Why We Teach In The Church


Word Magazine  January 1986 
Page 17

 

  

 

WHY WE TEACH IN THE CHURCH

 

 

by
Father Peter G. Rizos

 

 

 

The
following is the second of four articles. Father Rizos is an Adjunct
Instructor of Religious Education at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological
School.

 

 

 

Orthodox
Christian education is the attempt by committed and trained Church members to
awaken others to God’s presence and claim so that teacher and students
together may be transformed into Christ-likeness. This definition of Orthodox
Christian education lies at the heart of everything that will be discussed in
the three articles to follow.

 

Three
main points are taken up in this second article: (1) Why do we teach? (2) What
is the aim of our teaching? (3) What is the meaning of our teaching in the
Church?

 

Why Do
We Teach?

 

The
foremost reason why we teach in the Church is that Jesus Christ, “the leader
and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), is the Teacher of us all. St. John
writes in his First General Letter that “he who says he abides in Him (i.e.
Jesus) ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (I John 2:6). This
applies not only to keeping the Lord’s commandments, but also teaching them to
others.

 

One of
the names by which the Lord is known and commonly addressed in the Gospels is
“Teacher”. It seems that Jesus never lost the opportunity to teach others
the Word.

 

Seldom
have a teacher and his teachings been as closely connected as in the Person of
Jesus Christ. In His teachings to the disciples, Jesus imparted to them Himself
— His own life that He had in oneness with God: “Take ye, eat: This is My
Body . . . Drink of it ye all: This is My Blood . . . “ 
This means that by His words and actions the Lord offers His whole
Self to us in the communication of the faith. He wants to renew our oneness with
Him not only through the teaching of His Word, but also through His living
presence within us. The Lord gives Himself to us as He teaches.

 

People
who love one another naturally want to be with and to learn more about the one
they love. When we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, He wants to live
in us and we in Him (John 15:4-11). By teaching the faith we show a willingness
to grow with others in the knowledge of the Lord and in the sense of His
presence. We do this because we love Him, knowing that He has loved us first.

 

What we
have said so far seems to suggest that Christian education is quite different
from other kinds of teaching and learning. Christian education is unique because
the content of our faith conveys God’s Self-revelation in Christ (John 6:68;
17:8; Acts 5:20; I Peter 1:25). When we speak of divine revelation, we do not
mean a series of ideas or concepts placed alongside others to make neat
theological formulas. Revelation means that God wants to make Himself known to
man in a dynamic relationship of faith and loving obedience.

 

When we
come to understand that the Lord wants to reveal Himself through our teaching,
we sense the urgency of His call to continue and to expand upon His work in our
time. The Great Commission given to the disciples before the Lord’s Ascension
resounds in our hearts with the power of the Risen Lord: “Go. . . and make
disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew
28:19, 20).

 

What
Is the Aim or Goal of Our Teaching?

 

Said
briefly, the aim of the Church School is to assist in the saving mission of the
Church by teaching the faith to believers. It is too easily forgotten, however,
that the Lord’s commission to teach was directed to all the members of
the Church (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8). Even
though only certain members take on specific teaching assignments, the
responsibility for teaching rests upon the whole Church. A parish that
neglects the teaching function loses something that is indispensable to its
nature as a church.

 

In very
broad terms, our Church School teaching should mainly be concerned with the
growth of eternal life within the students, with their development in the
likeness of God who gives this life. The religious knowledge we impart to our
pupils should contribute to their progressive transformation toward the
character, values, motives, attitudes, and understandings of God as revealed in
Christ (see Galatians 2:20). Our goal is growth in Christ-likeness through faith
development (II Corinthians 3:18). The purpose of the Church School then should
be to communicate and to nurture faith-as-life.

 

What
Does It Mean That We Teach in the Church?

 

We all
tend to think of Church School as a group of teachers, administrators, and
students joined together by the organizational structure of classes, graded
curricular materials, and role expectations. Taken up by our particular tasks on
Sunday mornings, we lose sight of the sacramental reality of Christ’s body
which unites us with the Lord and through Him with one another. The Body of
Christ was formed that we might minister in love to one another’s growth in
Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13). We grow in Christ’s life, individually and
corporately, precisely as we serve one another and thus build up the Church (see
I Thes­salonians 5:11; Ephesians 4:12, 16, 19, 29; I Corinthians 14:4, 5, 12,
17). Each member of the Church is equipped by God to make this ministry to
others possible.

 

As Church
School teachers we need to get back the outlook of the early Church regarding
the gifts or charismata of the Holy Spirit, of which teaching is one. St.
Paul says very clearly that, “To each (i.e., member of the Church) is given
the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Corinthians 12:7). And
in his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Grace was given to
each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7). St. Paul puts
teachers high up in the list of workers whom God has chosen to labor in the
Church (see I Corinthians 12:27-31; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-12).

 

Orthodox
Christian education is guided growth in divine life. The teaching ministry is at
heart a relationship of love between the teacher and his students. This means
that in the design and teaching of curricular materials we must provide
guidelines for the communication of the faith in a person-to-person setting. We
have been taken up too long with the content of our lessons, with how much
information we want to transmit to our students, while ignoring the actual
dynamics of the teaching-learning process in the classroom.

 

Church
School is no substitute for the Divine Liturgy, just as informed worship “in
Spirit and truth” (John 4:24) means that careful religious instruction is
indispensable. We need to prepare our children to “pray with the spirit and
... pray with the mind also,” to “sing with the spirit and sing with the
mind also” (I Corinthians 14:15). Corporate worship, no less than religious
instruction, need to be understood as points in the rhythm of withdrawal from
the world for the purpose of ministry to the world. We need to help our students
and teachers alike to grow in the understanding of the Divine Liturgy as a
movement of God’s people to His Kingdom from which we bear the Light of Christ
back into the world.