Why do people stop practicing the faith? Why are we seeing so many young people abandon the faith of their youth? Countless studies have been done trying to answer this question. Every time I travel to speak around the country in parishes big and small, I get asked this question as well. And there are as many answers as there are studies.
All of these articles and writers usually have some good insights, from the changing culture to parenting changes, to the need for the parish to be higher in the priority lists of families; all these answers and more contribute to the reasons why we are seeing such a “falling away” of people practicing the Faith. But, at the heart of all these answers and questions is a basic and fundamental challenge. As an old preacher once told me “God ain’t got no grandchildren.”
Look at our lesson today in 1 Timothy 3:13-16; 4:1-5:
TIMOTHY, my son, those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
God was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
St. Paul is here encouraging his spiritual son, St. Timothy, as Timothy is pastoring his first parish. And Paul makes it clear that solid theology is the key to good practice. In fact, he warns Timothy some will “depart from the faith” precisely because of bad theology.
You see, it really does matter what you believe. Because what you truly believe always (and I mean ALWAYS) shows up in your choices, your priorities, and your actions. How you pray shapes how you live, and how you live affects how you pray – both for good and bad! So, what standard does Paul set as “good theology?”
First, our Faith will ALWAYS be bigger than we can grasp! Orthodoxy embraces mystery as a good thing, not some puzzle that needs to be solved. Our Faith being forever a mystery doesn’t mean we can’t know anything. It just means we won’t know everything. And that is good for us because we prideful humans NEED humility more than we need answers! If I teach my children the power of mystery, they won’t be fooled when there are questions they can’t answer!
Next, our Faith will ALWAYS be about a Person! “God was manifested in the flesh.” Our faith isn’t mere religious philosophy. It isn’t merely a set of ideas or doctrines. Our Orthodox faith is centered and surrounded by and focused on a Person – Jesus Christ. This physical faith means I don’t pass on to my children mere ideas about God, but I forever encourage them to have a real, substantial, and life-changing relationship with a Person! This means if I abandon the Faith, I’m not abandoning an idea; I’m abandoning a Person, a relationship. That’s much harder.
Finally, our Faith will ALWAYS be meant to be SHARED! If I share my faith with others, I drive my own faith deeper in my heart. And I share my faith every time I choose to purposely live my faith by embracing the disciplines of my Orthodox Faith. When I fast, I share my faith. When I confess, I share my faith. When I make prayer, both personal and corporate, a priority, I share my faith. When my children witness me being Orthodox, they are given the greatest treasure I possess – the Faith!
Today, are you concerned about all the young people abandoning the Orthodox Faith? Yeah, me too. But it turns out the best Church Youth program I can implement in my parish isn’t a youth program at all. It’s an Adult Education program that calls all my adults to be Orthodox on Purpose!