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What is Catechism?

Updated: Dec 11, 2020


A Bittersweet Discovery:


I leaned over to my classmate and quietly whispered, “What is that?” At this point of my life I had been a youth pastor in the Twin Cities for over 5 years and, also, received a bible degree from a small college nearby. Not only that, I was in my second year of seminary and I had never heard of the term referenced by my lecturing professor. Safe to say, I was embarking upon new territory.


I had come to faith at the ripe old age of fourteen and, prior to that, much of my experience with church circled around (1) sponsors who helped my family settle into the states, (2) a bus that came by Sunday mornings to pick up my brothers and I to attend church service, and (3) the church field next door which consisted of countless football games (where the glories of the gridiron were birthed in the hearts of my brothers and I). Consequently, the tradition which became responsible for my spiritual vitality failed to explicitly pass on the practice that was historically present within the church. In one sense I was grateful for the discovery, in another sense I felt robbed by the neglect of historical teachings within my adoptive local church and, more specifically, denomination.


More than a Program:


What was conveyed to me in my seminary classroom was the practice of catechism. This discipline could be traced back to the inception of the church. As Christianity expanded beyond its Jewish heritage, the necessity to educate and inform Gentile converts was construed through baptismal affirmation.[1] The Apostle’s Creed, or the Old Roman Creed, became an articulation of the teachings of Scripture which affirmed the faith. Fairbairn and Reeves helpfully articulate that “[creeds], as symbols, instruct us in the design of our theological house; they are like blueprints.”[2] Therefore, creeds—and later on confessions—operate similarly to the catechetic model which is meant to assist in learning the faith and articulating an understanding of core beliefs.


What is Catechism For? For the sake of being explicit, catechism, according to Beeke and Smalley, is “born in the Bible, with questions and answers mandated to pass between parents and children. . . . All Christian parents must likewise instruct and train their households in the faith so that their children will come to know the laws of God and, by grace, may do what is right (Eph. 6:1-4).”[3] This is indicative of the Shema which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which says,


4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The purpose of the Shema as well as the catechesis is “that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long” (Deut. 6:2). Meaning, the people of God are to inculcate in themselves and their offspring a receptive and obedient posture toward the laws of God. Catechism, then, is a vehicle that serves this particular end by discipling children in the Gospel of Christ.


Why Catechism? To this end, catechism does not guarantee salvation, but it does prepare the mind of the child to embrace the redemptive narrative and worldview of the faith as the Spirit awakens the heart to genuine belief through the proclamation of the Gospel. Catechism, then, formulates logs of doctrine which functions as fuel when the spark of regeneration occurs. Again, it shapes the mind and prepares the heart for Gospel reception. The “one who is taught,” which is interpreted from the Greek word katechoumenos, is the one who is catechized (Gal. 6:6). This further affirms the koinoneo, or fellowship, the church has in the Gospel (cf. 1 Jn. 1:2-3, 6-7).[4] Catechism, then, is discipling the church in knowing the faith which is conveyed through the Scriptures (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-8).


Passing on the Faith:


Accordingly, the Apostle Paul pleas with the church of Colossae to “[let] the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16a). Jointly, the same charge is mediated to the contemporary church. Calvin rightly asserts, then, that “the Church of God will never be preserved without catechesis.”[5] We would do well, thereupon, to use the vehicle of catechism to inculcate in the lives of our families as well as our church community the knowledge and laws of God. The Lord Himself unmistakably conveys these concepts when He says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn. 14:21). With the indwelling Spirit empowering us for holy living, the church is equipped to achieve what she could not if left to her own devices (cf. Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13; 5:7-8). Thus, the saints can pursue these truths with confidence knowing that when we toil in these endeavors we toil by the might and power of His strength (cf. Col. 1:29; Heb. 12:1-3). Catechism, therefore, becomes the vehicle to learning the truths of Scripture for the glory of God and the good of the church. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***


[1] Craig A. Carter, The Faith Once Delivered: An Introduction to the Basics of the Christian Faith (Kitchener, ON: Joshua Press Inc., 2018), 7. [2] Donald Fairbairn and Ryan M. Reeves, The Story of Creeds and Confessions: Tracing the Development of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019), 5. [3] Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 343-344. [4] Timothy Keller, “Introduction,” The New City Catechism: Devotional, ed. Collin Hansen (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 12. [5] As quoted in J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 51.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)

He is the husband to Debbie Yang and the father to McCayden (11), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (4).  He is one of the Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church which is a churchplant in St. Paul, MN. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO where he hopes to obtain his PhD in Systematic Theology. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens. McYoung enjoys reading/writing, sports, and playing with his children.

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