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.

 

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.

 

February Bible Reading

Reading the Holy Scriptures is an adventure, we never know what the Holy Spirit will show us today. Being convicted to change our behaviour or attitude is perhaps a reason many people, including Christians, do not want to read their Bibles regularly. Since I made my 2017 resolution to read through the Bible I have fallen behind, way behind.

As I was reading last night, a question came to mind, one that many have asked in the past: am I ready for the sake of reading the Bible? Or am I reading for the sake of desiring to get closer to God? The latter was my ultimate new year’s resolution, and one that I continue to want to strive towards. This time round I will not give up. This year I will catch up and continue. I may fall behind again and again, but I shouldn’t allow that to discourage me. God doesn’t give up on His children, why should we ever give up getting to know Him on a personal level?

For those of you who are joining me in my reading in God’s Holy Word, here is February’s reading schedule.

 

Part 5a: Intro to Genesis

Interpreting Genesis

(The New American Commentary, vol. 1a, Genesis 1:1-11:26, pages 63-68)

There are many ways we can read the book of Genesis. Whether as fables, myths or stories of morality, we all see the tales differently if we approach Genesis with our preconceived notions. Genesis is a story of people interacting with the created world and its Creator. Interpreting any ancient text has its difficulty and the Old Testament is not exempt from this. Today we will look at several methods of interpretation. This includes how Jews and Christians have looked at it in the past and how scholars look at it today.

Many times we hear a story and we take its perceived understanding for granted, or we tend to disagree with it. Looking at Genesis 1-11 (creation to the flood and to Abraham’s father, Terah) we may not all agree on the deeper meaning of the text. Let this not hinder us from going In God’s Holy Word together. Let the Holy Spirit open our eyes and minds as we study “Interpreting Genesis”.

Next time we will be looking at the “Pentateuchal Criticism”.

Questions on the readings are coming soon.

Back to the Study

These past months have been busy with Christmas, New Year’s Day and work. With so much going on I have fallen behind in writing the study questions for “In God’s Holy Word” based on Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1a of the New American Commentary series. But that is all about to change.

As of this weekend (January 20-23) the plan is to get back into reading the commentary and taking notes. Where did we leave off? November 2, 2016 (click here for post) part 4a of the Intro to Genesis (click here for the study questions) was completed. Part 4b will be posted before the end of this month, which means most of my free time, as in days not working, will be spent on this endeavour and my other writing projects.

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