Below is a re-print of an article I wrote recently for our local paper. It is an intorduction to a series our church and some special guests are doing on the Heidelburg Catechim.
What is a Catechism?
Last week’s article finished Soli Deo Gloria’s look at J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God. We will now begin our next series of articles dealing with The Heidelberg Catechism. This week’s article will define the word “catechism” (pronounced ka-tə-ki-zəm) and look at how the modern Christian church can use catechisms for education in Christian doctrine.
Almost all Christian denominations have developed written statements of faith to express what they believe the Bible teaches to be true. These statements of faith have included The Apostle’s Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church, The New Hampshire Baptist Statement of Faith, The Declaration of Faith of The Church of God, and the modern Baptist Faith and Message. These written documents have played a vital role in defining and explaining the facts a denomination believes.
Mark Noll, in his book Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation, defines catechisms as “structured statements of faith written in the form of questions and answers.” This question and answer format makes a catechism easy to remember and easy to learn.
Children and adults can learn the answers to common questions by reading a catechism. Authors of catechisms try to pick the questions people ask about the Christian faith that are most important. The authors then write the answers to these questions in memorable form so that a person can learn them either by content or by heart. Scripture references are placed in the answers to each question.
The best catechisms have the most memorable wording. Many can quote the first question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” This is a valuable truth to learn to find purpose and meaning in life, and the catechism states it simply and memorably.
Typically, the questions and answers are learned and discussed a few at a time. This process can be over a period of weeks, months, or years. Christians for centuries have called this process “catechesis” or being “catechized.”
Many current-day pastors and teachers lament the fact that children raised in the Christian church leave the faith behind after high school. The eighteen-year-old turns his or her back on the faith and never looks over his shoulder.
But what if that faith has been drilled into the mind of a child from a very early age by both parents and preachers? What if they had a firm grasp of the basic beliefs of Christianity and the basics of Christian ethics?
Adults need to be well grounded in the truths of the Bible to face the many challenges and temptations our modern world brings. They too must know right beliefs and the difference between right and wrong. Besides, adults who love their children cannot teach them what they do not already know.
Catechisms typically contain questions and answers about who Christ is, what He did, and how we can be united to Him in faith. They also contain explanations of the Ten Commandments and Christian standards of right and wrong. This doctrine is solid information that the Holy Spirit can use to change the hearts and minds of young people who face life on their own. This sound truth can give an adult something to shape the remainder of his or her life.
Next week we will read about the history of one of the most beloved catechisms written by reformation-era Protestantism: The Heidelberg Catechism. Please join us as we read and discuss each question of this time-honored catechism
More to come here.