Archives For 2017 Theology Conference

“What is Catechism?”

Greg Strand – January 20, 2017 3 Comments

Catechisms have been used as a means/method of imparting truth and passing on the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). One of the early ones written in the wake of the Reformation was The Heidelberg Catechism

One of the main authors of this catechism was Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583). At the beginning of his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus included a section, “Special prolegomena with reference to the catechism.”

Ursinus’ prolegomena addresses five key issues:

  1. What is catechizing, or the system of catechization?
  2. Has it always been practiced in the church, or what is its origin?
  3. What are the principal parts thereof?
  4. Why is it necessary?
  5. What is its design?

Ursinus lists nine reasons for the necessity of teaching the catechism in the church, with a summarizing warning.

  1. Because it is the command of God . . .
  2. Because of the divine glory which demands that God be not only rightly known and worshipped by those of adult age, but also by children . . .
  3. On account of our comfort and salvation; for without a true knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ, no one that has attained to years of discretion and understanding can be saved, or have any sure comfort that he is accepted in the sight of God.
  4. For the preservation of society and the church.
  5. There is a necessity that all persons should be made acquainted with the rule and standard according to which we are to judge and decide, in relation to the various opinions and dogmas of men, that we may not be led into error, and be seduced thereby, according to the commandment which is given in relation to this subject . . .
  6. Those who have properly studied and learned the Catechism, are generally better prepared to understand and appreciate the sermons which they hear from time to time, inasmuch as they can easily refer and reduce those things which they hear out of the word of God, to the different heads of the catechism to which they appropriately belong, whilst, on the other hand, those who have not enjoyed this preparatory training, hear sermons for the most part, with but little profit to themselves.
  7. The importance of catechisation may be urged in view of its peculiar adaptedness to those learners who are of weak and uncultivated minds, who require instruction in a short, plain, and perspicuous manner, as we have it in the catechism, and would not, on account of their youth and weakness of capacity, be able to understand it, if presented in a lengthy and more difficult form.
  8. It is also necessary, for the purpose of distinguishing and separating the youths, and such as are unlearned, from schismatics and profane heathen, which can most effectually be done by a judicious course of catechetical instruction.
  9. A knowledge of the catechism is especially important for those who are to act as teachers, because they ought to have a more intimate acquaintance with the doctrine of the church than others, as well on account of their calling, that they may one day be able to instruct others, as on account of the many facilities which they have for obtaining a knowledge of this doctrine, which it becomes them diligently to improve, that they may, like Timothy, become well acquainted with the Holy Scriptures . . .

The summary: “A neglect of the catechism is, therefore, one of the chief causes why there are so many at the present day tossed about by every wind of doctrine, and why so many fall from Christ to Anti-Christ.”

A few questions of application:

  • What would you identify as weaknesses in the church today?
  • How do you address this personally in your own life and in the life of your family?
  • What content, plans and structure are in place to address it in the church?

On January 19, 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism was first published by Reformed scholars in Germany. This Catechism was written by Peter Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, and espouses a Reformed view of theology. Shortly after its publication, it was accepted by most of the Reformed churches in Europe. It was originally written “to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers.”

As a catechism, its structure is that of a question followed by an answer. It also includes Scripture references supporting the responses. It consists of 129 questions and answers, and soon after it was published, it was structured to be read in a year, and thus divided into 52 sections to reflect the 52 weeks of the year. In the sixteenth century, the National Synods of the Reformed Church adopted the Three Forms of Unity, which consisted of the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dort (1618-1619).

Here is a brief introduction to the Catechism:

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year.

The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections, so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches each Sunday of the year. In The Netherlands this Heidelberg Catechism became generally and favorably known almost as soon as it came from the press, mainly through the efforts of Petrus Dathenus, who translated it into the Dutch language and added this translation to his Dutch rendering of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1566. In the same year, Peter Gabriel set the example of explaining this catechism to his congregation at Amsterdam in his Sunday afternoon sermons.

The National Synods of the sixteenth century adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, requiring office-bearers to subscribe to it and ministers to explain it to the churches. These requirements were strongly emphasized by the great Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into many languages and is the most influential and the most generally accepted of the several catechisms of Reformation times.  

The first two questions frame the whole Heidelberg Catechism, and are foundational for the whole of the Christian life. These two questions and answers are worthwhile to memorize.

1.Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,[1] but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,[2] to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.[3] He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.[5] He also preserves me in such a way[6] that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;[7] indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.[8] Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life[9] and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.[10]

[1] I Cor. 6:19, 20 [2] Rom. 14:7-9. [3] I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14. [4] I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2. [5] John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8. [6] John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5. [7] Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18. [8] Rom. 8:28. [9] Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14. [10] Rom. 8:14. 

2.Q. What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A. First, how great my sins and misery are;[1] second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;[2] third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.[3]

[1] Rom. 3:9, 10; I John 1:10. [2] John 17:3; Acts 4:12; 10:43. [3] Matt. 5:16; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 5:8-10; I Pet. 2:9, 10.

I have used the Heidelberg Catechism as a supplement to my Bible reading. I have also used it with my family as part of our family worship/devotions. I commend it to you as well.

In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows:

Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.

The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use. At their best, they have been foundational and formative to Christians and the propagation of the Christian faith for centuries. If one does not use a catechism for spiritual formation, what is being used? It is not that young people and adults are not being formed and shaped. The concern is that what they are being formed and shaped by and to is not substantive biblical and theological truth.

At our upcoming Theology Conference, “Reformation, 500: Theology and Legacy,” one of our lectures will address The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here, and you can register here.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. The theme of the conference is Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – The Gospel and the EFCA. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA. You learn more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here, with registration here.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

Our preconference will also be excellent, as we address, in a debate format, the important theme of “Genesis and the Age of the Earth: Does the Bible Speak Definitively on the Age of the Universe?” This will be followed by a time of focusing on the application of these matters in the context of a local church, providing guidance to pastors and leaders as they think about, navigate and lead through these discussions.

During the Conference we have also planned a gathering of young pastor-theologians, or those who have been engaged in vocational ministry for five years or less. During the lunch hour on Thursday, February 2, we will meet in the conference room in the Waybright Center.  If you fit this description, or if this would apply to someone with whom you serve in ministry, or someone you know, please either plan to attend or encourage that other person to attend.

My desire is to come alongside those engaged in the first years of pastoral ministry. Although there are many larger churches in America, most are smaller, which means many/most will begin pastoral ministry in a solo setting, or with possibly one or two other staff persons. This is also true in the EFCA in that almost 80% of our churches consist of 250 attendees or less. And in most of these instances, it is expected the person serving in the pastoral role has already figured out most biblical, theological and pastoral issues. However, this is inaccurate. They are, rather, engaged in working out the final step in their theological formation, that of pastoral theology, which consists of applying the truth of God’s Word to specific situations and the lives of people. Too often the assumption, inaccurate I may add, is that this step is either already done, or because other learning of the Bible has taken place, this happens naturally.

Recently I read the following from Mentoring Others, which was a statement made about a PCA church:

The members of the presbyteries know their theology fairly well, but when it comes to applying their theology in daily life, they desperately need help. It is one thing for us to teach systematic theology in intensive courses; it is another thing to help those who haven’t seen it modeled learn how to raise children, or how to live together in harmony, or how to resolve interpersonal conflicts.

This gets to the heart of pastoral theology. I consider this to be the final step in the process of moving from the Bible to theology. As one has written, Pastoral Theology

answers the question, How should humans respond to God’s revelation. Sometimes that is spelled out by Scripture itself; other times it builds on inferences of what Scripture says. PT practically applies the other four disciplines [exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology and systematic theology] – so much so that the other disciplines are in danger of being sterile and even dishonoring to God unless tied in some sense to the responses God rightly demands of us.

Too often, we demarcate between the more academic and the more churchly approach to the discipline of theology. The more academic and theological is for the academy and the more pragmatic and practical is for the church. This is profoundly wrong and hurtful to the church.

I also listened to an interview with Leith Anderson, NAE President, and Daniel Aleshire, Executive Director of The Association of Theological Schools: Trends in Theological Education. Something Aleshire said resonated with what I noted above and resonated with my sense of how many approach pastoral ministry, particularly those who have received formal theological training, either a Bible degree from a college or a MDiv degree from a seminary. They receive all the academic training focusing on the Bible, theology, Christian education, missiology, history, etc., with little pastoral theology. This is a bit overstated, but more often than not, accurate. And then when these students enter pastoral ministry, they encounter many pastoral matters regarding marriage, finances, counseling, addictions, infertility, gender dysphoria, etc. Because these are pastoral issues, too often these new pastors set aside or forget what they learned in seminary and they pursue a pragmatic, practical direction, as if the foundation they received in seminary has nothing to say to any of these matters. This increases the bifurcation, and it means pastors become more practically or pragmatically driven, rather than biblically and theologically driven. They ought to move from the foundation established in the Bible and theology to discern how that forms and shapes their pastoral response to these issues.

This is not to suggest students in Bible college or seminary are not involved or engaged in a local church ministry. The expected assumption is that they are. But there are vastly different expectations and requirements leading in that context in a pastoral, vocational capacity than it is to do so in a non-pastoral, not vocational capacity. It is important to note that I do not believe this is the seminary’s primary responsibility. It is the church’s responsibility. The church has all-too-often given over all of the pastoral training to the seminary, and the seminary has taken it, some by default and some by design. This leaves a huge gap in the learning and training provided by the Bible college or seminary, one which they are not designed to give. Therefore, we expect too much from the seminary, while the church abdicates our primary responsibility.

Here is my point. Because there are few helping young pastors to apply the biblical and theological foundation they have received to the pastoral issues of the day, i.e., to engage in the discipline of pastoral theology, the final discipline in moving from the Bible to theology, it is important for us in the EFCA to help those in the first five years of ministry do this very thing. These first five years are the years in which these questions and answers are given, one’s pastoral theology is forged and formed, which become the habits and disciplines of one’s pastoral practice, which, in turn, become formative for the duration of a person’s pastoral ministry over a lifetime.

If you are a young pastor-theologian or you have been in pastoral ministry for five years or less, please plan to attend this gathering.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Scott M. Manetsch, Professor of Church History, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will focus on the ongoing legacy of the Reformation. He will focus on the fruit God produced in and through the Reformation and also its broad and expansive impact. Not only was this gospel-centered movement against the foundational beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, both in doctrine and practice, it was also foundationally grounded in the gospel with its reach affecting everything related to the major tenets of doctrine, the church and the Christian life. The reason for this fruit and its pervasive and ongoing influence is that the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Much of what we do today as pastors in pastoral ministry in the local church has been influenced and affected by what God did in and through the Reformation. We live the fruit and legacy of the Reformation without truly knowing it. This is some of what we will learn as we focus on the extent of the Reformation’s reform, which will be a fitting conclusion to our focus on the Reformation.

The Extent of the Reformation’s Reform: Word, Church, Ministry and Worship

Although one can pinpoint and highlight a few key doctrines that were central to the Reformers and the Reformation, the impact was far-reaching. There was nothing of life and ministry that remained unaffected. This is particularly true regarding the local church and pastoral ministry within the local church. The Word became central and the central authority. This was reflected in the role the Bible played in the corporate service and the prominence given to the pulpit. This also affected how the church was composed and understood. All believers were priests, there was no necessary intermediary between believers and Christ, and Christ alone is the Priest at the right hand of the Father who is the mediator between God and humanity. This was affirmed in the priesthood of all believers (note the plural, not the singular). This also had an influence on how they considered ministry within the church, which was extended to families. This transformed the way pastoral ministry was considered and conducted. The corporate singing as the people of God gathered was also transformed, since the whole priesthood was called upon to sing praises to God. These truths transformed the hymnology of the church. In this lecture we will focus on the key ways the Reformation transformed most everything about the church and pastoral ministry, and what we ought to learn today and experience a new Reformation.

Scott has addressed this topic numerous times over the years. One of his major works focuses on the ministry of John Calvin and his training of pastors: Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). The fruit of this work has been presented in conferences in the EFCA, Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, and it has encouraged many. He also serves as co-editor with Timothy George of the helpful and insightful Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Each of the commentaries in this series “consists of the collected comments and wisdom of the Reformers collated around the text of the Bible,” which serve as “a unique tool for the spiritual and theological reading of Scripture and a vital help for teaching and preaching.” Scott provides his own input in his own forthcoming contribution as editor of the work on 1 Corinthians: New Testament Volume 9A (Downers Grove: IVP Academic).

Scott has been associated with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the capacity of a student, receiving his MDiv and MA from TEDS, and as a professor, teaching in the Church History department since 2000. As noted above, he has spoken at our EFCA conferences on the topic of “The Reformation of the Pastoral Office” and he has also addressed this theme in a brief article emphasizing Three Important Pastoral Lessons. Last fall, at the EFCA Great Lakes District conference on the theme “The 5 Solas: Celebrating 500 Years,” Scott spoke on the topic of Sola Gratia.

Scott is a premier church historian of the Reformation. He is committed to the authority of the Scriptures in the life of the pastor and in pastoral ministry in the context of the local church. He finds great delight in teaching and training future pastors for this privileged task. He also recognizes the important role history plays in understanding, learning, forming and shaping pastors and ministry today. As a church historian and churchman training pastors, Scot also serves as a model of a pastor-theologian. I have learned and continue to learn much from Scott, so I am grateful he will share that learning with other pastors and leaders at our upcoming Theology Conference. 

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Kenneth N. Young, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ministries, University of Northwestern, will address the important topic of creeds, confessions and catechisms. In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows: “Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.” The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use.

The concern is that either the creed or the confession supplant or replace the Scriptures. That is a legitimate concern, but not a result that is inevitable. One must recognize the difference between and the different roles played between the Scriptures, which is the norma normans, which is consistent with sola Scriptura or absoluta Scriptura, and the norma normata, that which is normed by the norm, the Bible. One explains it in this way: “All creeds are more or less imperfect and fallible. The Bible alone is the rule of faith (regula credendi), the norma normans, and claims divine and therefore absolute authority; the creed is a rule of public teaching (regula docendi), the norma normata, and has only ecclesiastical and therefore relative authority, which depends on the measure of its agreement with the Bible. Confessions may be improved (as the Apostles’ Creed is a gradual growth from the baptismal formula), or may be superseded by better ones with the increasing knowledge of the truth.”

Finally, a catechism is the manner in which the Creeds and Confessions, the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, are passed on to others. Once again there are fears that are real, such that knowing certain doctrinal truths does not necessarily equate with spiritual birth or maturity. Neither of the latter issues will be realized apart from doctrinal truths. But the former does not equate with spiritual birth. Even the demons believe (Jms. 2:19), which means, they are, in a sense, orthodox. But they shudder before God, in that they do not believe such that they are born again, and they are condemned to eternal damnation (Jude 6). Luther and the other Reformers and post-Reformers, believed it important to equip God’s people with doctrinal truth. This was the means they used to propagate the faith. Luther summarized the effects of introducing his catechism in this way: “I have brought about such a change that nowadays a girl or boy of fifteen knows more about Christian doctrine than all the theologians of the great universities used to know.” Evangelicals in the Free Church today need to ask what role Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms play in our own lives and in the ministries to God’s people in local EFC churches. They are being spiritually formed by something. We need to ensure they are being formed to the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, in both head and heart (Matt. 22:37-39).

The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms

A supernatural work of God in renewal and revival is often accompanied and sustained by structures in order to sustain the fruit from the good work God is doing. If no structures are put in place, God’s work among humans often dissipates or implodes. The long-lasting fruit that can and should be born is lost. One of the important ways the truths of the Reformation, those major truths of sola Scriptura and justification by faith that were rediscovered, were taught and passed on was through creeds, confessions and catechisms. These were written to be used in the church and in families at home. Consider the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Belgic Confession (1561), The Thirty-Nine Articles (1571), The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), and others. Consider Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), The Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and others. These tools, rooted in the Scriptures, profoundly grounded, formed and shaped the children of the Reformation. And yet, as good and right as this was, something was missing if one attempted to look to the structure of creeds, confessions and catechisms to produce spiritual fruit apart from spiritual life. The Pietists responded to this. And yet, Pietism gone too far emphasized the internal and subjective at the expense the creed, confession and catechism. Both of these movements make up the historical and theological stream of the EFCA. In this lecture we will focus on the proliferation of confessions and catechisms, how they were used, their strengths and weaknesses, and what sort of tool/structure the church needs to foster and sustain the good work God is doing today.

Kenneth received his D.Min. in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, and he also received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary. He presently teaches at the University of Northwestern, a role he has had for the past many years. Although Kenneth’s primary ministry at the moment is in the academy, he is a pastor theologian who is a committed churchman. This is validated in that in addition to his theological ministry in the academy, he has served for many years as a local church pastor. Many of those years in pastoral ministry have been with the EFCA, both as a church planter and a sr. pastor, where is also is ordained. He has also served in other leadership roles within the EFCA. Much of his ministry has focused on the intersection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, particularly in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am grateful Kenneth will join us to address this important topic.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.