Monday 6 May 2013

Catechising was a Puritan Passion; is it ours today?

Catechising, you may say, what is that? The very word catechise and what it entails in its most basic form is a forgotten art in many parts of evangelicalism. In the history of the church, Christian ministers have sought to wisely pass on the content of the faith using set forms such as the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. The puritan movement not only continued this pattern but excelled. Why? It was because the British puritans lamented the lack of Christian knowledge in their own day and they took Christian discipleship very seriously.

Catechising was fundamental to the wider reformed movement across Europe. Luther and Calvin had their catechisms, the production of reformed confessions laid down the content of the faith to be passed on to Christians and at the time of the Westminster Assembly in England there were dozens of catechisms in use across England. Every was catechising their children and congregations, it seemed. Could the same be said today?

One minister was a "prince of catechisers" among the puritans, it was Thomas Watson. His three books entitled: The Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments and The Lord's Prayer are an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. However, these books did not emerge out of desire for an author to simply write books. Watson writes: "I intend every other Sabbath, in the afternoon, to make it my whole work to lay down the grounds and fundamentals of religion in a catechistical way" (Body of Divinity, p 5). Watson also believed: "Catechising is the best expedient for the grounding and settling of people ... to preach and not to catechise is to build without foundation. The way of catechising is not novel, it is apostolic" (Body of Divinity, p 5).

We need to recover the lost art of catechising adults and children. We have the materials already in the Westminster Larger and Smaller Catechisms, we just need ministers to teach them and heads of households to use them in family worship. Let us allow the apostle Paul to have the last word. Paul wrote to Timothy: "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

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