Why Catechism: Theological Laziness

It seems that there are few other pursuits that require such a little working knowledge than that of Christianity.

– Paul Watson –

Introduction

I have quoted my friend Paul Watson before, but I believe that the accuracy of his statement is poignant and worth repeating until it awakens the senses that the church has a real problem on its hands. Perhaps this quote was further engrained into my memory a couple of Sundays ago as I was commissioned to preach and teach at a church in south-eastern Kansas. As I concluded the sermon, on the Superiority of the Priesthood of Christ, the reaction of the audience was everything but enthusiastic and thankfulness to God. The congregation seemed completely disengaged and unaffected by the joy and blessing of having our salvation secured in the eternal priesthood of Christ as preached in Hebrews 5-10. Unfortunately the attitude did not stop at the end of the service. As I began the college sunday school class, we started with the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism which asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” As I started to work through the answer, evaluating each line and asking why each phrase was a comfort in life and death, I was met with an obstinate attitude and the question, “Why are you making us think?” Surprisingly this is not the only time I have encountered this question in the church or even in a college setting where thinking is your occupation for 2-4 years.

What follows in this post in strictly an evaluation of the current problem. In order to learn my proposed solution to this problem, you will have to wait for the following 3 posts. For, in order to understand the significance of a change in tactic, we must understand the position in which we currently stand. Please understand, the position in which we currently sit is by no means a pleasant one to deal with, but believe me when I say that there is hope and that it is completely within the means of the church.

Theological Laziness

It is evident that the level of biblical knowledge or theological clarity in the church is poor at best. However, it is not absent, which is a silver line in this otherwise gloomy cloud. But what is meant by theological laziness? By the use of this term I wish to communicate that the lack of biblical literacy in regard to the individual is not due to a lack of resources, for certainly we have an abundance of biblical/theological resources available to us in America. However, there is a growing trend of aliterate congregants in the church. That is to say, they have the tools and resources available to them to learn and grow, yet they willingly choose to not use them.

For an illustration of this point it is beneficial to pull from the experience of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he attended Union Theological Seminary in 1930. It is telling that the experience had by him there is not all that different from our current position in the church. Upon observing the students there, he once wrote to a friend:

There is no theology here…they talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. The students – on the average twenty-five to thirty years old – are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level. (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 101)

This is the first aspect to the term “Theological Laziness”. The second aspect is what some have coined as ‘Parroting’. This is stated to denote those individuals who only quote and repeat books, systematic theologies, or the ‘right’ preacher and theologians. Rather than being fluent in the Scriptures, developing theological convictions from that, and using Scripture as the basis for checking theological systems, they rely on what certain individuals have said. While this may mean that they have a large understanding of theology, they are not much better off than those who choose not to learn because they fail to base their theological convictions on Scripture. (This is not to deny the value of Theologies and books however.) Further, the person has not spent time wrestling with Scripture and relying on the Holy Spirit to illuminate their understanding of Scripture. Again, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words are beneficial in this regard as well.

Not only quietness is lacking, but also the characteristic impulse towards the development of individual thought which is brought about in German universities by the more secluded life of the individuals. Thus there is little intellectual competition and little intellectual ambition. This gives work in seminar lecture or discussion a very innocuous character. It is more a friendly exchange of opinion that a study in comprehension. (Ibid., 104)

In case the individual plight is not sorrowful enough, the situation in the church is not much better. Preaching in the church tends to be shallow, application driven speeches rather than preaching Christ and Him crucified every Sunday. Further, hearing deep theology from the pulpit is a rarity these days. In the 1920’s and 30’s the church was hit with a wave of ethics and sociological centered preaching where the sermon was replaced with a message responding to the news paper and the ‘fundamentalists’. (Thank you Harry Emerson Fosdick). Further, due to the liberal emphasis in the church that arose, the Bible was subject to malicious attacks under ‘higher criticism’ that sought to discredit much of what Scripture tought on life and salvation. With this assault from the pulpit, many congregants forgot catechism or theological instruction and the emphasis on applicatory sermons was driven to such a degree that J. Gresham Machen stated there was no Christianity left to apply. Since that time, true Gospel preaching, preaching Christ and Him crucified has become rare or absent. Again Dietrich Bonhoeffer encountered this.

Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation, and that was delivered by a negro (indeed, in generally I’m increasingly discovering greater religious power and originality in Negroes). One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about Christianity….There’s no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se? The enlightened American, rather than viewing all this with skepticism, instead welcomes it as an example of progress. The fundamentalist sermon that occupies such a prominent place in the southern states has only one prominent Baptist representative in New York, one who preaches the resurrection of the flesh and the virgin birth before believers and the curious alike. In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life. (Ibid., 106)

This situation has resulted in two pitfalls for the church. First, the church has become infested with false teaching and errant theology. Men have arisen in the spotlight preaching a false gospel that tickles the ears and have gone virtually unchallenged as they feed the self indulgent tendencies of mankind. Second, the congregants of the church have eroded their defense against false teaching by failing to be well versed in the truth. These two pitfalls have been the reef that many a ship of faith has wrecked upon. Pastors unconcerned with the diet of their sheep have produced sheep who care nothing of their diet. The watchmen of God’s flock have failed to keep watch and have allowed the wolves of false teaching into their pasture with the result of their anemic, defenseless sheep being devoured.

Born Out of Sunday School?

What is the root problem of the current situation? For years the church has implemented the Sunday School technique as a way to curb theological laziness and illiteracy but have the actual results matched the desired impact of the program?

Ken Ham in his book Already Gone explored this very question and found this: “Sunday School is actually more likely to be detrimental to the Spiritual and moral health of our children.” Perhaps this is due to the fact that Sunday School has not aimed to be as theologically accurate as it has aimed to provide an age appropriate story time. This is how Ken Ham described Sunday School.

In the hallways, the kids will split up by age and be welcomed into classrooms full of laughter and life and hope. Teachers will embrace these kids as if they are their own for about 45 minutes. They will pour their hearts and souls into the children and teens with the help of videos, various curricula resources, Bible stories, crayons, crackers, CD music, computer graphics, flannel graphs, white boards, cookies, cotton balls, popsicle sticks, prayers, and pipe cleaners…It all looks so safe and healthy – an inseparable part of the fabric of spiritual life in the western world. (Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, Already Gone, 37)

However, his findings completely demolished previously conceived ideas about the Sunday School program. According to his study, students who regularly attended Sunday School were more likely to: not believe that all the accounts/stories in the Bible are true/accurate, doubt the Bible because it was written by men, doubt the Bible because it was not translated correctly, defend that abortion should continue to be legal, defend premarital sex, accept that gay marriage and abortion should be legal, believe that God used evolution to change one kind of animal into another, view the church as hypocritical and believe that good people don’t need to go to church just to name a few. (Ibid., 39)

Conclusion

It would appear that the church’s effort to build the faith through Sunday School has not produced the desired result. In reflection upon my own experience with Sunday School, the accounts of Scripture were notoriously portrayed in a ‘fairy-tale’ manner rather than a Historical, Redemption fashion. As a result, when trials came later in life, the ‘fairy-tale’ approach left me with little to no foundation to fall upon and almost resulted in the shipwreck of faith. Indeed for some this lack of a proper foundation has resulted in just that.

Obviously, the Sunday School method is not the sole culprit to this condition. To look at this method alone and place the whole blame upon it is naive. It is a combination of factors that has led to this current situation, which will be addressed in later posts. Further, it is unwise to criticize a particular method without a plan to carry out in its place. Accordingly, in the following post (next Monday) we will cover the importance of theological knowledge and how methods certainly play a role in the success or failure thereof.

For now let it be said that I do believe that the Sunday School system needs an overhaul and in the coming weeks I will lay out an exact plan as to how this current mess we find ourselves in can be remedied. Perhaps it is time for the church to return to a historically proven method “forged through a kind of wisdom and life experience gained during an era in which Christians were less apt to simply react to the secular agenda and uncritically imitate its glitz, glamour and noise.” (Kim Riddlebarger, The Need to Recover the Practice of Catechism)

To read the Introduction to the Catechism series Click Here.

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Thy Resurrection My Peace

O GOD OF MY EXODUS,
Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.
He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison-house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
in His ascension I shall be glorified.
Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

Central Asia Missions Update

Not too long ago I posted about my calling to Central Asian missions. Since then I have been in talks with several missions agencies to see which way the Lord directs. With this has also come much research about a particular nation I am looking at. Due to the nature of the political and religious climate in Central Asia, prudence dictates that I remain silent as to the specific nation I am looking at.

All five countries that comprise Central Asia are ‘closed’. This means that in order to enter the country, you cannot come as a ‘missionary’, rather you must come through some other means. For most this means entering as a business man or women, or as a teacher such as TESOL.  As I was doing my research I discovered that there is a great need for teachers, not only of English, but also basic academics. This is rather exciting news, but it would require a bit more work in graduate school to accomplish qualifying for that form of entry.

Things to Pray for:

  • Continuing discussions with Mission Agencies
    • There is an agency that would like to see me at their April meeting. I would love to go, but I do not know if funds will allow such a trip.
  • Continued guidance in preparation for the field via graduate school at Southern Baptist Theological
  • The ability to remain debt free in graduate school in order that I can go straight to the field and not be hindered by debt
  • Confirmation that the way I found to gain access to the country is indeed the will of the Lord
  • Determining if I should train in TESOL or pursue a different Academic field to teach

Ministry Update

Since its inception, the ministry of Solid Anchor has been to ‘Evangelize the World and Reclaim the Church’. Work on the latter half of the goal is ever-growing and continuing as I preach wherever the Lord gives opportunity. This aspect of ministry is vital due to the large-scale issue in the church of a lack of dedicated, serious believers. Too many in the evangelical church either know little or nothing of their faith, live world consumed lives, or they have become overwhelmingly passionate and zealous without a basis of true Biblical Theology. The work of ‘Reclaiming the Church’, which is stated in such a way to highlight the work of exposing and correcting false teaching, will continue as long as the Lord leads.

As for the former aspect of the ministry, there really has not been a time where doors opened for the evangelization of the world for me. For much of my walk with the Lord unfortunately, the extent of ‘evangelizing the world’ existed solely in the realm of ministry and missionary support. However, the realization of the goal to evangelize the world is coming to fruition in recent days.

For the longest time I knew specifically that I was to plant churches, but whether that was to be here in the states or overseas, I never really knew. Within the past couple weeks, through the preparation of a sermon, I was deeply convicted through Scripture and prayer that I have a duty as a follower of Christ to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, meaning wherever He deems appropriate to send me, no matter where it may lead. Whenever I thought of missions and the possibility that I may someday take part in it, I always thought it would be nice to be in Europe. Indeed a society that was predominantly post-Christian would have proven challenging, but being in Europe would have had many pleasant benefits (not that those benefits are wrong). This changed though as I was preparing a message on Suffering for Christ based out of Philippians 1:29. The conclusion of the message was the suffering in the believer’s life was a gift from God that is to be accepted with the same joy with which we accept our Salvation. The burden throughout the message was that there is an estimated 6,000 unreached people groups and roughly 1,ooo,ooo,ooo people who have NO opportunity to hear the Gospel. This means that there is no church, no missionaries, scarce Christians, etc. The church has talked about these figures for years, yet scarcely anyone is going to these fields. Where are the men and women of God who will rise up and count their lives cheap for the Gospel of Christ?

It is imperative to me that I never preach a message to a people without being willing myself to follow through on the application of God’s Word. This is where the challenge for me came. I researched people groups, where they were located, the progress of reaching them, and sought to challenge the people to whom I was preaching to action. This is where I faced myself; rather, God showed me what I was to do and asked if I would practice what I preach. I would not say that I was given the ‘Macedonian Call’ but I was convicted and convinced by Scripture and God’s work in me through prayer that I am to plant churches overseas.

With most the unreached people groups living in the Asian part of the world, I began to look there and it was little time till I was moved towards Central Asia. Central Asia is composed of five dominantly Islamic countries that used to be part of Communist Russia; Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Kazakhstan has some amazing things happening as God works through Missionaries there, and believers are being added to the church each day. As for the other four countries, Christianity is among less than 2% of the population; for 3 out of those 4 it is less than 1%. This part of the world seems to be ‘forgotten’ as there is little mission work among them (confirmed through several conversations with missions agencies). The unique situation for each of these 4 countries lies in the fact that they are Post-Communist, Islamic dominated and Restricted Access (meaning that you cannot enter the country under the title ‘Christian Missionary’ but must enter through some other means such as TESOL and once you are in, your Christian work must be carried in a careful fashion). It is to this part of the world I have been burdened with.

I know not the specifics of what the Lord will do there. I know that in seeking to minister and bring the Gospel of Christ to a people who so desperately need to hear that I will most likely face severe opposition. I know without a doubt though, that the Lord will be with me. There are indeed many unanswered questions, but as I move forward peace is coming. Undoubtedly there is much to be done here in the church in America and I will continue to encourage, exhort, rebuke, correct, preach and minister in the church in America as long as the Lord allows, but I dare not stay here in the states permanently as people in Central Asia die in Islam without the knowledge of Christ.

Therefore, pray for me as I seek a Missionary Agency, continue to develop in this calling (specifically which country), seek out seminary training and wisdom as to how to enter the country He calls me to. There is much to look forward to and many new things to learn from the Lord. I am excited and at the same time humbled by this calling.

For the Souls of Men and the Glory of God

Soli Deo Gloria

Christmas Prayer

This is a truly special time in the life of a Christian because we always take this time to remember and celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ which provided the necessary sacrifice to atone the wrath of God toward sin. This is a momentous time of praise in our lives where we should remember that without this event and the culminating events, we as sinners would be doomed to hell. At this time I would love to share with you a prayer from the book Valley of Vision which is a collection of Puritan Prayers.

O source of all good,
What shall I render to You for the gift of gifts,
Your own dear Son?

Herein is wonder of wonders:
He came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like Him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to Himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart,
He united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to Him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
He came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as Man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me!

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind!

Let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father!

Place me with ox, donkey, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in Him account myself delivered from sin!

Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn Child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith,
exulting that He is mine and I am his!

Merry Christmas from Solid Anchor Ministries

Thanksgiving

O My God,Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;

for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures.Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

-The Valley of Vision: Thanksgiving Prayer-

Happy Thanksgiving from Solid Anchor Ministries!