Found a little edition of the Heidelberg Catechism the other day. Entitled The Heidelberg Catechism, Twentieth Century Edition. There’s a wonderful section dedicated to explaining the difference between confirmation and conversion:
Some persons, not understanding our church life and customs, foolishly think that we confirm our young people no matter what their state of mind and heart is, and that we do not believe in conversion. This is a great mistake. We require a high degree of fitness for confirmation, namely, an intelligent, sincere and unreserved taking of three most searching and far-reaching vows in the name of the holy Trinity.
Then, too, this fitness for confirmation may be called “a change of heart,” though this is only another name for conversion. This change is not sudden, but runs through the years. You have not had any wonderful religious experiences, such as you hear about in others; but the Holy Ghost has done much in you in a very quiet way.
Nor need you doubt your conversion, your change of heart, because you cannot tell the day when it took place, as many profess to do. It did not take place in a day, or you might tell it. It is the growth of years (Mark 4:26-28), and therefore all the more reliable. You cannot tell when you learned to walk, talk, think and work. You do not know when you learned to love your earthly father, much less the heavenly.
This is the Reformed doctrine of “getting religion.” We get religion, not in bulk but little by little. Just as we get natural life and strength, so spiritual life and strength, day by day.
The words, Just as we get natural life and strength, so spiritual life and strength, day by day has really come home to me this autumn as I reflect on the changes we’ve made here at St. Mary’s in creating a fresh expression of Christian formation in “Family Inside Out”. We have a combined session then breakouts into small groups with children and parents together. It has been nothing short of a spiritual and relational revolution for our families. Real catechesis as parents fulfill the vows made at their child’s baptism.
The reasons for the changes are grounded in the sobering results of the National Study on Youth and Religion. Read about it and the consequences for the church in Kendra Dean’s book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. She’s coming to lecture at our Diocese of New Jersey’s Christian Educator’s Day in Trenton on January 22. You can find out more on the diocesan website.
In the interest of full disclosure you should also know we lost some families too. After you read Dean’s book you’ll understand why.
A little sidebar to finish. At the start of Dean’s book she has a quote by John Wesley: “The Church is full of almost Christians who have not gone all the way with Christ” (1741)