BY DAVE STEEL
It may seem out of fashion presently, but the idea that the church should take a systematic approach to grounding believers in the basics of the faith finds strong precedent in church history. This process of ordered learning has been called catechesis, and its content has been referred to as catechism. The tendency in recent generations to approach discipleship rather haphazardly has led Packer and Parrett to call the church back to systematic catechetical training. They write,
As we contemplate today’s complex concerns, hopes, dreams, and ventures of Christian renewal, discipleship impresses us as the key present-day issue, and catechesis as the key present-day element of discipleship, all the world over. The Christian faith must be both well and wisely taught and well and truly learned! A far-reaching change of mindset about this is called for, without which such well-worn dictums as “American Christianity is three thousand miles wide and half an inch deep” will continue, sadly, to be verified. Recovery of the educational-devotional discipline that we are advocating cannot, to our mind, come a moment too soon.
Far from being an exclusively Roman Catholic term, “Catechesis,” according to Packer and Parrett, “is the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight.” These same authors point out that,
Richard Baxter, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, and countless other pastors and leaders saw catechesis as one of their most obvious and basic pastoral duties. If they could not wholeheartedly embrace and utilize an existing catechism for such instruction, they would adapt or edit one or would simply write their own. A pastor’s chief task, it was widely understood, was to be the teacher of the flock.
Michael Horton highlights the urgent need for this kind of disciple-making catechesis today. He writes,
When Jesus included in his commission “teaching them everything I have commanded you,” he underscored the point . . . that a disciple is first of all a learner—of course, more than that, but not less. This is why the early church gathered regularly for “the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). It is why the ancient church founded catechetical schools and expected converts to go through a rigorous period of detailed instruction in Christian doctrine and practice. It is why the Protestant Reformers wrote up catechisms for the instruction of the people, especially the young, when few adults knew even the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostles’ Creed. Judging by the statistics, we are at that point again now in American Christianity.
If it’s true that there’s an historic precedent and an enduring need for some kind of systematic curriculum for training people in the way of Christ, then what would you want to see in a contemporary discipleship catechism?
Are there certain topics you think should be included? Certain features that should be incorporated? What would be most helpful to you and the people you know? I’d love to hear your comments.
Packer and Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel, Kindle Electronic Edition, location 320.
Packer and Parrett, location 427.
Packer and Parrett, location 241.
Packer and Parrett, location 461.
Packer and Parrett, location 340.
Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 175-176.