Why Catechism: An Introduction

1563's edition.

Image via Wikipedia

What do Zion’s children know these days? How steeped are they in the solid joys and lasting treasure that rightfully belong to them as heirs of the kingdom? We may be saving up for their college or material inheritance, but are we passing on the inheritance of the faith? Do we greet the Lord’s Day as a gift of communion with the Triune God as we taste the powers of the age to come and soak up the water of life together with the saints? Do we use it as a day to be swept into the new creation, or as just another day on the calendar of this passing age? At a time when we’ve put so much emphasis on new programs, strategies, and techniques for spiritual and numerical growth, we need desperately to recover the neglected practice of catechesis in Christian homes and churches. – Michael Horton, “Trees or Tumbleweeds”, Modern Reformation Magazine, pg 12.

If you are like me and grew up in the church, you probably remember your Sunday School classes growing up. Further, upon recollection, you may notice that there was a tendency to paint the accounts of Scripture in a more ‘fairytale’ sort of fashion. Hence, when you grew up and entered your teen years and encountered life’s problems, the stories probably did little for you in the way of solidifying your faith at those times.

Today, the church in America faces a tremendous problem among its young people. Hordes of young people are leaving the church when they hit high school or college. The root of the issue is that they have not been properly brought up in the faith. Essentially, the church has failed to “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching”, “commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”, and “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” (2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2; Jude 3)

Further, it appears that a minimalist approach has been taken towards the education of both new believers and children in the church. Rarely is the question asked “how much should I teach”, but rather “how little do I need to teach” is often the preferred question. All too often the retention of the happiness of members is emphasized to the detriment of diligent theological teaching. Not only do clergy give into this, but those in the pew as well. Quite often the attitude toward disciplined theological learning is one of disinterest or reluctance. They either believe it benefits them nothing in their everyday life (though nothing could be farther from the truth) or they believe that diligent theological education is out of their reach and only for ministers. Unfortunately this is not a new problem for the church. During his pastorate at Kidderminster in 17th Century England, Richard Baxter charged his congregation with this:

Were you but as willing to get the knowledge of God and heavenly things as you are to know how to work in your trade, you would have set yourself to it before this day, and you would have spared no cost or pains till you had got it. But you account seven years little enough to learn your trade, and will not bestow one day in seven in diligent learning the matters of your salvation.

It may be argued that it is natural to place so much time into learning a trade for by that trade you earn your living, while theological learning is beneficial to those who seek to make a living out it. Yet, theology is not a matter of making a living, it is a matter of God making dead men live. J.I. Packer pointed out the extreme importance of this when he wrote,

If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are in effect bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is ‘another gospel, which is not another’. Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Saviour from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else. (pg 164, A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer)

It is of utmost importance that the Church begin passing on the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3) We must not waste another moment to begin this great work. This is where the catechism comes into play. In conjunction with Scripture, a catechism sets to teaching doctrine in a Question and Answer format equipping the believer with not only the theological knowledge, but its Scriptural basis. These catechisms start with the condition of Man and move through Scripture to topics such as: God, Sin, Christ, Christ’s Atonement and the Church. Through repetition and diligent instruction catechism are often memorized and become a common basis of fellowship among believers.

I believe that the route of Catechesis is the surest route of succesful teaching of the Scriptures and Doctrine to children and new and old believers alike. With the catechism, there is no big production or heavy emphasis on entertainment which can be hindrances more than aids to teaching; it is the believer and their Bible communing with God and learning the particulars of their Salvation. I know that this word ‘catechism’ immediately brings the Roman Catholic Church to mind, but in the coming weeks I shall dispel that notion from your thinking. I am afraid that the church, having stepped away from a formal instruction in faith, has subjected generations of believers to a view of God and Scripture that is man centered and self-promoting because after all, it is all about ‘what Scripture says to you’.

For the next four weeks I will write a series of posts regarding this very topic and why it is vital to church stability and maturity. First we will cover the current theological laziness of the church. Second, I will write on the importance of doctrinal knowledge. Third, I will cover the language of the faith and its necessity to the Christian outside of pastoral ministry. Finally, I will cover samples of the Heidelberg catechism to demonstrate its depth and ease of use in the church.

Below you will find the three most common catechisms of the reformed faith. Take some time, read them over, and dwell on the simplicity of their structure yet the complexity which they teach. These will come of great use in the coming weeks.

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Westminster Larger Catechism

The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Advertisements