It is a cold, chilly evening in November, your family has just finished dinner and you are setting up for family worship. You have your Bibles in hands, alongside a catechism that is providing foundational truths for your families’ spiritual growth. Everything is set, except one person is missing: your pastor. After a few minutes, your pastor arrives at the door, sits down, and begins to talk to your family about the importance of the Christian faith. He does this through a variety of ways: prayer, Scripture reading, and through catechesis. He invites you and your children to recite the weekly question and answers from this week’s study. You end with a corporate song of the doxology and praying for one another.
For many modern Christians, this scene is completely foreign, perhaps even strange to the way that we conduct discipleship in our churches. Discipleship is a program, a Bible study, an event I attend; catechesis is outdated, foreign, and inefficient. Yet, for hundreds, dare I say, thousands of years, pastors instructed their people in the fundamentals of the faith through catechesis. At the present moment, the practice of memorizing a catechism for discipleship purposes is completely lost on generations of modern Christians.
The early church thought it critical to educate its new members in the doctrines of the faith, as is evidenced by the use of the Didache in the late 1st century. The Didache (greek for “The Teaching”) which describes the early Christian ethics, practices, and order. It instructed Christians on prayer, fasting, baptism, communion, and a host of other Christian practices. The new converts to Christianity needed to know what was distinct about their new life in Christ. Since the writing of the Didache, thousands of pastors and theologians have written and adapted catechism’s for their modern day in order to instruct and educate God’s people for God’s mission. Yet, in the last hundred years or so, this ancient and wise practice has somehow been lost.
However lost at the present moment, current pastors and theologians are attempting to revitalize catechesis in the church today. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City, adapted many of the historic, reformed catechisms and modernized the language, resulting in The New City Catechism. With such a historic, reliable tool at our disposal, Christians in the 21st century would be unwise not to learn the core Christian doctrines and practices through this excellent resource.
What if reinventing the wheel of discipleship for new Christians, our children, and even ourselves, we attended to the historic route of catechesis. For some, catechism may seem rote, dull, and boring; what is the benefit of memorizing answers to spiritual questions? In so many facets of our life, we are comfortable with routine, yet when it comes to spiritually, we gawk at the idea. My prayer and hope is that you my give catechesis a chance, and you may discover that through the routine of memorizing simple question and answers, God will shape and mold your heart into the image of His beloved Son.