E-pistle June 3

On Renouncing Evil – at age 15

Awhile back, maybe a dozen years or more, our PCUSA Book of Order was changed to include new wording about Confirmation.  Here’s what we now say:

The church nurtures those baptized as children and calls them to make public their personal profession of faith and their acceptance of responsibility in the life of the church.  When these persons are ready, they shall be examined by the session. After the session has received them as active members they shall be presented to the congregation during a service of public worship.  In that service the church shall confirm them in their baptismal identity.  They shall reaffirm the vows taken at Baptism by

  1. professing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,
  2. renouncing evil and affirming their reliance on God’s grace,
  3. declaring their intention to participate actively and responsibly in the worship and mission of the church.

They are commissioned for full participation in the mission and governance of the church, and are welcomed by the congregation.

That second point, “renouncing evil and affirming reliance on God’s grace,” was new for Presbyterians, and it still jars us a bit. The suggested wording for the question that gets at that second point is “Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?

Sunday is Confirmation Sunday at our church and we are going to use that question along with those that ask, “Who is your Lord and Savior?” and “Will you be his faithful disciple…” and “Will you be a faithful member of this congregation…” as our ten students confirm the vows taken by their parents at baptism or receive the sacrament for the first time. The congregation will be asked to promise to help, encourage and pray for these new disciples.

The kids are ready for the questions – they have spent a year getting ready and, as I think you will see, they know what they are talking about. Are we in the congregation ready for our question?

But, really, asking a 15-year-old to turn from the ways of sins and to renounce evil and its power in the world? What are we doing?

We have tried to help our students understand the implications of this turning and renouncing. We have talked about peer pressure and temptation. We have had conversations about gossip at school and about getting along with brothers and sisters and obeying the respecting parents. We have taught lessons about the sin of denying that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and so loved that God sent his only Son for our sakes. And we have talked about the evil of pride and arrogance, of ignoring the lonely and the different.

We have wrestled with salvation and Lordship, discipleship and church membership.

I think the kids are as ready as they can be.  God has been at work, and I do not say that lightly. But sin and evil are powerful and they do not intend to let these kids out of their grasp without a fight.

The battle will rage on every front – peer pressure and temptation, gossip and family relationships, self-despair and self-pride. Pray for our confirmation students. But while those frontal attacks will be fierce with high casualties expected, I most worry about an insidious infiltration of enemy agents behind the battle lines. These agents will spread vicious lies and many of us will believe them.

We, parents, church members and friends, will believe the lie that says that getting a ribbon or gold-plated plastic trophy for success in athletics, dance or music does more to build character than conversation at the family dinner table. We will believe the lie that says being able to list a thousand extra-curricular activities on a college application is more important in determining the course of our kids’ lives than praying together and working down a list of Scripture passages to commit to memory. We will believe the lie that says there are no 15-year olds who would rather spend an evening playing games or talking late into the night with their parents and brothers and sisters than slouching through the mall with their school friends.

We will believe the lie that says now that our kids have been confirmed it is up to them to decide whether or not to build into their lives the habit and discipline of weekly worship, daily devotions and regular ministry and mission – those things that become the measure of a life well-lived. We will believe the lie – no, we will break our promise to help, encourage and pray for these young disciples as they turn from sin and renounce evil and its power in the world. We will tell them, “Good luck, you’re on your own now. We’d like to help but we’re kind of busy chasing success, accumulating things, taking care of self and still trying to figure out how to be happy and what a life well-lived looks like.”

A few years after they changed the Book of Order to include the vow for confirmation about turning from sin and renouncing evil and its power in the world, someone tried to amend the Book or Order in such a way as to require all new members, the adults (and by extension all of us), to do likewise – turn from sin and renounce evil. The General Assembly vote not to accept the amendment.

Even if the General Assembly decided to leave well enough alone, we can turn from the sin and renounce the evil that tempts us to abandon our kids, wishing them good luck and telling them they’re on their own now.  Or we can just shake our heads and wonder why our kids turn from faith and renounce Christ and his power in their lives and world.

See you Sunday. Oh, and be ready to make a promise.