This last Tuesday, our kids finished their first year of religious education classes at our parish church. These are the classes that are popularly called “CCD” classes–although, at least in our parish, they’re now called PREP (Parish Religious Education Program) classes. The highlight of the end of the PREP year for our family was our daughter Emma’s receipt of First Holy Communion last weekend. What an incredible day! And didn’t she look beautiful??
We were so impressed with how seriously Emma took her First Holy Communion, and it was a wonderful day of celebrating this tremendous milestone in her journey of faith, as she received Our Eucharistic Lord for the first time.
In addition to the awesomeness of Emma’s First Holy Communion, I was also very much struck by the card we received yesterday from our son’s PREP teacher, letting us know how he’d enjoyed having Charlie in class. On top of that, though, he let us know Charlie’s final “grade” on his PREP homework for the year. Yes, that’s right—Charlie got a grade for church homework. This was a new experience for me, even though our kids had attended Sunday school pretty much every Sunday of their lives at our old Protestant congregation. And I’m guessing it would be a surprise for most (if not all) of our Protestant readers out there as well.
As a Protestant, I would have very much balked at the notion of giving grades for church homework: “Giving grades smacks of a ‘salvation-by-works’ mentality! We’re under grace, not under law!! I object!!” I would have been wrong, though, as it suddenly became clear to me when I read Charlie’s teacher’s card.
Now, let’s just posit that, without God’s grace, there’s no hope for any of us. You won’t get any argument from me on that at all. But how in the world does that mean that taking our kids’ “academic” understanding of the faith seriously enough to grade it is somehow wrong? If it’s OK for my son’s school to grade him for how well he knows math, shouldn’t it be OK for his PREP teacher to grade him for how well he knows his faith? This isn’t saying that by getting a 100% on PREP homework, a kid is necessarily on their way to Heaven, and, of course, the Church doesn’t teach that. How well he knows his faith, though, isn’t irrelevant to that issue, and is something I am happy to see his teacher keeping track of.
Another thing jumped out at me through this PREP year: for each of our kids, there was something meaty for them to learn about their faith, explained in detail in well-designed, age-appropriate textbooks that I could review at home myself so I could see exactly what the kids were learning. I hate to say it, but (within Protestantism) that’s just not what I saw, and I say that without intending any kind of disrespect to those wonderful people who taught our kids while we were still Protestant. It’s just that, when you’re Protestant (particularly an American evangelical one), figuring out what you’re going to teach is extremely difficult because it’s always a moving target.
In Protestantism, there is no Catechism to turn to that sets forth authoritative teaching. Rather, in each Protestant congregation, you’ve got (at best) whatever the senior pastor’s doctrinal positions are—which likely don’t completely align with those of any of the other congregational staff or of any formal denomination and which might very well change. And, of course, the senior pastor might leave or be fired, which would mean starting from scratch on any curriculum that was keyed to whatever his doctrinal positions were. If your current senior pastor is a committed Arminian, there’s nothing to say his successor won’t be a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist.
In these circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that most Protestant congregations’ curricula for kids (and for adults, for that matter) can’t go too far along any particular doctrinal track but rather stays fairly high-level. As a consequence, Protestant curricula (again, in my experience) run out of much to say fairly quickly. And that (in my opinion) is a big problem. I want my kids to be well-equipped to fight a culture that, every day, is more and more hostile to the faith. And “just love Jesus” won’t cut it.
 Heck, I would have objected to the notion of homework in the first place as “works-based.”
 This is true of adult education in Protestant congregations as well.