I Do Belong; Help My Unbelonging

Making disciples in a secular age requires retrieving an old catechetical pattern: belonging, believing, behaving.

Christians, wrote Tertullian in the third century, “are made, not born.”

The African church father, in chapter 18 of his Apology, was reflecting on the Great Commission of the risen Christ, who challenged his followers to “make disciples” by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [he had] commanded” (Matt. 28:19–20).

The challenge of making Christians today is the same as it was in the third century. As a pastor once shared with me about his congregation’s ministry, “We are doing a pretty good job of evangelizing and baptizing people, but we are falling short in our obligation for teaching them to obey everything that the Lord commanded.”

The task of teaching everything Jesus commanded is not a matter of conveying a checklist of beliefs and behaviors necessary to belong to the church. Christian formation has always presupposed that believing, behaving, and belonging constitute a holistic approach to disciple-making. But over time, Christian catechetical practice settled into a pattern that prioritized believing as primary, while behaving and especially belonging were emphasized less.

Basic catechetical instruction in this traditional pattern started by learning the creeds and the basic teaching of Scripture, followed by baptism and reception into the membership of the church, followed by participating in the worship and practices of the faith. The content of catechesis in this traditional pattern varied depending on one’s particular denominational doctrine, but for centuries the order was consistent across Western Christianity.

If you were a Protestant in North …

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