Archives For catechism

“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?

Benefits of Catechisms

Greg Strand – October 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Tim Keller, “Catechesis Miscellanies,”(October 29, 2012)

As we have mentioned in a number of previous posts, a new catechism has been written by Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian, and its scope has been broadened and its use encouraged among Evangelicals. Recently Keller includes two final introductory thoughts regarding the New City Catechism.

First, it is important to understand the purpose of NCC—its goal is to introduce the almost-lost pedagogical method of catechesis to a new generation, and to direct and motivate far more people to study and learn the longer and historic catechisms than are doing so now.

Second, to appreciate NCC it will be critical to remember that catechisms are primarily instructional instruments, not creedal standards. So it shows no more disrespect to the Westminster Catechisms to write a new catechism than, for example, to write a new Sunday school curriculum. In the centuries after the Reformation in Britain hundreds and hundreds of catechisms were produced. While the Heidelberg and Westminster catechisms were intentionally written to be confessional documents, binding doctrinal standards, the vast majority of catechisms were designed to do Christian formation.

Keller concludes that the “educational genius of catechesis is largely lost today.” However, he states that “those who use catechesis have come to see the enormous benefits.” Here are some of Keller’s stated “enormous benefits” for the Christian, including the individual and the community. (I have restricted the benefits into bullet form.)

  • Catechesis teaches basic mental discipline. . . . of practicing the reality that God’s truth is true whether it is personally fulfilling at the moment or not.
  • Also, catechism teaches a lost art—the art of meditation and slow reflection. Memorization requires you to pay attention to every word, even every comma. The slow turning over of every word leads to depths of new insight.
  • Another powerful feature of catechesis is that it teaches us not only the right answers but also, more fundamentally, the right questions.
  • Last, it would be helpful to understand that NCC is written with a view to 17th-century British pastor Richard Baxter’s vision for the role of catechesis—as not something only for the ambitious few or for children but as a normal feature of Christian life.

Keller concludes with a story from the pastoral ministry of the Worcestershire association of pastors, which included Richard Baxter. They lamented that after many years of faithful preaching of the Word of God, there was very little that was remembered by the people of God. This led Baxter to engage in catechetical instruction with the members of the local church where he served. It is an amazing story of how God used a faithful pastor, the weekly preaching of the Word and the regular catechetical instruction of God’s people in their homes to transform a people. Certainly Baxter’s personal approach need not be replicated. But some of his methods and his goals for God’s people ought to be.

New City Catechism

Greg Strand – October 22, 2012 2 Comments

Here are a number of links for New City Catechism, a new catechism written by Tim Keller for Redeemer Presbyterian, but made available to a wider Evangelical audience.

New City Catechism

This Catechism consists of 52 questions and answers and is done in a format for both adults and children. Keller based it primarily on the Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter (107 questions) and Larger  Catechisms, and primarily the Heidelberg Catechism (52 Sundays, with 129 questions).  

The same Catechism is used for both children and adults, with the adults learning an additional sentence or two. The benefit is that it is all the same. In addition to the question and answer, you will also find a supporting Scripture passage, a commentary and prayer from the saints across the history of the church, and a brief video on which someone explains/comments on the question and answer.  It is also divided into three sections: Part 1 – God, creation and fall, law (20 questions); Part 2 – Christ, redemption, grace (15 questions); Part 3 – Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (17 questions). 

Here is how Keller explains the Catechism:

We decided to adapt Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.

We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

We wanted to do one more thing. We found that parents who teach their kids a children’s catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time.

Attached to each question and answer there is a short written commentary from a historical preacher (e.g., Augustine, Edwards, Spurgeon, Wesley, etc.) and a short video commentary from some of the council members of The Gospel Coalition (e.g., Don Carson, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, etc.) and the pastors of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. So the idea is to read a commentary from a historical preacher and then watch a commentary from a modern one.

Here is a sample:

Question 1:  What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1:  That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Scripture:  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:7-8

Commentary

If we, then, are not our own but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us…. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

John Calvin (1509–1564). A theologian, administrator, and pastor, Calvin was born in France into a strict Roman Catholic family. It was in Geneva however where Calvin worked most of his life and organized the Reformed church. He wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion (from which this quote is taken), the Geneva Catechism, as well as numerous commentaries on Scripture.

From Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), III.VII.I., 690.

Further Reading

“Salvation” in Concise Theology, by J. I. Packer.

Prayer

Lord, here am I; do with me what thou pleasest, write upon me as thou pleasest: I give up myself to be at thy dispose…. The ambitious man giveth himself up to his honours, but I give up myself unto thee;…man gives himself up to his pleasures, but I give up myself to thee;…man gives himself up…to his idols, but I give myself to thee…. Lord! lay what burden thou wilt upon me, only let thy everlasting arms be under me…. I am lain down in thy will, I have learned to say amen to thy amen; thou hast a greater interest in me than I have in myself, and therefore I give up myself unto thee, and am willing to be at thy dispose, and am ready to receive what impression thou shalt stamp upon me. O blessed Lord! hast thou not again and again said unto me…‘I am thine, O soul! to save thee; my mercy is thine to pardon thee; my blood is thine to cleanse thee; my merits are thine to justify thee; my righteousness is thine to clothe thee; my Spirit is thine to lead thee; my grace is thine to enrich thee; and my glory is thine to reward thee’; and therefore…I cannot but make a resignation of myself unto thee. Lord! here I am, do with me as seemeth good in thine own eyes. I know the best way…is to resign up myself to thy will, and to say amen to thy amen.

Thomas Brooks (1608–1680). An English Puritan preacher, Brooks studied at Cambridge University before becoming rector of a church in London. He was ejected from his post, but continued to work in London even during the Great Plague. He wrote over a dozen books, most of which are devotional in character, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod (from which this prayer is taken) being the best known.

From “The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod” in The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, edited by Rev. Alexander Balloch Grosart, Volume 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866), 305–306.

A New Catechism for a New Day

Greg Strand – October 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Tim Keller has written a new catechism, New City Catechism, for Redeemer Presbyterian, the local church where he serves as the pastor. He has made this resource available to the broader evangelical community.

Here are a few introductory blog posts Keller has written about it, which are excerpts from the Introduction to the Catechism. Underneath each post, I will include pertinent excerpts. There are many good and valid reasons to use a catechism in the life of a family and the church. You will read some of them below. There are also cautions. In another post, I will address the actual New City Catechism. And in a separate post I will address some of the strengths and weaknesses of catechisms, or more accurately why they are to be used, and some of the concerns/cautions when using them.

Why Catechesis Now?”  

But in the evangelical Christian world today the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost. Modern discipleship programs are usually superficial when it comes to doctrine. Even systematic Bible studies can be weak in drawing doctrinal conclusions. In contrast, catechisms take students step by step through the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology and doctrine, practical ethics, and spiritual experience.

Catechesis is an intense way of doing instruction. The catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts in deep, encouraging meditation on truth. It also holds students more accountable to master the material than do other forms of education. Some ask: why fill children’s heads—or for that matter, new converts’—with concepts like “the glory of God” that they cannot grasp well? The answer is that it creates biblical categories in our minds and hearts where they act as a foundation, to be gradually built upon over the years with new insights from more teaching, reading, and experiences. Catechesis done with young children helps them think in biblical categories almost as soon as they can reason. Such instruction, one old writer said, is like firewood in a fireplace. Without the fire—the Spirit of God—firewood will not in itself produce a warming flame. But without fuel there can be no fire either, and that is what catechetical instruction provides.

Catechesis is also different from listening to a sermon or lecture—or reading a book—in that it is deeply communal and participatory. The practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning. It creates true community as teachers help students—and students help each other—understand and remember material. Parents catechize their children. Church leaders catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. All of this systematically builds relationships. In fact, because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be incorporated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise.

Why Write New Catechisms?”

[Quoting T. F. Torrance’s Introduction] “The catechisms set forth Christian doctrine at its closest to the mission, life, and growth of the church from age to age, for they aim to give a comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the context of the whole counsel of God and the whole life of the people of God.”

So the first reason to produce multiple catechisms is that they must serve the whole people of God, and that has always meant catechisms for beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners. There were simple catechisms for very young children, more intermediate ones for those being admitted to the Lord’s Supper, and advanced ones for adults and Christian ministers.

A second reason is that catechisms have always been connected to the “mission of the church”. . . . It is quite evident—if you take the time to read through many catechisms—that each seeks to fortify against the ascendant theological errors in the culture at the time.

Richard Baxter and others of his time saw catechesis as a way not merely to disciple but also to bring people to conversion. So new catechisms were always needed, not in order to change basic doctrine, but to present doctrine in ways that equip people to address the idols and answer the errors of the age.

When the church has gone through a period of reformation there has always been a renewal of catechesis. If we are going to see our people live holy lives in the midst of a post-Christian and anti-Christian culture, we will need to write new catechisms that fit their capacities and equip them for Christian living in the world.

Introducing New City Catechism

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.

When looked at together, these three purposes explain why new catechisms must be written. While our exposition of gospel doctrine must be in line with older catechisms that are true to the Word, culture changes, and so do the errors, temptations, and challenges that we must be equipped to face and answer.