As I continue through my mind dump on catechisms its time to address the serious topic. Let's address the dangers associated with churches and families adopting catechism instruction. [Note: What is about to transpire will border between scathing rhetoric and sentimental collapsing]
Our Theological Illiteracy Will Be Exposed
I wrote a while back about a passing joke that Alistair Begg made concerning MDiv students. He insinuated that a catechized 14 year old from Scotland would be more theologically prepared than an MDiv student from Southern Seminary (the "Reformed" bastion of the SBC). I say he joked. He was being quite serious. And he is quite right. The reality of "Christian education" in America is that it matches all our other education levels: it's poor. Seminary students are having to learn things they should have known before they were in high school (this helps explain the recent trend of seminary students rejecting Christianity in orthodox forms). Most adults have no idea what the language(s) the Bible was written in. Many don't know that orthodox Christianity teaches Christ remains in His glorified fleshly body. The Council of Chalcedon is forgotten amongst evangelicals and as such so is the important doctrine it taught (if you don't know what I'm talking about my point is made). We know who won American Idol, the Voice, Survivor, and who died on the latest NCSI (or said similar show) but we couldn't tell you whether a prophet went to the Northern or Southern tribes (a crucial insight for interpreting a prophet). Just go check out the "State of Theology" as provided by a recent poll conducted through Ligonier. No really, go look at the foundational doctrines that are slowly fading away. The church is illiterate.
Some might suggest that the church just needs to read their Bibles. I wish that were true. However, the church is not reading their Bibles in the first place because they don't understand it. And they don't understand it because Christianity and Biblical studies are not individualistic events. Sola Scriptura is not "read the Bible alone in your room and you'll get the right answer." Christianity and study of the Scriptures must be done in community. Learning together. Catechizing with one another. Being taught the truths of the faith by individuals who take the words of Paul seriously (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6). Everything contained in the orthodox faith (and many of our silly table discussions) have been addressed in these catechisms and studying them would only serve to reveal the illiteracy of parents, teachers, and pastors. For many this is simply too dangerous.
Our Laziness Will Be Exposed
This is no slam to Sunday School lesson publishers. There is a market for it and so they produce it. Even the slow return back to teaching straight from the Bible is a positive step, if these teachers remain orthodox. But before all of this, catechisms were used in churches and homes to provide the tools necessary for laymen to teach and be taught the full orb of orthodoxy. Expository teaching is valuable but it is limited. High level, systematic theology must be taught to guard the minds of the faithful. The parent who is unable to prepare for family worship need only to sit down read a catechism question, read the supporting verses, and explain what they can to their children. There is no lengthy study. There is no investigation of the original language or careful wording of your major points. It is essentially microwave orthodoxy. In a time when whole families worked to maintain a household, catechisms (and singing of the psalms) were the communicators of orthodoxy. The saints before us gave tremendous teaching materials in the form of catechisms and we often settle for television and cartoons to put us to sleep because study would be too much effort.
Families rightfully spend time preparing food each day. But when it comes to family worship are parents capable of even just sitting down and reading? Children's Sunday School teachers will prep all the craft supplies. The church will work tirelessly for fall festivals, etc. But where is the time spent on deep doctrinal literacy? Catechisms expose our laziness towards understand God from His word. Instead reading (studying) is declared "not practical" as if the mere experiencing of God feelings makes one a Christian. We need both. We can't be lazy towards either. However the catechism is only dangerous in revealing one.
We and Our Children Might Start Believing It
This might seem silly but hear me out (if you're even still reading). One of the major dangers of using a catechism is that we might actually be convinced by it and believe it. The common Baptist creed "no creed but the Bible" is well-meaning at heart but typically amounts to nothing more than glorified subjectivity and doctrinal pluralism. Many Christians claim to be "berean" when really we just want to vet every piece of doctrine to see if it's what "we believe." We never learn to submit ourselves to our churches (in principal then church hopping is the result of doctrinal disuse in churches). Now this doesn't mean we should just stay silent and not test doctrine against the Scriptures. We should do this. At the same time, unless we actually are ready to study the Scriptures (and submit to them completely), we should submit to the doctrine of the church in which we belong and faithfully confess these things to be true.
Or perhaps we'll trip over what's being taught to our children. Perhaps we'll wrinkle our noses or scoff at the doctrine. But they might actually believe it. Things could get awkward really fast. And yet this occurs even within dedicated Presbyterian homes that get influenced by evangelical "decision theology."
Q1. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
I am not in disagreement with this question. But I occasionally do wonder when my daughter will start to believe it. She knows it. She quotes it and applies it to her daily living (mostly when she is scared). In either case at some point it ceases to be merely head knowledge and becomes faith. I'm not really concerned about the timing. For some this might be concerning. I'll never seek a "decision for Christ" from Kenzie or Judah because I'm teaching them to believe and confess that they already belong to Christ. And their tiny little mouths utter it. Believing our catechisms might be dangerous.
Q34. Why do you call him “our Lord”?
not with gold or silver,
but with his precious blood—
he has set us free
from sin and from the tyranny of the devil,
and has bought us,
body and soul,
to be his very own.
It Might Impact Our Lives
Last week my wife's grandmother passed away. There was a type of funeral service for her that provided some very interesting interaction with Kenzie. Because of family worship and our study she can tell you that Christ died on the cross, that He didn't stay there but was buried. She can tell you that He didn't stay in the tomb but came back to life and that He didn't stay on earth but ascended into heaven to sit next to "God the Father Almighty." All pretty basic stuff that has been worked on organically as the opportunity has presented itself. This has resulted in us discussing death and what that means. But most recently she has been memorizing a catechism question of profound application,
Q45. How does Christ’s resurrection
A. First, by his resurrection he has overcome death,
so that he might make us share in the righteousness
he obtained for us by his death.
Second, by his power we too
are already raised to a new life.
Third, Christ’s resurrection
is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection.
She can actually quote the whole thing if you believe it. And last weekend got us to a place where we could utilize it. Our children were quite unaware of grave site etiquette. Laying down on top of stones and sitting on flower holders happened. I walked over to Kenzie and told her she was sitting on a flower holder. I pointed to the flowers that littered the cemetery and told her people bring flowers when they visit the graves of those who died. With tight little eyes Kenzie looked at me with consternation and said "because we all die. right daddy?" I responded in the affirmative and then I asked her, "but Kenzie, how does Christ's resurrection benefit us?"
"He has overcome death." "By his power we too are already raised to a new life." "Christ's resurrection is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection." When she was finished I asked Kenzie if Jesus stayed in the ground after He had died. She, knowing the flow, said "no" and I was able to respond, "Kenzie and neither will we."
Be careful. Catechisms will impact your life. Catechisms are dangerous.
Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.