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Nineteenth-century Roman Catholic missionaries sought a return to earlier expressions of evangelism and evangelization and a new commitment to the Christian initiation of adults. At the Second Vatican Council, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” established guidelines for revising initiatory practice and the restoration of an adult catechumenate. Now, as we enter what appears to be a post-Christian era, a new interest is apparent among Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans in evangelism, evangelization, and catechesis.

As this interest mounts, it is important to remember that Christianity has been a part of the fabric of Western society for so long that many, especially mainstream Protestants, have assumed Christians do not need to evangelize. Until the present, few Protestants questioned the survival and growth of Christianity in the United States. Instead, the issue was that of the survival and growth of particular denominations. As a consequence, evangelism was understood by some as church growth through the attraction of baptized Christians, faithful or lapsed, from one denomination to another. Supported by an understanding of the ecumenical movement as a blending together of various traditions, mainline Protestant denominations emphasized similarities rather than differences. The result was a loss of identity and competition for members on the basis of services offered. Somewhat embarrassed by the thought of converting adults, these denominations depended on their people having babies to baptize so as to maintain membership growth. However, their members had fewer children, and deaths soon outnumbered births. Further, insofar as

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Chilcote, P. W., & Warner, L. C. (Eds.). (2008). The study of evangelism : Exploring a missional practice of the church. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Created from amridge on 2022-10-21 03:59:40.

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growth in numbers was taken more seriously than growth in faith, many members soon became inactive, giving a false picture of numerical strength. More serious was the fact that the lives of the baptized were not significantly different from the lives of those who had never been baptized. This perhaps explains why so few non-Christians were attracted to these churches.

For what was once the mainstream of Christianity in the United States, there was a familiar pattern to life. When children were born into society, typically they were taken by the family to be baptized or, as it was sometimes called, “christened.” Most often it was a private family affair, soon forgotten. Birthdays rather than the baptismal day were celebrated. It was assumed that attendance at a public school provided formation in Christian values, values synonymous with national values. Attendance at Sunday church school, typically spotty, took care of everything else necessary to be raised as Christian. Sometime during early adolescence, there was attendance at classes taught by the clergy — a sort of summary of their theological education — followed by participation in what many understood as a puberty rite, called confirmation. Following that event, youth often acted as if they had graduated from participation in the church’s life. Later they would return to be married, have children, and repeat the cycle. Evangelism was at best an uncomfortable word, and evangelization unheard of. To be sure, this is a caricature, but perhaps true enough to make a point.

New Understandings

For many years, the church was divided between those who emphasized infant baptism and those who emphasized adult believers’ baptism. Each had its defenders, and each position was defendable. Infant baptism testifies to the truths that the faith of the community comes before our faith; that God’s action always comes prior to our human response; that baptism is something we need to grow into; and that faith is a gift, a gift that comes through participation in the sacramental life of the community.

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