Catechism! Sounds like something Catholic to me. But what is it really?
Catechism- A catechism (from κατηχέω, to teach orally) is a summary or exposition of doctrine and served as a learning introduction to the Sacraments traditionally used in catechesis, or Christian religious teaching of children and adult converts. Catechisms are doctrinal manuals often in the form of questions followed by answers to be memorized, a format that has been used in non-religious or secular contexts as well. (Wikipedia)
In my reading of the book, “Matthew Henry- His Life and Influence” by Allan Harman, I was amazed by a number of things, namely:
- The influence his father had on his life and training. The family altar was an intense training session.
- The schedule Matthew Henry kept. He would teach from the Old Testament and then preach a sermon from the OT in the Sunday a.m. service and then teach and preach from the NT in the p.m. or afternoon service.
- He wrote his own commentary to teach the people, along with many other writings.
He was an amazing man of God. But there was another habit that we would do well to emulate. That is, he taught the Word by catechism. He did this namely for the children and my, don’t we know today that children need to know the Bible. We are seeing a generation of children raised without any knowledge of the Bible. Here is a sample of his questions and answers.
Q.6 Are there more gods than one?
A. There is but one only- the living and true God.
1. Are there many gods? No: for though there be that are called gods, yet there is but one God, I Cor. 8:5,6. Can there be any but one? No: for He has said, I am God and there is none else; I am God and there is none like Me, Isa. 46:9. Are you sure there is but one? Yes: for the Lord our God is one Lord and there is none other but He, Mark 12:29,32.
2. Is the God whom we serve that one God? Yes: for Jehovah He is God, Jehovah He is God, I Kings 18:39. Is He infinitely above all pretenders? Yes: for He is a great King above all gods, Ps. 95:3. Is He God alone? Yes: O Lord of Hosts, God of Israel, thou art the God, even thou alone, Isa. 37:16. Are all other gods false gods? Yes: for all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens, Psalm 96:5.
I suggest that pastors use a catechism with people in the church to teach them line upon line and make them think through their beliefs. I found the thoughts of Tim Keller (pastor/apologist/author) very interesting:
“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.”
My own experience: when we changed the Sunday school to the evening in Hornell, NY, I was responsible for the half hour opening. It was a blend between a Sunday school opening and an Evening Service opening. We had singing, special music, Bible drills, etc. But I wanted to teach by memorizing. I began with the books of the Bible. Children and adults (amazing how many adults did not know the books of the Bible) all participated joyfully. We then learned the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and whole chapters of the Bible. I was just ready to introduce catechism when God called me to Baptist Church Planters.
And another experience: I picked up my grandsons this summer, meeting their mom half way. I made the comment to my three grandsons, “I feel bad for you young men because being a Christian will cost you more than it cost me. The world you will live in will hate Christians.” That prompted a question. “Grandpa, how do we know we are right?” Wow, what a teaching opportunity I had, which after a couple of months led that grandson to reaffirm his salvation.
Too often we do not bring reason, thought or the question into our teaching and preaching.