Catechism. For some, the word probably brings back memories of long afternoons and laborious learning. For others, times of biblically rich instruction. For most, it probably only conjures up confusion.
What is ‘catechism’? And why does it matter?
The word ‘catechism’ comes from the Greek word katechein which means “to teach orally or to instruct by word of mouth”. In the past, documents were written to summarise Christian doctrine and to serve as a tool for Christian growth and instruction, particularly among young people. These documents were written in the form of questions and answers, and were called catechisms.
For example, the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, a wonderfully rich summary of the Christian faith and one of the doctrinal standards of BPCC, is:
Question 1: What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
But do catechisms still matter? Well, according to Tim Keller: “Modern discipleship programs concentrate on practices such as Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism and can at times be superficial when it comes to doctrine.” J.I. Packer suggests that because we have lost the practice of catechesis: “superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living… are all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today.”
I am not suggesting we make a return to catechism classes, but I am suggesting that we foster a growing familiarity with the glorious truths so wonderfully summarised and captured in the various catechisms.
A great new tool to help us do this (in addition to the Heidelberg Catechism, of course) is The New City Catechism, which consists of 52 questions and answers divided into three parts: Part 1: God, creation and fall, law; Part 2: Christ, redemption, grace; and Part 3: Spirit, restoration, growing in grace.
The reason I want to particularly commend The New City Catechism to you is not simply because of its theologically robust and devotionally rich content, but also because of its ease of access and use; and it’s completely free! The producers have made it available both as a free website (www.newcitycatechism.com) and as a free ‘app’, which contains not only the questions and answers, but also accompanying Bible verses, commentary, and prayer. And for the parents, it is also available in a ‘Children’s Mode’, which is perfect for use with the entire family.
So, let me commend The New City Catechism to you for use in your family devotions (you could do one a week and that would take you through the entire year), with your spouse (you could read one together each week), or in your personal devotions. This kind of systematic doctrinal instruction is necessary (for both us and our kids) in our day more than ever, and is another way we can ensure that the word of God dwells among us richly (Col. 3:16).
Grace and peace,