As the cultural pressure to be known as a Christian wanes, people are leaving the church. While it saddens us, we also must be sober-minded about this. The apostle John wrote, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19, ESV). In every era of the church age, there were reasons people left the church. Every age has its own complexities, but the principle stands. Some will leave the church, stop worshiping and being discipled, and it will be the final proof that their allegiance was never to Christ.
Equally as obvious is the cultural change in how accepting of Christian ethics people are, especially the historic Christian sexual ethic. As God shakes the world around us, we recognize the need for both clarity and firmness in Christian teaching. We simply can't assume any longer that any of us have a strong grasp of the essence of what makes our faith "Christian." Do we understand the Ten Commandments? The Lord's Prayer? The story arc of both testaments? Key doctrines, like the Trinity and the authority of Scripture? Why does any of this matter?
So one of the short-term goals for Mt. Pisgah is to form a catechism that teaches us the basics of the Christian faith, gives us a Christian "grammar" or language and vocabulary, and builds a robust understanding of Scripture. In this post, I want to help us define what a catechism is and how we'll use it.
In short, a catechism is a relatively short manual of instruction, often in the form of questions and answers. For example, one well-known and respected catechism is the Westminster Catechism (there is a "Longer" and "Shorter" version if you're familiar with it). It takes a question-and-answer form. The first question is, "What is the chief end of man?" The answer that is supplied is, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." This pattern goes on for 107 questions.
The catechism is not just meant to be a reference, though it definitely is that. It's also meant to be memorized over time. You may not memorize all 107 questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but many of them you will.
The simpler question-and-answer format is also meant to be suitable for teaching children. The questions are all single sentences, and most of the answers are, as well. We should be teaching our children the deep things of God "diligently to [our] children, and [you] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:7). These catechisms are meant to be simple, accessible guides for parents or caretakers to teach the essentials of the Christian faith in summary fashion in obedience to Scriptural commands to do so.
But a catechism is not just for children. Every Christian should be able to give an answer to the question, "What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?" Or, "What is baptism?" And, "To whom is baptism to be administered?"
Catechisms also give a summary teaching of the weightier matters of Scripture. All Christians would agree that these would be the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the greatest commandments, along with perhaps a few others. Some catechism also include a short section on the historic Christian creeds with explanations.
If you happen to take the time to peruse the Westminster Catechism, you would quickly come to realize that it is a Presbyterian document that reflects Presbyterian theological particulars, such as paedobaptism. While we love our Presbyterian brothers and sisters and believe them to be a true church, we disagree on matters such as baptism and church government. But why? It would behoove us to explain ourselves, perhaps in a catechism.
For some people, when they hear "catechism," they think of the Catholic Catechism. That conjures up all kinds of thoughts. Shouldn't we distance ourselves from that stuff?
Catechisms, though, have a long history in the church. And the Catholic Catechism proper dates all the way back to...1992. Baptists and Presbyterians were way ahead of the game.
The early church used catechisms for many of the same reasons we do today. Christianity wasn't the dominant cultural power. People had to take social risks to be a Christian. So new believers needed answers to their questions. People needed a defense of their faith.
This blog won't be the catechism, and we'll move on to other topics here. But it's important for us to see the need for clarity and relevance.