Tag Archives: christianity

what is a catechism? ~ guest post by Chaz Reed

Chaz is a close friend of Papa’s, and has been since childhood. We now have the blessing of living within driving distance of him, his wife, and their four girls. Chaz is a pastor of a nearby church, and after seeing how he and his wife incorporated the Westminster Shorter Catechism into the raising of their children, we decided to use it as well. I have talked a bit about the spiritual life and training of our children, but because of his learning and experience, I was very excited when Chaz agreed to share with you. This is the first post in a series of three that will be published here on the topic. If you have questions, do share!

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Catechesis: To teach the Word of God and pass on the language of our holy faith so that the baptized learn how to receive God’s gifts in the Divine Service, how to pray, how to confess, and how to live where God has called them in the freedom of the forgiveness of sins, with faith in Christ and love to their neighbor

– Peter Bender

We live in a land of theological ignorance. Nations we once sent missionaries to are now sending missionaries to us. Church program after church program has been put forth as a remedy, but to little avail. It’s odd that we feel the need to reinvent the wheel when there’s a method that’s been used for longer than we’ve been waiting for the return of Christ: catechism.

In 1st Corinthians 14:19 Paul says, “In the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. “ In Galatians 6:6 he says, “Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.” Acts 18:25 says that Apollos “had been instructed in the way of the Lord.”

In each of these verses the Greek word for “instruct,” “taught,” or “teach” is katecheo (literally, “to make hear,” hence “to instruct”). From this word we get our English word “catechize.” Simply put, catechism is instruction in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Its primary purpose is to instruct new Christians and our children in the basics of the Christian faith.

what is included in a catechism?

Most Reformed catechisms, such as the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, have similar content which includes such teachings as:

  • š The doctrines of God, including his nature and attributes
  • š The doctrines of man
  • š The doctrines of grace, sin and salvation
  • š The offices of Christ as prophet, priest and king
  • š The Ten Commandments and its relationship to the Gospel
  • š The Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for our fellowship with God
  • š The place and meaning of the Sacraments as our means of spiritual nourishment
  • š The doctrines of resurrection, judgment and the Lord’s second coming

Thus catechism is formulated to introduce us to the basics of the Christian faith – things that all of us should know and believe – a “mere Christianity.” It’s something we never graduate from.

Instead of replacing or supplanting the role of the Bible in Christian education, catechism ideally serves as the basis for it. The practice of catechism, as properly understood, is the Christian equivalent of looking at the box top of a jigsaw puzzle before one starts to put all of those hundreds (thousands?) of little pieces together. It is very important to look at the big picture and have it clearly in mind, so that we do not get bogged down in minor details, or get endlessly sidetracked by some unimportant or irrelevant issue. The theological categories given to us through catechism help us to make sense out of the many different details found in the Scriptures themselves. Catechism serves as a guide to better understanding Scripture. That being noted however, we need to remind ourselves that Protestants have always argued that catechisms are authoritative only in so far as they faithfully reflect the teaching of Holy Scripture. This means that the use of catechisms, which correctly summarize biblical teaching, does not negate or remove the role of Holy Scripture. Instead, these same catechisms, as summary statements of what the Holy Scriptures themselves teach about a particular doctrine, should serve as a kind of springboard to more effective Bible study. When this is the case, these catechisms are invaluable tools to help us learn about the important themes and doctrines that are in Scripture.

what is the history of catechism?

The formal use of catechisms is an ancient practice reaching all the way back to Old Testament times, where priests, rabbis and parents partnered in a catechetical method of instruction. It was also the practice of the early church, before Constantine and the legalization of Christianity, to catechize converts before they were baptized. This could take anywhere from one to three years. The catechumen was usually baptized at Easter after having been examined to see if his faith was sound. This might seem a bit extreme, but bear in mind that there were many threats facing the early church in the form of persecution and false teaching. Protecting the purity of the church was a great priority.

After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, so many people were immediately added to the church (the majority were nominal Christians at best), that the practice of catechism greatly diminished. By the medieval period, catechism had virtually disappeared.

The practice was revived by almost all the major Protestant Reformers who saw catechesis as a great way to teach God’s Word and the doctrines of the church. In 1489, the Waldensians published their catechism. Martin Luther published his Large Catechism in 1529 as an aid to pastors as a response to the deplorable ignorance he encountered. He then summarized it for children in his Small Catechism. John Calvin published his catechism in 1537.

The Heidelberg Catechism was published in 1563 at the request of Elector Frederick III, the German ruler at the time. This catechism incorporated a bit from Luther and Calvin and is divided into 52 sections so that one section could be studied each Lord’s Day of the year. The Synod of Dordt, meeting from November 1618 to May 1619, approved the Heidelberg Catechism and it became the most warmly praised of all the Reformation catechisms.

From 1643 to 1649 Puritan ministers and theologians met at Westminster in London to make preparations for a common church and faith for the whole kingdom. They published the Westminster Standards, which consist of a Confession of Faith, and two catechisms, the Shorter for children , and the Larger for adults. The former has been the most popular and widely used catechism in the English language.

The practice of catechism was revived so successfully by the Protestant Reformers that even the Roman Catholic Church began to mimic them, publishing its first catechism, The Roman Catechism, in 1566 under the authority of the Council of Trent. “The heretics [the Reformers] have chiefly made use of catechism to corrupt the minds of the Christians.”

Catechism is nothing new. But is it something you and your family should do? In my next post, we’ll take a look at more reasons why you should catechize. It truly is a great practice that will help build a stable and firm generation who hopes in the Lord.

Over-spiritualizing Christianity

A common misperception (one that I held in my early days of independence) is that Christians are to show their dedication to God by becoming super-involved with their church’s activities.

Sunday morning service, weekly prayer meeting, weekly Bible study, worship nights, extra family fun activities, ministry Saturdays, men’s and women’s retreats… the opportunities are nearly limitless, and mostly age and/or gender-segregated. And if your church doesn’t offer it all, you can always show your passion by attending two churches (and I have known at least several people personally who have done this).

Yet over time, as my little family grew and my spiritual beliefs matured a bit (I do not mean I have reached maturity as a Christian, however) I began to recognize a pattern. This over-spiritualizing, over-dedication to the church, and placing the emphasis on the appearance of a spiritual life were leading to the suffering of families.

Families could be falling apart, and as long as they were attending church activities no one thought anything of it. Priorities among believers, especially leaders, like these were getting all messed up, and not only did we see families falling apart, but outsiders were seeing just as steady a flow of churchgoers coming out the door as going in. What was the point? Is this what Jesus is all about, doing spiritual things for the sake of good feelings and appearances?

We certainly don’t have it all figured out. We are just another family seeking to glorify God and enjoy Him. But when we see significant errors it’s hard to ignore them. Our values are now much different than they were.

We value the role God gave us, to be a family who follows the Lord together instead of in age-appropriate classes. We value the opportunity God has given us to glorify Him, simply by doing everything as if we are doing it for Him. We value the personalities He gave us, and seek to develop them as our way of giving thanks, instead of offering up endless prayers over every little decision that needs to be made.

We value worship music played well more than expensive equipment used to make it. We value ministering to people in our daily lives, including voluntary monetary gifts instead of guilt-driven tithing to seeker-sensitive churches. And right up there at the top of the list – we value groups of believers (whether churches or not) who promote strong family relationships and creating homes that exemplify God’s intention for Christian homes.

Personally, seeing these things as worthy of pursuit was a relief for me. There didn’t have to be any lifelong pursuit of my purpose or wondering if I was doing enough spiritual things to please God. Now I can devote myself to worshiping God and ministering to others with and through my marriage, my mothering, my home, and my labor support (or Papa’s workplace). This is who I am, and God is pleased because I want to be the best wife, mother, and doula there is, showing His love to others.

The church is important, but without prioritizing the family, the church cannot be healthy. To be spiritually healthy, we must take a closer look at our personal and family lives, and see what the Bible has to say about following Christ.

In this season of our life, I know that one of our most important spiritual duties is to train up our young children to love and honor God, and while we do this in the home and among family, this year I also want to put emphasis on loving God by serving others outside our family. I expect that as we move along this spiritual journey together I will share more about it with you.

Where are you on your spiritual journey? Do you have a story or thought you would like to share?

a precious confession

Buddy is a believer in Jesus Christ. That is a gift to his parents like no other. For some time now he has been expressing the desire to become a Christian, declaring his trust and love for Jesus, but because we wanted to be sure he was sure, we kept postponing “the prayer”. He was only four, after all.

After he brought up the issue again, the day before his fifth birthday, Papa and I decided it was time to encourage him to repent and accept God’s most amazing gift.

We emphasized to him that because he has faith he has already been saved, that Jesus already did the work on the cross and Buddy can do nothing to earn His mercy and grace. Also, prayer cannot save him ; Jesus saves him.

I read to Buddy from Ephesians 2, and then Papa led our little man to apologize for his sin and thank Jesus for dying on the cross to save him, and now he feels more peaceful knowing he has declared his faith.

Papa and I will now be looking into baptizing him, perhaps ourselves, as we believe baptism is part of declaring your faith in Jesus and following Him.

This is an exciting time for us, but we also want to be sure that what we teach our children and lead them to believe is biblical.

In case you are interested, two books we have found especially useful in teaching the Bible to our kids are The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos, and Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Meade. The first is a perfect mix between making the Bible understandable and yet not watering it down, and the second is a family devotional based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Each takes about two years to work through, but we spend about 20 minutes each morning reading them together and not only are Buddy and Girlie learning from them, but so am I!

Amazing Grace Theology

First off, congratulations to AGA Ambroult of Elemental for being the new winner of The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Lucky for her, the first winner did not respond to my email with an address to send the book to.

In other thoughts, I really wanted to write today about a documentary my husband and I recently watched called Amazing Grace, the history and theology of Calvanism. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I didn’t know much about Calvanism, but a friend of ours really wanted us to watch it, so we did. And honestly, it brought almost everything I’ve ever believed about God and Christianity into question.

Before I get too far into reviewing Amazing Grace, my thoughts would make more sense to you if I gave you a brief description of our spiritual beliefs until this point. Because that isn’t the purpose of this post I’ll make them as brief as possible:

  • Glen and I were both raised in Christian families and “accepted Jesus into our hearts” at a young age
  • The variations of our upbringing led us to live our lives for God as young adults
  • We met and stayed at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in our area for about nine years, but left after our second child was born, in short because we were not hearing anything other than “Jesus loves you just the way you are” and “God wants to pour His grace over all”, and we wanted to be in a church that taught more Biblical, historical truth that addressed sin.
  • We began attending the Christian and Missionary Alliance church in our area because we knew several people who went there and heard they had a more theological foundation.
  • In the meantime, because we had few defined doctrines that we understood and believed in, we were brought to a place of “all we know is Christ and Him crucified” and began a search to understand the Bible as it was meant to be interpreted.
  • After having yet another conversation with the friend who lent us Amazing Grace, Glen decided to listen to his audio Bible again and suddenly realized that the scriptures speaking of election did not refer to God preacknowledging those who would choose Him, but that it meant God chose certain individuals to follow Him. And that, was the crux, the turning point at which we were able to see Amazing Grace and recognize the simple yet powerful truth that God has control over everything.

It would be difficult for me to explain everything they had in the documentary, but I do recommend that you see it for yourself. In the first section they tell you the history of Christianity itself, from Jesus Christ all the way up to today. It is in this section where I learned how the current philisophical doctrines in churches became the norm, and where strong, Biblical theology became “uncool”. Unfortunately, what we have now is a church which largely thinks that it is based in sound doctrine, but is wrongly focused on pleasing unbelievers instead of teaching and reforming the elect, or believers in Jesus Christ.

The second section explains in clear terms exactly what is Calvanist theology. It’s root began when those who believed the “five points of Arminianism” broke off from the standard Christian beliefs. John Calvin then came alone and his followers presented the “five points of Calvanism” to answer the five points of Arminianism. So now, Calvanism is described in five basic points, all of which are clearly based in Biblical truth.

Those five points (adapted from this wikipedia article) are:

  • “Total depravity”: The doctrine of total depravity asserts that, people are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures.
  • “Unconditional election”: The doctrine of unconditional election asserts that God’s choice from eternity of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God’s mercy alone.
  • “Limited atonement”: The doctrine of limited atonement asserts that Jesus’s substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its design and accomplishment. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus’s death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power (in other words, God could have elected everyone and used it to atone for them all), but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is designed for some and not all.
  • “Irresistible grace”: The doctrine of irresistible grace asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. The doctrine holds that every influence of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, “graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ.”
  • “Perseverance of the saints”: This doctrine asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with or will return.

What I found particularly helpful was the presentation of Arminian believes, what they are, and why they are wrong. This was the part that had me thinking, “Holy cow! Almost everything I thought was truth is false!” They explained all the common defenses of choosing to follow Jesus Christ over being chosen to follow Jesus Christ and I knew them well because I had heard them all my life, but when confronted with the scriptures and their original context, I couldn’t help but see that God has sovereign power over everything, including whether I receive grace, or not.

The third and last section was basically about our worldview, and how we are to witness to others knowing they will either come to Christ because they are called, or reject Him because they were not chosen. Again, they present the common defenses of Arminian values, that we are to cast the net wide so that we could potentially bring all of them to Christ. In reality, we are to cast the net wide because we don’t know who has been chosen or not. All must have the opportunity to face the Gospel of Jesus, which is the turning point at which it becomes obvious whether or not they were chosen to be given grace.

One of the things that I had a hard time accepting about Calvanism was fairness (which they address in the film). How could God be cruel enough to choose to save some and abandon the rest? And while the fact that God is God and He can do whatever pleases Him is the foundation of all that is in His Word, the following illustration in the film helped me to see this point in a different light: You walk down the street and see a line of beggers alongside a wall. You choose to give one of them some money to buy dinner, but you do not give money to each one of them. Were you wrong to give to only one person? Was that unfair? Or was it an act of grace, since they were all bound to a night of hunger anyway? In the same way, we are all dead in sin, every single human being, and God chose to save some of us to show His glory. He could have sent us all to hell for our sins and He would be completely just in doing so, but instead, He chose to save, and for that we all owe Him our lives.

In the world but not of it

Yesterday Glen and I had a very interesting discussion with his parents about a variety of topics ranging from the role of Christians in government to the reasons the Church is not fulfilling its purpose. It was one of those discussions that can easily go on for hours because you lose track of time. Debates like this can be intense, but I love them because you can learn so much from them, plus it’s a lot more interesting than talking about the weather.

Anyway, there was one theme I picked out which basically brought all the topics together, a theme which faces all believers in Jesus Christ and has challenged the intelligence of even big thinkers: How is it possible to be in the world and not of it?

Throughout the New Testament of the Bible we read references to Christians being foreigners to the world once they become citizens of Heaven. In John 15:19 Jesus says we are not of this world because He chose us out of this world. In His prayer in John 17, Jesus says His believers, His chosen ones, are not of this world any more than He is.

If you are a believer, I assume you know of these verses already, and you should understand that by them Jesus was referring to us being born again, and that while we are physically living in this world, we are now ambassadors of His kingdom, our citizenship is in Heaven, and we are a new people.

But in the day to day life, the daily grind of providing for our natural needs, what does this mean? How can we live for God and be men and women of His kingdom while we are still living on this earth? 1 John 2:15-17 gives us a clear answer:

15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 3:4-6 is even stronger but just as clear – those who know the work of Jesus on the cross and the power of His mercy and grace will desire to set apart their lives for God. We still sin because we are fallen man, but we are learning not to sin through His sanctification because want to honor God’s gift to us, we want to respond with love to His love for us. Living to bring Him glory and to enjoy the mercy and grace He offers is the way we are to go.

The rest of the Bible gives examples of what it looks like to set apart your life for God, the goal we should be striving for. I am no theologian, but certain things do seem clear to my husband and I.

Stable families. Husbands who love their wives as much as Jesus loves the church. Wives who submit to their husbands. Parents who teach their children the ways of God, and children who honor their parents. Sound like a fairy tale? It might seem that way today, but certain practices make these things more likely – couples who do not marry with the full intent to keep their vows, and who live on one income while the second parent raises the children at home. Take any family you have great respect for and you are likely to see these ideas being carried out.

No debt. Debt is not blessed by God. Even Glen and I myself have realized we should not have been praying for God’s wisdom in deciding what house to get a mortgage on, but instead we should have been making plans on how to make a home without debt. Debt for anything, house, college, car, whatever, makes it very difficult for a family to live off one income and restricts them from what they could accomplish together. Nowhere in the Bible does it say debt is an investment, it only talks about how to get rid of it.

Avoiding self-centeredness. Today’s culture, at least in America, leads us to believe that we are to seek after things that bring us pleasure, things that help us go farther in life, without thinking about those around us. Life is about our own needs and wants, and we should pursue them at all expense, even to that of our family relationships. This is absolutely ungodly! We are to love others as much as we love ourselves, to pursue other’s happiness as much as our own, to assist others and treat them with respect and dignity, just as much as we deserve ourselves. 1 John also talked about how our love for others will be the outward sign of our faith in Jesus.

Prevention of illness. There is nothing wrong with doctors or hospitals, but the Bible does exhort us to take good care of our bodies. We are created in God’s image and the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Out of respect for God and to bring glory to Him, we should be eating well, exercising our bodies, sleeping an appropriate amount, not abusing substances, and otherwise caring for our bodies. Not only will this glorify God, but we will be able to enjoy life on this earth longer and more fully if we follow God’s practical guidelines for health.

Not getting caught up in pop culture. Sports are fun, entertainment feels good, these things can be useful and worthy of our time. However, it is far too easy to get hooked by them, to become distracted by them. We come home from work at the end of a long day and want to sit down in front of the TV. While rest is good, does this glorify God? How about fellowshiping with our families? Or having a nice hot cup of tea on the back porch watching the sunset? There are no scriptures about TV limits or what to do after work, but we still set an example for others but how we use our leisure time.

Being productive. God is creative, and throughout scripture He endorses productivity – creating, building, planting, designing, sewing, cooking, etc. Things that use the skills He has given us. By this we enjoy His gifts, He enjoys our pleasure in His own creation, and we show others how to be what God designed us to be.

In general, if you look at a random Christian family, the only differences you see between them and a random athiest family are that the Christians probably attend church and they probably vote republican. Other than that, they are living of the world, just like everyone else.

If we are going to glorify God with our lives, I don’t believe our priorities can be focused on getting the nicest house, the best-paying career, the most honored college degree, or the coolest, earth-friendly car. It is about living our lives desiring the things of God and putting our heart’s desires on the things that will out-live our lives. Preaching the gospel, raising Godly families, loving our spouses and children every day by not seeking self-actualization, not enslaving ourselves to others through debt, not trying to legislate our beliefs but living them out as an example so that we are set apart, we become a light on the hill to those in darkness, and those who have yet to understand God’s goodness come to desire Him because they see His good works in our lives.

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

Agree? Disagree? In what ways do you think we can live as citizens of Heaven and not earth?