Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Purpose of a Catechism

When I opened Google Reader yesterday to check up on the blogs I regularly read, I had to do a double-take when I saw my name and a link to my blog from The Boundless Line. Ted Slater was kind enough to highlight my daily project of posting a question and answer from A Puritan Catechism, which he rightly notes was compiled by every one's favorite Reformed Baptist, Charles Spurgeon. Like the London Baptist Confessions of Faith, the catechism that Spurgeon compiled is largely based off of the work of the Westminster Assembly. Much of the Puritan Catechism is taken from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, just as the London Baptist Confessions are based off of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The substantial differences in both instances have to do with the nature of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as well as the particular theology of baptism itself. 

In the comments on Ted Slater's post, someone asked a great question: Do you know how people/churches/families/individuals typically use catechisms. Are they typically taught in Sunday School or memorized? This is a great question and I immediately thought of what Spurgeon wrote as the introduction to the catechism:
I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly's and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation. Those who use it in their families or classes must labour to explain the sense; but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as the years pass. May the Lord bless my dear friends and their families evermore, is the prayer of their loving Pastor. 
C.H. Spurgeon

As we can see, Spurgeon intended this to be used in at least two specific contexts: the family and the classroom. Family worship, the regular gathering of the family for reading of Scripture, prayer and singing, is one place where the catechism can be used. Parents and older children can teach each question and answer to the younger children, who will memorize them. The other use, the classroom, could conceivably be used in numerous different ways: a teacher could assign them to a class to memorize, or they could work through each question and its scripture proofs, expanding on the doctrines they summarize. 

The aim of such memorization and instruction is the edification of the Christian. As Spurgeon said at the opening of the introduction: I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times. Through teaching and affirming sound doctrine, the Body of Christ is a little safer in the face of subversive doctrines, and is better able to respond when faced with false teachings. I have often said that my work with Worldview Academy, which is an excellent ministry dedicated to teaching Christian youth about the fundamentals of the faith and how to defend them, really should not be necessary. We simply live in a time where the majority of churches do not teach doctrine out of fear of boring their members or creating division. Thus, a ministry like Worldview Academy is necessary to fill in the (sometimes large) gaps. This was, however, not necessary for a long time. A student who has grown up learning the Catechism will have learned about the foundations of his Christian faith, and if his pastor and parents have done their job, they will have been further explained and expounded. 

So what is the purpose of a catechism? Christian education. It is the initiation of new Christians and children into the doctrines of the faith to strengthen and edify them. If you are new to the idea of a catechism, I would encourage you to take some time to read through one. One of the best studies I was ever a part of in college was when a group of us gathered together to go through the Westminster Larger Catechism, so grab some friends and print off a few questions and discuss. Work through the scripture proofs. Do you agree that they support the answer? Can you find other passages that support it? Do you disagree? Where would you go to support your disagreement? Such exercises are never without benefit. 

A Puritan Catechism: Question 7

Q. What are the decrees of God?

A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his own will, whereby for his own glory he has foreordained whatever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11-12).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Puritan Catechism: Question 6

Q. How many persons are there in the Godhead?

A. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory (1 Jn. 5:7; Matt. 28:19).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Puritan Catechism: Question 3

Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man (2 Tim. 1:13Eccl. 12:13).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Puritan Catechism: Question 2

Q. What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify him?

A. The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Eph. 2:20; 2 Tim. 3:16) is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him (1 Jn. 1:3).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Concerning Divorce

Yesterday, I posted Chapter 25 from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith: "Of Marriage." The Baptist Confession is modeled after the Westminster Confession, and follows it almost verbatim, save for a few points. The most obvious deviations from Westminster have to do with baptism and with the nature of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Less obvious is the omission of the last two articles that Westminster includes in its 24th chapter, "Of Marriage and Divorce." After posting the LBCF chapter and recalling this difference, I decided that I would write something about it. Ironically, Kelly left a comment asking me what I thought about divorce, so this post has a twofold purpose.

Cornerstone Church, which I have been attending since moving down here to Phoenix is a good solid Reformed Baptist church and so when I found them back in October, I was very excited to learn that their adult sunday school class was going through the LBCF, chapter by chapter. Though I had missed the bulk of the study, the sunday morning we spent on Chapter 25 was very informative and so I am drawing some from my notes and memory of that morning.

The reason for the omission in the Baptist Confession has to do with the fact that the issue of divorce is a delicate issue with many different opinions held to with conviction on all sides. Not wanting to give cause for any less unity, the framers of the LBCF decided to pass over the issue of divorce in silence. Our sunday school teacher noted that he thought it was a mistake on their part, and also thinks a definition of marriage should have been included. I am inclined to agree with him, and if there is ever an attempt to amend the Confession, I would be in favor of changes in this regard.

The omitted articles from Westminster are as follows:
5. Adultery or fornication, committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.

6. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments, unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage; yet nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage; wherein a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it, not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.
As we see, the conditions laid out by Article 5 allow divorce in the instance of adultery, if the innocent party desires. If the divorce is granted, it is "as if the offending party were dead." In Article 6, a second condition for divorce is given, being "willful desertion." Were one's spouse to abandon them, the marriage could also be dissolved. 

To answer Kelly's question about my opinion on the matter, I must first confess that I am not as knowledgeable about this question as I would like. However, as I understand the issue at present, I think I would agree with the two Westminster articles above, which some qualification. It actually is not so much a qualification, but for lack of  a better word at present, it will have to suffice. 

The reality is that divorce is a painful and terrible thing and antithetical to what God created and pronounced good. Thus, it should only be done out of absolute necessity, dictated by circumstance and disposition of those involved. Were the offending party to repent and seek reconciliation with the innocent party, I would not be very comfortable with the innocent party seeking the divorce regardless. Again, there are circumstances to consider in each case, and in some situations you can save and restore the marriage. However, if the offending party is not repentant and has not forsaken his or her sin and acknowledged it as such, I have less issue with the innocent party seeking the divorce. Situations of abuse often come up, and this is one area that causes me to wish I were more informed on the issue. 

In Matthew 19, Jesus addresses divorce, and comments on the conditions for divorce set forth by Moses in the Law. The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked him if divorce were permissible for any cause. It is in response to the question if divorce is permissible for "any" cause that Christ is speaking, and the answer seems to be no. What he does say in verses 8-9 is this: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." So apparently Jesus does not think we should divorce for anything save sexual immorality, and we commit adultery if we divorce and remarry for any reason outside of that. Regarding this passage Calvin said, "Those who search for other reasons ought justly be set at nought, because they choose to be wise above the heavenly teacher."

So from Matthew 19 (and the shorter parallel account in Mark 10), one could make the case that Westminster steps out of line in permitting divorce in the instance of abandonment, though Article 5, permitting divorce in the event of adultery, stands vindicated by Christ's pronouncement that divorce over sexual immorality is allowed. Were one to have an argument that shows desertion to be sexual immorality, I would be very interested in hearing it.

As I have said before, divorce is a terrible thing, and I think that it is something undertaking far too lightly by even many Christians today. Given that statistics are floating around which show professing Christians to have an identical divorce rate to the American population in general shows that there is either a lot of adultery going on, or that Christians do not think too highly of marriage in general if they would cast it off so lightly. As I have indicated before, being anti-abortion does not make you pro-life, and so also being anti-homosexual does not make you pro-marriage. For that matter, being anti-divorce does not necessarily make you pro-marriage. We would be wise to ponder what the differences in attitudes, beliefs and actions are between these, and just how willing we are to fight for marriage.
But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. - Mark 10:6-9

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sex Predators: Unfair Language

On the local news tonight, I saw a story reporting some alleged misconduct between a female corrections office and an under aged male detainee. This is not the first of such reports to hit the news: there are countless stories of female teachers engaging in inappropriate sexual relationships with their male students. This is horrible and wrong, and while not quite so sad as this, it also saddens me to see a double standard, at least in the language the media uses to report these stories.

Had a male corrections officer had sex with an under aged female detainee, phrases such as "sexual assault" "sexual exploitation" and "statutory rape" would be sprinkled into the new casts. Now, when a story breaks of a teacher who got pregnant by her 15 year old student, we hear none of those phrases. Instead, it is described as a "sexual encounter" "affair" or "tryst." It would also be interesting to compare the penalties given to male transgressors compared to female transgressors. I suspect we would see the men locked away for 20 years and the women given a slap on the wrist plus two years on probation or under house arrest.

More and more stories are coming out now about these predatory female teachers. One would think that the perpetrators in these cases would be given the maximum penalty so as to set an example for any teacher who would dare think about abusing a student in such a manner. However, so long as we're willing to let the pretty, young female teachers off the hook, don't try to tell me we care as much about the victimization of young boys as we do young girls.

Underage Outrage

Teacher Molests Student, No Jail Time

Wallace and Lafave: Similar cases, different sentences

U.S. teacher sexpidemic spreading across planet