Posts Tagged ‘Catechesis’

How important, really, are Christian creeds?  How important, for that matter, is church history? J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett observe in their book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashoned Way (see earlier post here),

It is not uncommon… to see on a church signboard a slogan something like this: “No book but the Bible; no creed but Christ; no law but love.” This captures the mindset of many in free church movements (p. 123).

These statements sound pithy (and pious), but in the end, in fact, they are actually quite self-contradicting. As the authors note: “such a pithy slogans are themselves creedal confessions and are part of significant traditions that have been handed down and embraced by others” (p. 123). So, “No Creed but Christ” is itself a creed.

All throughout history the church has always understood and taught the faith through creedal and confessional formula. Even in the epistles, Paul emphasizes doctrine and the traditions handed down by the apostles to be taught in local churches.  So the Christian faith is a faith to be believed. There’s just no getting around it. And anybody who wants to be a Christian without wanting to believe anything actually doesn’t want to be a Christian. They want to have their cake and eat it to.

“Well,” someone might object, “Won’t that make Christians overly ‘heady’ and focussed on intellectual questions? Won’t that keep them from ever getting around to ‘doing’ christianity? We got to get practical somewhere along the line right?”

Absolutely! Although, Christianity always will be lived out in loving action and obedience, it must first be believed. In other words, there’s no getting to second base while skipping first. And believe it or not, the christian church throughout history has approached that question too! (You knew I was going to go there!)

Three Facets of the Faith

Packer and Parrett describe how the church has historically related the various aspects of faith and life (belief and action). They point out a three-fold distinction they call the “Facets of the Faith.” Roughly categorized, these three facets of the faith corispond to the biblical distincitives of faith, hope, and love (p. 88).

During the Reformation, this three-fold division was taken up in various catechisms. For example, the Heidleberg Catechism articulates the faith through expositing the Apostles Creed (faith), the Lord’s Prayer (hope) and the Ten Commandments (love). Other important sections of instruction historically for the church has been the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper)(p. 121).

Other representations were found in the Latin expression, lex orandi, lex credeni, lex vivendi (as we pray, so we believe, so we do). Throughout church history, this threefold distinction has proved a common thread, structuring and defining the “facets of the faith” (p. 123-124). Not that this was a hard and fast distinction, but rather a helpful tool in ordering Christian instruction.

Now, why should we want to learn from the past? Why would it be a good idea to at least have some understanding of how the Church has taught her disciples in centuries gone by? Or do we (along with the rest of the word) merely assume that the latest is greatest, new is improved, and we can get along quite well without history (“thank you very much!”)?  After all, “history is bunk,” according to Henry Ford.

It is encouraging and helpful to read Packer and Parrett stress the great “wisdom” to be found in “historical precedent.” They write:

This argument may seem the least compelling to many evangelical believers today. We are, after all, “Bible people,” always demanding in the end, “Where stands it written?” Such concern for biblical fidelity is absolutely essential and praiseworthy. But a flippant dismissal of our own Christian history is not praiseworthy in any respect. It is rather a willful refusal to adopt a biblical sprit. The fact is that we are not the first Christians to wonder about how to make disciples for Jesus. Wisdom and humility demand that we consider what our brothers and sister through the ages have done by way of catechizing and discipling, and test the merit of these efforts by consideration of biblical data. We are most unwise to try to continually reinvent the cetechetical wheel or to assume that we are more likely that our forebears to be faithful to Scripture.

Our antipathy toward philosophies and practices that emerged throughout church history (particularly with regard to pre-Reformation history) also betrays either a willful ignorance or profound naivete about the proper role of the historic church in shaping who we are as Bible people today. Whether we are speaking of the canon of Scripture, what constitutes biblical orthodoxy, what a Judeo-Christain ethic looks like, or why we worship in the ways that we do, there is almost no aspect of what we prize as biblical Christianity that has not been deeply affected by the centuries of church history that have preceded us. Indeed it may well be argued that purposeful inattention to the history of the church makes us far more likely to become unbiblical in some significant way (122).

Powerful and probing words. [The banner above is for the Heidelberg Catechism. For more information visit here.]

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What is Catechesis, and why do we need it? That is the question.

I’ve begun reading a new book by J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett called Grounded in the Gospel: Building believers the Old-Fashioned Way. And I must say, so far it has been a very welcome and refreshing read.  Although there are some parts where I would differ with the authors, on the whole it is very much a clarion call to the Evangelical Church to reevaluate its shallowness in doctrine and return to the hard labor of catechizing disciples (young and old) in the doctrinal truths of the Christian faith.

In the introduction, Packer and Parrett (hence forth P&P [I’m just kidding]) point out two underlying “obstacles” which face catechesis in Evangelical churches today.

First, we have the affects of a historical “turn away from external authority in Western culture.” Although arising out of the French (“anti-Catholic-church”) Revolution, this movement inevitably made its way to American churches (p. 10).

Second, we have a “resistance to authoritative instruction within the Christian community” (which is a “corollary of the first” problem). They write:

In Children’s and youth work across the board, today’s agenda is learning Bible stories rather than being grounded in truths about the Triune God. In group Bible studies generally, participants are led to look directly for personal devotional applications without first contemplating the writers’ points about the greatness, goals, methods, and mystery of God. In putting together Christian books and magazines for popular reading and in composing, preaching, hearing, and thinking about sermons, the story is the same: it is assumed that our reaction to realities is more significant than any of the realities to which we react (p.11).

This is exactly right. We end up attempting to make scripture relevant to ourselves or our audiences, rather than the opposite — seeing how we fit into God’s grander story of redemption.  Why teach children the catechism (which isn’t scripture anyway) when we can alternatively dare them be a Daniel? Rather than make them learn the (“boring”) doctrine about God, we should allow students to find their own significance from the bible — what the text means to them.

Talk about theological suicide! The authors continue:

Thus we learn to cultivate a bode of piety that rests upon a smudgy, deficient, and sometimes misleading conception of who and what the God we serve really is. Brought up on this, we now reflect the subjectivist turn of the Western thought-world of more than a century ago: personal guesses and fantasies about God replace the church’s dogma as our authority, a hermeneutic of habitual distrust and suspicion of dogma establishes itself, and dogma becomes a dirty word, loaded with overtones of obscurantism, tunnel vision, unreality, superstition, and mental enslavement (p. 11).

It’s important for us to realize the historical and philosophical context upon which we presently approach issues like catechesis.  More than we realize, as Americans we are drastically influenced by our preceding philosophical presuppositions about the church and the nature of truth and how it comes to us. This has huge implications on how we practice ‘church’ as well. Our authors conclude:

It would be quite unrealistic to expect a welcome for catechesis within such a context. We must expect to have to fight for a hearing in order to say what is on our hearts. It is countercultural not only in secular terms, but in church terms also. And so we expect to have a struggle on our hands, even with some whom we might otherwise count as friends (p. 12).

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That’s not a bad question. And yet I wonder how often it is that we may continue in our particular pattern of prayer without really having a strong understanding of this essential Christian practice. Why do we pray? What’s the purpose? What’s going on? What should we pray? How should we pray? Certainly there are many opinions and books on the topic.

However, I’ve been continuing my reading through the Heidleberg Catechism and have come to the section on prayer which I think is particularly enlightening and helpful.

When we find ourselves not sure what to pray (or even how), it’s comforting to be reminded that Christ, our Great High Priest, has already been asked this question while he was on earth, and has himself provided us with an explicit example. This is how far our Savior has condescended to anticipate our weakness and meet us in our very real need.

The Lord’s Prayer

Lord’s Day 45
116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us,1 and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who earnestly and without ceasing ask them of Him, and render thanks unto Him for them.2

1 Ps 50:14-15, 116:12-19; 1 Thes 5:16-18; 2 Mt 7:7-8, 13:12; Lk 11:9-13; Eph 6:18

117. What belongs to such prayer which is acceptable to God and which He will hear?
First, that with our whole heart1 we call only upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word,2 for all that He has commanded us to ask of Him;3 second, that we thoroughly know our need and misery,4 so as to humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty;5 third, that we be firmly assured6that notwithstanding our unworthiness He will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer,7 as He has promised us in His Word.8

1 Jn 4:22-24; 2 Rom 8:26; 1 Jn 5:14; 3 Ps 27:8; 4 2 Chron 20:12; 5 Ps 2:10, 34:18; Isa 66:2; 6 Rom 10:14; Jas 1:6; 7 Dan 9:17-18; Jn 14:13-16; 8 Ps 143:1; Mt 7:8; Lk 18:13

118. What has God commanded us to ask of Him?
All things necessary for soul and body,1 which Christ our Lord comprised in the prayer which He Himself taught us.

1 Mt 6:33; Php 4:6; Jas 1:17; 1 Pt 5:7

119. What is the Lord’s Prayer?
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.1

1 Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4

Lord’s Day 46
120. Why did Christ command us to address God thus: “Our Father?”
To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.1

1 Isa 63:16; Mt 7:9-11; Lk 11:11-13; 1 Pt 1:17

121. Why is it added: “Who art in heaven?”
That we might have no earthly thought of the heavenly majesty of God,1 and from His almighty power expect all things necessary for body and soul.2

1 Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-27; 2 1 Kgs 8:28; Ps 115:3; Mt 6:25-34; Rom 8:10:12, 31-32

Lord’s Day 47
122. What is the first petition?
“Hallowed be Thy name;” that is, grant us, first, rightly to know You, 1 and to hallow, magnify, and praise You in all Your works, in which Your power, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth shine forth;2 and further, that we so order our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds, that Your name may not be blasphemed, but honored and praised on our account.3

1 Ps 119:105; Jer 9:23-24, 31:33-34; Mt 16:17; Jn 17:3; Jas 1:5; 2 Ex 34:5-8; Ps 119:137, Ps 145; Jer 32:16-20; Lk 1:46-55, 68-75; Rom 11:33-36; 3 Ps 71:8, 16, 92:1-2, 100:3-4, 115:1; Mt 5:16; Eph 1:16-17

Lord’s Day 48
123. What is the second petition?
“Thy kingdom come;” that is, so govern us by Your Word and Spirit, that we submit ourselves to You always more and more;1 preserve and increase Your Church;2destroy the works of the devil, every power that exalts itself against You, and all wicked devices formed against Your Holy Word,3 until the fullness of Your kingdom come,4 wherein You shall be all in all.5

1 Ps 119:5, 105, 143:10; Mt 6:33; 2 Ps 51:18, 122:6-7; Mt 16:18; Acts 2:42-47; 3 Rom 16:20; 1 Jn 3:8; 4 Rom 8:22-23; Rev 22:17, 20; 5 Ps 102:12-13; 1 Cor 15:24, 28; Heb 12:28; Rev 11:15

Lord’s Day 49
124. What is the third petition?
“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven;” that is, grant that we and all men renounce our own will,1 and without gainsaying obey Your will, which alone is good;2so that every one may fulfill his office and calling as willingly and faithfully 3 as the angels do in heaven.4

1 Mt 16:24; 2 Mt 7:21, 16:24-26; Lk 22:42; Rom 12:1-2; Tit 2:11-12; 3 1 Cor 7:17-24; Eph 6:5-9; 4 Ps 103:20-21; Rom 12:2; Heb 13:21

Lord’s Day 50
125. What is the fourth petition?
“Give us this day our daily bread;” that is, be pleased to provide for all our bodily need,1 so that we may thereby acknowledge that You are the only fountain of all good,2 and that without Your blessing neither our care and labor, nor You gifts, can profit us;3 that we may therefore withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in You.4

1 Ps 104:27-30, 145:15-16; Mt 6:25-34; 2 Acts 14:17, 17:25-28; Jas 1:17; 3 Deut 8:3; Ps 37:3-7, 16-17, 127:1-2; 1 Cor 15:58; 4 Ps 55:22, Ps 62, Ps 146; Jer 17:1-8; Heb 13:5-6

Lord’s Day 51
126. What is the fifth petition?
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;” that is, be pleased, for the sake of Christ’s blood, not to impute to us miserable sinners our manifold transgressions, nor the evil which always cleaves to us;1 as we also find this witness of Your grace in us, that it is our full purpose heartily to forgive our neighbor.2

1 Ps 51:1-7, 143:2; Rom 8:1; 1 Jn 2:1-2; 2 Ps 51:5-7; Mt 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Eph 1:7

Lord’s Day 52
127. What is the sixth petition?
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;” that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment,1 and besides, our deadly enemies, the devil,2 the world,3 and our own flesh,4 assail us without ceasing, be pleased to preserve and strengthen us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we may make firm stand against them and not be overcome in this spiritual warfare,5 until finally complete victory is ours.6

1 Ps 103:14-16; Jn 15:1-5; 2 2 Cor 11:14; Eph 6:10-13; 1 Pt 5:8-9; 3 Jn 15:18-21; 4Rom 7:23; Gal 5:17; 5 Mt 10:19-20, 26:41; Mk 13:33; Rom 5:3-5; 6 1 Cor 10:13; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Thes 3:13, 5:23-24

128. How do you close this prayer?
“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever;” that is, all this we ask of You, because as our King, having power over all things, You are willing and able to give us all good;1 and that thereby not we, but Your holy name may be glorified for ever.2

1 Rom 10:11-13; 2 Pt 2:9; 2 Ps 115:1; Jer 33:8-9; Jn 14:13

129. What is the meaning of the word “Amen?”
“Amen” means: so shall it truly and surely be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard of God than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of Him.1

1 Ps 145:18-19; Isa 65:24; 2 Cor 1:20; 2 Tim 2:13

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