We called it confirmation class when I was young, and under the methods of the previous generation, I learned sternly. All was conducted with a solemn lawfulness, for these matters were grave, consisting of life and death. I memorized Martin Luther's explanation of the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, the Commandments, the Sacraments, and the Christian Table of Duties. There was little joy in the exercise; there was, rather, great anxiety to get it right.

PASTOR: "The Fifth Commandment."

WALLY: "Thou shalt not kill."

PASTOR: "What does this mean?"

WALLY (standing erect, his thumbs upon his pant seams): "We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need."

We memorized biblical proof passages to support these meanings. I know these things by heart even today. Indeed, there was value in the severity of my training. But a faith without joy is a faith that knows about the Savior, but never yet has met him or felt his steadfast gaze upon its face.

During the years of my ministry, on the other hand, new methods of education have risen up to ease us all, training which depends on the youth's own willingness to come and learn: this generation must not feel burdened. Therefore, the blither spirits and contentments of youth have shaped the atmosphere of their religious schoolrooms.

I have watched with some dismay how this tendency to goodwill has replaced the genuine gravity of these matters (which do train the student in the difference between life and death). No longer need they memorize great portions of Holy Scripture, that the words may be handy in circumstances yet to come; no longer need they give a good verbal account for the basic, most important ...

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February 2004

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