Passing on the Faith:
Training the Next Generation of American
How to pass on “the faith”? We certainly are not the first generation—and I hope not the last—to ask this question. One can find evidence of such concerns, sometimes oblique, other times explicit, in Paul’s letters, among the earliest extant Christian writings. A host of difficult questions came early to those communities that the first apostles founded. What does it mean to believe in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified, the cruelest, the most despised, the most shocking form of empire-orchestrated execution? What does it mean to believe in the one whose tomb was discovered empty, who appeared as the Risen One to his disciples? What is essential to this faith received from the earliest apostles, and what not? Does the faithful disciple follow the intricacies of the Jewish law, especially as practiced by the Pharisees? What does it mean to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Who exactly is this Jesus who is called the Christ? What are the core teachings, the required practices?
To pass on the faith—if only it were as easy as passing a note, a checklist of what one must believe, such as a creed. Yet, as Nicholas Lash points out in introducing his text Believing Three Ways in One God: A Reading of the Apostles’ Creed, those who think that a creed is “a list of theses, a catalogue of chapter headings for a textbook of theology” are seriously mistaken. He describes the creed rather as a kind of summation of the biblical narrative. “What the Scriptures say at length, the Creed says briefly.” Lash’s description of reciting the creed makes clear that this seemingly unremarkable activity of recitation implies far more than most participants fully comprehend. “To say the Creed is to confess, beyond all conflict and confusion, our trust in One who makes and heals the world and who makes all things one”—though we confess this One in “three ways.”1 So even that succinct declaration, the Creed, requires far more than passing on a list for recitation.