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. 


Reicheru said...

Thank you for this post. I like the idea of using it in families or churches...well actually I shouldn't say that yet because I don't know it, but, IF it is Scripturally sound (which I assume it largely is though I think it's a great idea to work through it and look up the Scriptures). Or I think it would be wonderful if churches are solidly filling up the children with Scripture. Not sure if that is happening. Not sure if it's often watered down, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was. Kids can actually be like sponges and some can memorize quite quickly; I'm quite amazed by one of my AWANA girls' abilities to quickly memorize and spout out verses. From some of her comments, she also seems at least somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible. My guess is that she might be getting some teaching at home or from her school. It's neat to see, anyway.

I wonder if some/several denominations teach the catechism...and if that's part of confirmation? (Not sure exactly what that is - anothing thing I want to learn about).

Recently in a Bible study when someone was praying for me about my leading a Sunday School class(as a substitute for another church) for young people, and he used the word "catechism" in his prayer. I wasn't teaching that, though. I just thought it was interesting.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts.

Jacob said...

Thanks for stopping by!

To my knowledge, the denominations that use catechisms are the more liturgical ones, such as Lutherans and Presbyterians. (I believe there is also a catechism for Roman Catholics) The Anglican/Episcopalians might have one as well, but I am less familiar with that tradition to know. The Puritan Catechism, as I noted in the post, was put together by Charles Spurgeon, who was a Reformed Baptist.
In terms of using it as part of some kind of confirmation, I'm not sure either.

Rachael said...

Thanks. The person who mentioned "catchism" in his prayer goes to a "reformed reformed" church...I the CRC.

Lots to be learned...

Rachael said...

(oops - 2 typos: "catechism" and I left out "think" before CRC...)

Jacob said...

Ah, yes, the "reformed reformed." Groups like the CRC and RCA I usually just call "Dutch Reformed," given that they have their roots in immigrants from the Netherlands. But that's just what I do to help me keep it all straight!

Tim said...

Ahh my good friend Douvier. I am highly edified (educated and enlightened.... 3E's) by discovering your blog here and reading through some things on it. The Westminster Confession of Faith is something that I have "dabbled" (my use of the word is to indicate that I haven't spent nearly enough time reading or thinking on it) with a little bit. And right now in the Doctrine classes I am taking it really does bring back some of those things... I really really was fascinated by your comment about the Church AND the family (specifically the former) being held responsible in our present times for not sufficiently training and teaching children in the ways and Truth of the Lord our God. It made me stop and think a little bit :-) always a good thing.

Thanks Douvier!
You know, I kind of actually took some advice you gave me.... after I talk to Mike on Tuesday there might be a possibility of spending some time with you this summer. We shall see if it is God's will.

Take care Jacob,

Jacob said...


It's good to hear from you, sir, and I hope you are doing well!

The idea of Family Worship is something I've been thinking about off and on of late. It is something that has been largely lost by Christians that I think should be recovered. Thankfully, useful tools such as these catechisms have not been lost and are starting to be "remembered" again!

Let me know how your talk with Mike goes!