Growing up Christian
All the baptismal banter from a couple posts ago got me thinking about something that ends up having much wider significance than baptism. I will be your illustration of this something this morning (or afternoon or whenever you’re reading this). I grew up in church. I started going/being a part of a church when I was a couple weeks old, give or take a couple weeks. Though my faith has grown, morphed, almost gone away, been based on rules, been based on the leading of God, been largely faked, been all the way real, over the intervening 31 years between my first trip to a church building and now–I have always in one way or another been a willing participant in Christianity. I cannot say I have known a day when I would have said I did not believe in Jesus. This raises a number of issues for me (which I will bullet point below to make browsing easier…I feel a long post coming on).
- It is true that for much of my life my faith has been tied strongly to my parents. I was a Christian when I was young because of my parents. If I had grown up in a home without Christian parents I would not have professed faith at any level at the young age I did. I don’t think, however, this negates my faith at any point in my life. All children are influenced dramatically by their parents, no matter what their views on life or faith. In history it has been a valued part of life to share an identity with your family. In our times of rampant individualism some seem to think you’re not an authentic person until you distance yourself from your family and “figure out who you are.” I am firmly in support of wrestling with worldview, life, and faith and owning all of these things, but I don’t think perspective on all of those is negated until if finds release from the direction of family or other influences. In reality our perspective never finds complete release from outside forces, no matter how hard we try.
- In many Evangelical circles we are trying to force a conversion paradigm onto lives where there is not a point of conversion. We do this through “the prayer,” “rededication,” and “baptism” in most cases. “The prayer,” consists of asking Jesus to forgive your sins and live in you. This is when you “become a Christian.” The problem with that is for most people I know who have grown up with faith, they didn’t believe in Jesus any more the day they prayed the prayer than the day before. I don’t think kids are any more “saved” when they pray the prayer than before. Their salvation in Christ rests on their belief in Jesus, his provision of forgiveness, and hope for this life and eternity–not a single prayer. In the New Testament the stories of faith we have all involve conversion. They may involve fulfillment of faith for those who were Jews (e.g. Nicodemus), but in a sense even those are conversion stories. Because of that (and probably other factors) we try to force decisional conversion in places it doesn’t fit. Rededication to the faith is usually just a step in growth, and having a point to mark that is fine, but I think more often than not it’s just a step in a developing young person developing to a new level in their faith. And baptism is made to be the ultimate marker of devotion to Christ. But in doing so it still applies a conversion paradigm to the practice.
- The process that inevitably happens where young men and women have to own the faith they’ve received doesn’t happen (at least not regularly) until 18 and after in our culture (the age is not the issue as much as 18 being an initial point of departure from the way family life has worked). If faith is measured by full understanding and complete devotion, then most of the people I know who grew up in the faith weren’t Christians until sometime after high school. For me it was my senior year in college. If I had something like a “conversion” experience, that’s when it happened. I still look back on that as being the time I was truly transformed by Jesus. But I don’t take that to mean I was not his follower before that. My experience in this has been mirrored by a number of other adults I’ve talked to.
I am deeply thankful for the family and faith I have had my entire life. I think this post is partly driven by my growing belief that we could help people who grow up like me navigate and develop their faith better if we don’t try to force their experience to mirror the conversions of those who grow up without Christian faith. There’s no need to.