This is the important beginning point in a Confirmation Class. There is not much point talking about Church Membership if we have not first established that those to whom we are speaking know what it means to be a Christian. A wide range of people may inquire about Church membership. Our desire and prayerful intention should be that each inquiring person has had the opportunity to face and respond positively to the claims of Jesus Christ. It is on that basis that we can move on to talk further about the Church itself and the significance of Church membership.
The Regulations of the UCA (1.1.9) make a very positive statement that candidates for confirmation declare: "Acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, determination to follow him in daily life, intention to participate actively in the fellowship of the Church and to support its work, and resolution to seek the extension of the reign of God in human society." This statement sets much of the agenda for these Confirmation Classes.
This first session begins at the very beginning - "acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord."
□ Welcome all who are sharing in the class.
□ If necessary, record names, addresses and phone numbers.
□ Explain the assumptions we make (and those we do not make) about the people who have come to share in these classes.
□ Refer to the relevant section of the Regulations regarding confirmation. (It is helpful for them to know that there is such a book. So have it on hand and show it on this one occasion. I do not, however, believe it to be helpful to have it constantly before you throughout the series!)
□ Two questions:
Where are the various members of the class in their understanding of and response to the Gospel? It is imperative, in leading a class, to be aware of the response of each individual. This is not just a typical educational exercise. Yes, it is important to know where people are in order to move on from there, but our desire and aim is that all may have come to a real acknowledgement of Christ as Saviour and Lord.
#1 Why is Jesus "good news" for everyone in the world?
We make the assumption here that all present accept that Jesus is, in some way, "good news".
□ Allow time for individuals to write down their own answers and then to share them with the whole group. At this stage you are not evaluating answers as being "right" or "wrong", more important or less so.
□ All answers need to be brought in and recorded on a chart. Then, as a group, look at the points recorded, noting which ones keep recurring, and write down in order a response to the question which draws on the words they have used.
Someone has said, "Our problem is that Jesus is the answer to the question nobody is asking!"
So the question is quite probing, and we certainly need to consider the human situation as people currently perceive it and the elements which represent the "bad news" against which it is quite clear that Jesus is the "good news".
One class framed this joint response: "1. All have sinned. 2. Jesus died for our sins. 3. There is therefore the possibility of salvation, hope and forgiveness. 4. This is for anyone who puts trust in Jesus. 5. Jesus demonstrated a new way to live (by example, not just words). 6. He came alive and is with us day by day."
#2 What makes a person a Christian?
This is an important question. Together with the previous one, it will help you to be aware of where your class members are spiritually. It is not by having a complete understanding of all the ways in which Jesus is the "good news" that a person becomes a Christian. However, there are some basics which form the beginning point from which a person will grow as a Christian.
□ As with the previous question, it is important that all class members have opportunity to express the understandings they have arrived at to this point in their lives. Be sure to receive all answers and to review them on the chart.
□ Draw attention to the boxed references to the early Church. Reflect on these three descriptions in drawing together a more structured response.
It is significant that in the days of the early Church, they were first called "believers". In other words, it was noteworthy about them that they believed in Jesus as the Messiah and as their Saviour and Lord.
Then we see them being called "followers of the Way (or belonging to the Way)" - signifying the things people noticed about their different lifestyle.
Then, in Antioch, where they began systematically reaching out to non-Jews, they were first called "Christians", Christ-like ones.
These three phrases can help in drawing the class responses together.
□ Five Important Points
The five points bear a conscious relation to the Evangelism Explosion process. I freely acknowledge my own indebtedness to that training in the simple presentation of these five points here. Encourage class members to record the main points and Scripture readings.
□ Grace. Our relationship to God, eternal life, is a gift (Rom.6.23). By definition a gift is free (Rom.3.24; Is.55.1ff). It is not earned or deserved (Eph.2.8-10). If 1 wanted to give you $1000 and you said, "Thanks! Now what do I have to do to earn this?", you would not have understood the nature of a gift nor my intention in giving. The marvel of God's grace is that not one of us - not even the "best" of us - can earn or deserve his grace, and that every one of us even the "worst" of us - can receive his gift. Why is this so?
□ Man (m/f!). When the Bible uses the word "man", it is mostly inclusive - not referring to maleness. So it is when it tells us that man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1.26; Ps.8). God the Creator had (and has) a wonderful purpose and destiny for the human race - but there is a problem! Students of the Bethel Series know well the first three Old Testament studies (and their pictorials) on Creation, Harmony and Disharmony. The writers of that series believe (rightly) that we need to understand well the message of Gen. 1-3 if we are to understand the Biblical message as a whole. How often all of us have heard someone say, "How can there be a God of love if there is pain, sickness and suffering, if there is injustice and cruelty, if this or that has happened to my husband, daughter ... ?" We are living in the age of Disharmony! Made in God's image, man is a sinner who falls short of God's glory, God's perfection (Rom.3.23; Mt.5.48). It is also made quite clear that man cannot save himself. Prov.14.12 warns that the way we think is right may lead to death.
□ God. We keep comparing ourselves with the "bloke next door", rather than with the standards and character of God, the Creator. God is loving and merciful (Jer.31.3; Jn.3.16), but we have a distorted view of him and never get past that point. It's a bit like the song that "you'd better be good, you'd better watch out... Santa Claus is coming to town!" Yet even the scruffiest, most disobedient child is never disappointed by Santa Claus, is he? That's our view of God's love. As the saying puts it, "To err is human, to forgive divine." The other side of the picture is that God is holy and just (Ex.34.7; Mt.25.41) and must punish sin. So the Bible doesn't leave us an easy way out God is holy and just and must punish sin, but he is also loving and merciful and does not wish to punish us.
□ Christ. God's answer to our human problem is in his own eternal Son, Jesus Christ. People think many things about Jesus - he was the greatest person who has ever lived, a great teacher, an example of how to live, he had powers to do amazing things... Now, all of that is true. But, essentially, the Bible clearly speaks of Jesus as the Infinite God-Man (Jn. 1.1,14; 20.28). Here is not just a good man, a great man in our historical past, but a Man who is God from eternity becoming truly part of our human history! Part of the reason for his coming was to live the human life as it was always meant to he lived. He accepted our limitations (Phil.2.5-11 1) and came through all our testings without sin (Heb.4. 15). Of itself, that might be bad news, because it shows that the "glory of God" can be realised in human life - his coming shows us up for what we are! But central to his coming was the cross! It is a theme that runs throughout his life (Mt. 1.21; Mk.10.45). In this light we see his wrestle in Gethsernane, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me! Only not my will, but yours be done!" (Mt.26.39). And his cry from the cross, "It is finished!" (Jn.19.30), for there the work of redemption was completed! He died for our sins (Rom.5.8). That's why our relationship with God - eternal life itself - can come to us as a free gift!
□ Faith. Already we have noted that the work of redemption was completed some two thousand years ago. But it is faith that makes it operative in the life of the individual. We think of faith in a number of ways, many of which are not what the Bible means by "saving faith". Saving faith is not just intellectual agreement (James 2.19), and it is not just turning to God when things go wrong. Having said that, it is important to realise that there is a strong intellectual component in saving faith. It is not a closing of the eyes and "let's pretend". It is very solidly based on historical fact and the revealed Word of God. The key word is trust - trust in Christ alone for eternal life. Faith is an act of trust and commitment. To just such an act of trust and commitment that Paul and Silas called the Philippian jailer (Acts 16.31). This is what makes that "free gift", that saving and redeeming work of Christ, operative within us.
So the question for each of us is whether we have come in our lives to that act of trust and commitment. Your parents or Christian friends cannot believe for you. I cannot believe for you. The question is, Do you "acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord"?
□ Growing as a Christian
□ Distribute copies of It's a Great Life!
□ Explain that this booklet is a three-week Bible guide and covers some of the basics of what it means to "acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord."
□ In giving the copies of It's a Great Life!, be aware of its structure. Quickly draw attention to the five major points of the introduction - Bible - Prayer - Fellowship - Worship - Witness. These will be considered in greater detail in the second class session and also in week 3 of the booklet. In each of the three weeks there is only a brief introduction at the beginning. Each day has a reading and space to record something learnt something to remember and any question on the passage, followed by specific suggestions to foster prayer. At the end of each week, there is encouragement to record the main things learnt that week and this is followed by some more substantial input.
□ For each of the next three weeks we will allocate about 15 minutes to sharing our discoveries - and our questions.
Remember that growth is the drive that comes from God's life within the believer. It is therefore, of course, part of the special ministry of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much I may water and fertilise the dead stick, it won't grow! But with a seedling, it's different! There may be hindrances, diseases and pests to contend with - but given protection and nurture, growth is going to happen! And it's exciting to see! Again and again I have marvelled to see something that isn't "me" happening in a young Christian life!
(The booklet It's a Great Life! was written explicitly as a nurture tool for persons who have come to commitment through the EE process. In an evangelism nurture programme, the plan is for the nurturer to spend time each week reviewing, answering questions and encouraging. The booklet is used here specifically to confirm together the basic understanding of the Christian Gospel and of those principles and practices that lead to Christian growth. The time schedule has to be shortened considerably in a Confirmation Class. I would, however, expect that at least fifteen minutes should be spent at the beginning of the next three sessions to consider the responses of group members. Try to be aware of how each class member is responding and arrange extra time outside the class for any who need it.)
© Peter J. Blackburn 1995, 1999