way that Jesus did.
The Epistles (Letters)
Much is written in the epistles about promoting growth of the body of Christ, individually and corporately. We are to “be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds so that [we] can discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2) and “be renewed by the Spirit of [our] minds” (Eph. 4:23). Thomas Merton wrote, “To keep ourselves spiritually alive, we must constantly renew our faith.” (Thoughts on Solitude, p. 43).
Paul asked, “how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10:14-15). Throughout the Bible, God uses people to proclaim, teach, and form the faith of God’s children so that those children may mature.
A Life-Changing Story
One of my favorite biblical stories that exemplifies the importance of faith formation is found in Acts 8, Philip and the Ethiopian (see Acts 8: 26-31). Philip had been preaching in Samaria; all the disciples had scattered after Pentecost and the number of believers in Jesus multiplied. An angel told Philip to go south down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Of course, he got up and went. There he encountered a court official for Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was returning home after worshiping in Jerusalem, reading Isaiah in his chariot. Philip asked if he knew what he was reading. The Ethiopian’s answer provides the foundation for why I am a Christian educator. The Ethiopian responds “How can I unless someone guides me?” (v.31).
How will anyone know the Good News if no one guides them? Everyone needs a guide, a soul friend, a mentor, a teacher, family member, someone who knows Jesus and lives the great commandment as Jesus did: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength and your neighbor as yourself. Everyone who calls themselves Christian (which means little Christ) is to do what Jesus Christ did. The name most used for Jesus in the gospels is Rabbi-Teacher.
We are being shaped by the Holy Spirit much like a drift of snow is shaped by the wind. It takes a lifetime to “grow into the mind Christ,” or “be all that you can be,” as the U. S. Army used to say. Paul said that we are “being transformed from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). Several years ago the CEF Board adopted Acts 2:42 as its guiding scripture for the board’s work: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” From Genesis to the Revelation, the Holy Bible is filled with models and teachings about how to grow in our relationships with God. It’s a love story from beginning to end. May it be said of all of us that we were devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship and prayers. May each one of us be a guide for others. If you do, you will be on biblically solid ground.
Rev. Patty Meyers, D. Min., Ed. D.