You may have seen some of my suggestions about using a catechism (with kids, as a crash course in theology, instead of just Bible teaching in Sunday School, or in the UMC) and thought the idea a bit odd. Using a catechism is pretty peculiar for most people.
When I began using the Echo catechism with a group it was admittedly awkward for a few weeks. In our group, I actually ask the questions aloud and have either the whole group or individuals recite the answers. That’s an unusual teaching method in the Church today, but I believe it has its place. I’ll share how we go beyond mere recitation in a future post.
When others hear we’re reciting a catechism, they ask if we’re just creating parrots. “Why not help people construct their own answers to these questions?”
A catechism assumes a different starting point. We don’t start with a bunch of individuals trying to figure out their faiths. We start with a Church that God birthed out of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.
That Church has a faith which was handed down by the apostles and through the Scriptures. When people come into the Church, they come into a community of faith that has established, common beliefs. We want to teach those beliefs clearly.
Once we teach our people common, concise language about the Church’s faith, I think they can then ask better and deeper questions about whether their faith matches the faith of the Church. They have a starting point for asking what this faith really means and what it requires.
Benefits of a Catechism
When we don’t begin with the Church’s faith, we spend more time on our own thoughts and guesses. It’s good to have space to think through things on our own, but it’s also good to have something with some authority to rely on.
Look at this passage from Sinclair Ferguson, explaining the importance of catechisms for understanding God’s guidance:
Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechised, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following:
Question: Where do we find God’s will?
Answer: In the Scriptures.
Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures?
Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.
Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question “What does God want me to do?” will be found by answering the question: “How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?”
This was quoted in the blog post “The Benefits of the Catechisms,” a good, humorous read if you have time.
In all, I believe a common catechism can be an excellent tool for learning, sharing, and teaching a common faith. The point isn’t to create parrots. It’s to allow the Church’s faith to form our own.