Time, Patience and Purpose: Intentional Christian Initiation

By Merritt Robinson


In seventh grade, I took Russian as part of my Junior High foreign language requirement.  It was extremely difficult…it was difficult because I was not a great student but secondly, I did not spend enough time engrossed in the language.  Time and dedication is required to be efficient in any discipline.  During the early portion of the Christian Church, the leadership of the church understood this dynamic of time and engagement.  Time, patience and purposeful intent was necessary to assist Christian converts in the transitional period from paganism to sainthood. 

To facilitate the initiation process, the early church developed The Catechumenate.  It was the method utilized by the Christian church to aid in the transition process of the seeker or convert into church membership.  This formal teaching process was a necessity so the church  could mature and develop.

There are numerous sports analogies within the Biblical text.  Paul frequently used sports analogies and inserts them within his personal writings to demonstrate a spiritual truth.  Often these truths identified the commitment and dedication required of the Christ follower. Paul would borrow and adapt language of the Roman culture to reinforce the similarity between the Roman athlete who trains themselves for competition and the Christian.[1]  Those who reside on the sidelines or neglect the training regimen are in no condition to race, strain or struggle in any competition.  Thus, discipline or discipleship was required within sports but it was also required within the Christian life.  “Age, gender, physique, background, and social status did not matter at all; only commitment and consistency.”[2]

Inclusion within the Christianity community/church required more than just confession or belief. Inclusion required a change in behavior and belief. Therefore, the church understood the need for practice or training in this endeavor of Christian conversion.  

Within the Apostolic Tradition, there appears to be a formal structure in the Catechumenate: enrollment, instruction and rites of initiation.[3] The modern church frequently provides a “cheap” way to inclusion within the family of God. Converts are asked to repeat a “magical” formula which provides inclusion within the Church family. However, there is no focus upon discerning whether an individual has or is willing to change his or her behavior and follow Christ.  The early church addressed this concern by valuing training and behavior modification as well as belief.  Thus, the catechumenate process was not simply concerned with subjective conversion experiences but instead there was an emphasis on belief, character and conduct.

[1] Gerald L. Sittser, The Catechumenate and the Rise of Christianity, Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2013, Vol. 6, No.2, 179-203.

[2] Donald G. Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007); Victor C. Pfitzner, Paul and the Agon Motif ( Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1967).

[3] Gerald L. Sittser