The word is “catechism”. You may have heard of the Westminster Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism. You might also be aware that the reformers placed a great deal of emphasis on catechizing both adults and children. However, most modern evangelicals have never learned a catechism, and many are unfamiliar with the term. Why is that which was once considered basic to church life, now largely absent?
So, what is a catechism, and why should we remember them? A catechism is a manual for instructing new believers into the Christian faith. Children’s catechisms are used to make sure that children understand all the major doctrines of the faith. Furthermore, catechisms are usually arranged in the form of questions and answers. And so, the Westminster Catechism’s first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” To which the proper answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
The Heidelberg Catechism begins by asking, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” To which the proper answer is, “That I am not my own but belong with body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ….” Then the second question. “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” The answer is, “First how great my sins and misery are; second how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.”
The catechisms would go from there, to asking questions regarding all Christian areas of belief and practice. Those being catechized were required to demonstrate mastery over it all.
The criticisms leveled at catechisms have been that all the answers are memorized. Do these answers actually reflect the living faith of the catechumen? From the history of mainline churches, catechisms tended to degenerate into rote questions and answers.
And so, given time, catechisms were replaced by “testimonies”, in which people shared what Christ had done for them. In some ways, this was positive. We were asking the potential baptism candidate to give personal testimony to their faith in Christ. But what was lost in the process, was a way of training people to comprehend the great truths of the Christian faith. Furthermore, I have witnessed personal testimonies before baptism that never mentioned sin, redemption, the cross, or forgiveness. In a few cases, I have not even heard the person being baptized mentioning the name of Jesus. Instead, I have heard young people say, “I was drifting from God, and so decided I needed to get back to him.” In such circumstances, I have fairly convinced the person being baptized had never experienced forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.
Ed Stetzer, the president of LifeWay Research wrote the following lines: “The elephant in the Christian church today is that we are not seeing robust disciple-making taking place.” Joe Carter, writing in the Gospel Coalition Website writes, “Almost every nondenominational congregation has a worship leader, and yet only a few have a catechist.” He means that they have no staff member whose sole task it is to train the young and those new in the faith, all of the great doctrines of the faith. I would add that a great many of those who have been in the faith for many years also have no idea of the doctrines of the faith. We have replaced a religion founded on truth, with one that helps us through life’s trials. In short, the church has moved a truth-centered faith, to a therapeutic faith.
I think it would be wise to consider Carter’s advice. If you hire a worship pastor, have you hired a catechist? Why not?