Why Should Churches Use Catechisms?

Nearly twenty years ago when I was preparing to get baptized I went through baptism classes. During those classes we went through a catechism. My church linked baptism and catechism together, but this does not have to be the norm. Apart from my experience, what reasons do (or should) churches today have to study a catechism? Why should we go through an age-old tradition?

Or a better question is: Why are churches not using catechisms? And what effect does this lack have on the congregations?

I cannot answer this for every church or denomination. I can only answer according to what I have seen within the Christian communities that I have been part of over the past decade. Before we can dive into the importance of catechism studies we need to know what its purpose is.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as (emphasis added):
1. A summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for religious instruction.
1.1 (in Roman Catholic use) religious instruction in general.
1.2 A series of fixed questions, answers, or precepts used for instruction.

Synonyms include: “system of belief, set of principles, statement of beliefs, profession of faith”. (Definitions and synonyms taken from OxfordDictionaries.com).

Here is my answer to “what effect does this lack have on the congregations?”

The patterns that I have seen within today’s churches truly terrifies me. The lack of Bible knowledge and therefore the lack of theological knowledge. God’s Holy Word is our primary source of God communicating to us as His people. If we want to hear what God has to say then we need to read what He has to say. But where in the Bible do we start? Everyone has his/her own answer to this. And for believers it is different than for soon-to-be-believers.

A Christian catechism is a series of questions concerning many aspects of Christian theology (i.e.: what we believe about certain topics as the Bible lays them out). While a catechism will never get a Christian to read through the entire Bible, it does help us understand in simple terms what the Scriptures say about God, creation, sin, redemption, etc.

Why should churches use catechisms? First of all, a proper catechism lays out the questions according to themes or theological concepts. Secondly, a catechism can assist leaders and learners in studying Christian beliefs more effectively. And lastly, a catechism is rooted in Scripture, with a Bible reference backing up each and every answer.

Recently I came across a new catechism for Evangelical Christians, The New City Catechism. This specific catechism is perfect for churches or denominations that do not already have their own catechisms. It is “a modern-day resource aimed at helping children and adults alike learn the core doctrines of the Christian faith via 52 questions and answers.”

What resources does your church use to teach the basics of Christian beliefs? How can studying a catechism change your church? How can it change your life as a true, Bible believing, Christian?

 

Genesis 1-11, Cultural Context

Genesis is thousands of years before our present. The first major sections (chapters 1-11) has next to no information of their culture. From the passages we can gleam that they had a civilization, society, art, and metal work (Genesis 4:21-22). Apart from what the Bible tells us we know nothing of how their day-to-day life was before the flood.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, ESV).

How is this an aspect of culture? Culture is the worldview of a people group: how they think, what they believe, and how they behave is respect to the world around them. The culture is the primeval world was filled with evil. To be honest it was not that different than later biblical periods or even compared to our age. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 21:25b. The original audience of the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) knew all too well how rebellious people can be, even when they had the blessing of seeing God at work before their eyes. Half of the kings of Judah and all of the kings of Israel had led their people into evil.

The cultural context here is one that repeats throughout human history: sin and judgement.

When we get to Exodus we will look at the cultural context of the original audience as we study the contexts of their own stories found in Exodus through Deuteronomy.

 

The Bible Project

This month my church (during evening services) is going back to the basics of studying the Bible. We are watching a video series on Old Testament Survey, as presented by Dr Kevin Peacock. The series is very much like an online college course, without the academic textbook reading or the writing and research assignments.

Last week the website The Bible Project was mentioned and my pastor looked into it. And yesterday he showed two clips from the site on Genesis (chapters 1-11 and 12-50). The clips are interesting and informative. As each major aspect of the book is talked about, they are drawn out and demonstrate how each one is connected to the others.

This is definitely a resource that I fully intent to use as we continue studying the context of the God’s Holy Word.

Take a look at The Bible Project. I’d love to hear what your thoughts on it are.

Genesis 1-11, Historical Context

The beginning of the Bible (creation) is difficult to pinpoint the exact years of the events. Finding a timeline that will lay this out is difficult to find. Most scholars (biblical or secular) label Genesis 1-11 as primeval history or pre-history. Some study Bibles and academic textbooks do not dare to place a year for this portion of the Bible.

When did God create “the heavens and the earth”? The simple answer is “in the beginning”. This will be the starting point of our biblical timeline, which will be represented by the abbreviation AC (after creation).

We will be going along with the BC-AD tradition of there being no year zero. With that in mind Genesis 1:1-2:25 occurs in the year 1 AC. Genesis 5 and 10 cover hundreds of years between major events in God’s redemptive story. When we study those chapters we will be looking at the AC timeline in more detail.

Whether Genesis was written or compiled is beside the point. At some point in history the book came about and was passed down through the generations until it reached us today. There is evidence that Genesis was edited sometime after the conquest of the Promise Land (more on this later).

Putting that aside for now, let us look at who tradition claims is the human author of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch. Moses, the lawgiver, was given the task of recording God’s message to the Israelites. Tradition holds that Genesis was part of the message that God wanted to give to His people. This also answers the questions of where (location), when (general date), to whom (original audience), and why (reason) Genesis was written.

With Moses as the author the location was Mount Sinai, the year was 1446 or 1445 BC[1], and the original audience was the twelve tribes of Israel. The reason for the composition of Genesis was to tell the Israelite their history of where they came from, how they got to be in Egypt and why Yahweh had chosen them and why He brought them out of slavery and into the Promise Land.

(The above information goes for entire book of Genesis.)

There is another reason for Genesis 1 and 2, and that is God. In fact it answers the question “Who do you worship?” or “What type of god is God?” He is different than all the gods around the Israelites, a God who does not need to do battle with monsters or slay other gods in order to create the world, this is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He speaks and it is so. Genesis 1 demonstrates the unimaginable power that Yahweh holds.

The purpose of Genesis is to begin telling the story of God and His interactions with His creation, especially humanity. A story of love and redemption that “may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7b, HCSB).


Footnotes:

[1] Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook, 2012. Page 29.

Prayer Challenge Eighty-Four

DEVOTIONAL: For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, ESV.

CHALLENGE: Praying disciples are not perfect disciples; they are obedient disciples. Watching the news or reading the headlines from around the world we see that evil is everywhere and is only getting worse. We cannot stand on the sidelines and expect the next Christian “prayer warrior” to fight the battle with prayer. We cannot allow our pastors or ministers to wage the war on behalf of his congregation alone. As the Apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of flesh but of divine power…” (emphasis added). As Christians we are disciples, as disciples we are in the spiritual war together.

The Holy Spirit equips us to fight, and our weapon is prayer. Praying with authority is the greatest weapon the enemy fears. J. Oswald Sanders describes prayer as the “most formidable and potent in our conflict with ‘the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12).”

What gives us the power to pray with authority? The Scriptures can help. But above all, a relationship with our Lord and Saviour and a faith that He will do what He says He will do. What is standing our your way of praying with authority to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12a)?

God’s Holy Word, In Context

Keeping the Bible in context is not necessarily an easy task to do, for we are thousands of years removed from when they were originally written. We will be using contexts to examine each passage of God’s Holy Word: historical, cultural, literary, theological and personal. For most of the Books of the Bible these will be looked at in umbral terms, meaning the context does not change from chapter to chapter. While other contexts will be examined passage to passage, depending how the story or section is divined.

For this study you will need a Bible commentary, a study Bible, and/or other reference material. Personally, I favour the New American Commentary for two reasons: 1. I have half the series in my personal library, and 2. it is a good balance of in depth word-study format and easy to read for laypersons. It does not matter which commentary or commentaries you use, the information we will examine should be found in most is not all series.

Last June, in the post “Keeping God’s Holy Word in Context“, we briefly looked at the contexts as layout by Dr George Guthrie in his study Read the Bible for Life, (published by LifeWay). We will look at what each type of context means, plus I will briefly explain what you can expect in regards to each context.

  1. Historical Context – This is regarding the history of the events in the passage and of its writing. This includes the timeline of events as it relates to the rest of the Bible and today; the original audience, (traditionally excepted) author, place and time of writing; and the world in and around the place in the passage. I will post several timelines in these sections: AC (After Creation), BC & AD (Before Christ & Anno Domini),  and BP (Before Present).
  2. Cultural Context –  This context is related to historical context in that it not information that we can necessarily get out of the passage itself, but we need to look at the broader picture of archeological finds and other texts from the era in which it was written. This includes things like: the social structure, practices, politics, home life, communal life, even what they believed and why.
  3. Literary Context – While each book of the Bible is found in a specific section does not mean that it is necessarily similar to the other texts in the same section. For example: the book of Lamentations is found in the section Major Prophets but it is poetic lament over the fall of Jerusalem. Similarly, a passage within a book can be a different literary genres. Each passage (or group of passages) will be examined in light of its literary genre, the genre of the book, and the section of the Bible the book is found in. Patterns, and repeated words or phrases, will also look at for they give us a hint at what is important in the passage, what the author wants to convey to the original readers/hearers.
  4. Theological Context – This one is linked to the previous context. Each passage in God’s Holy Word is filled with theological truths. Several major categories of truths are: God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation. How the passage fits in with the “Big Picture” of the rest of the Bible and how it fits in with God’s redemptive story are essential aspects we need to discuss before we can look at the application of the passage.
  5. Personal Context – Bringing the message home is what all true Christians desire. The trick here is to examine the first four contexts before looking at ourselves. One statement that I have heard over the years is “Reading the Bible is like reading someone else’s mail”. While this is true we should never allow it to hinder us from reading and studying the Holy Scriptures that have been passed down to us for the millennia. Instead of reading the Bible through the lens of our twenty-first century culture and norms, instead of looking for what we want the passage to say, we need to prayerfully look at the passage for what the Holy Spirit wants us to see in light of the above contexts.

Remember, the Old Testament was first the Holy Bible of the pre-Christ Jewish communities in Egypt, the Levent and ancient Babylon and Persia. Along with the New Testament, the Holy Bible first belonged to the early Church. The books of the Bible were first written for them. But it is still God’s Holy Word for us today.

The Study: Update

Over the past many months I’ve been reading and posting on the introduction to Genesis 1-11, based on the New American Commentary, volume 1A. There are over 100 pages of information on various academic fields on the background of Genesis and how we got the version we have now.

This coming month this study will be looking at the various types of context that we looked at last summer. The format of “In God’s Holy Word: The Study” will look different than what it has been so far. Questions will be posted with the idea being that anyone should be able to use any commentary series and/or and study Bible to find the contextual answers. Applying the Scriptures to a personal level will be based on the contexts and personal conviction.