PARENTING: Introducing New City Catechsim

Introducing New City Catechsim
Posted on October 11, 2010  in Blog, Parenting, Theology

If you missed this week’s Sunday School class here’s an abbreviated version of what Pastor Sean covered.  Make sure and read to the end because there’s something you need to do!
 
What is Catechism?
 
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
If you knew the answer to that question before you read the answer, it’s likely because you were catechized as a child or youth.  Depending on your background, the word catechism may mean different things.  It may evoke fond memories for one; strong opinions of opposition for another; the boredom of rote memorization for another; or, no reaction whatsoever.
As for origins of Catechism, our English word actually comes directly from a New Testament Greek word, katacheo, which means: to share a communication with; to teach, instruct.  The overtones of the word give a weight and solemnity to the instruction being given.
As far as definitions go, here are a couple of good ones:
“Our coming to know who and whose we are…our learning to be followers of the Incarnated One.”
This one is from is from Gary Parrett and J.I. Packer:
Catechesis is the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight.
Why should we engage in Catechism?
 
Historical Perspective:
 
Shortly after the writing of the New Testament, catechism was established and used by the church between the 2nd and 5th centuries.  Losing its way in the Dark Ages during the coming together of the church and the state, it was championed again during the Reformation by familiar names: Martin Luther and John Calvin.
In 1558 we have a letter from John Calvin that includes the following:
“Believe me, Monseigneur, the church of God will never be preserved without catechesis.”
As catechism grew under the influence of such men during the years of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic church began to see the significance of its influence and produced their own catechisms to teach their own people. As a result of its effectiveness, catechism became normal practice in the church.
In fact, as Tim Keller points out in the introduction to New City Catechism, “most people today do not realize that it was once seen as normal, important, and necessary for churches to continually produce new catechisms for their own use.”
At the very least we owe it to ourselves to take a look back towards a method that has been put to use and has borne fruit at different times in the church to address significant problems today.
If not, we may well be exhibiting the same attitude as those in Judah to whom God spoke these words through the prophet Jeremiah:
Thus says the LORD:
“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
But they said, “We will not walk in it.” – Jeremiah 6:16
 
Biblical Precedent:
 
In Joshua 4, immediately following the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land, after 40 years of wandering in the desert, the LORD commands Joshua to set up 12 stones as a reminder of what had just happened.  We read this in verse 20:
And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.  And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do those stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’
As a father of a very inquisitive three year old, as all children are at that age and older, the following is a really easy scene to conjure up in the mind.
You’re walking along by the banks of the Jordan with your little boy.  Out of the corner of your eye you can see that out of the corner of his eye, he sees a very delicious pile of rocks that he would take great delight in climbing.
Before you can stop him he darts off, and you catch up just in time to make sure he doesn’t manage to clamber over these stones that Joshua set up at Gilgal.  As you begin to explain that these aren’t just any old rocks (to a very disappointed young boy), the inevitable question comes: what kind of stones are they?  You give him the answer: the stones are here to remind us that Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.  Keeping with the inquisitive mind of a child, you can anticipate the next question: how?
The answer is in v. 23: For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over.
Ohhh.  You see the wheels turning, and you know what’s coming.  The next question.  Why?  Why’d God do it, dad? v. 24: So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.
So don’t climb the rocks, ok son?
It’s catechism, circa 1400 BC.
Other Old Testament passages providing us a rich foundation for this grounding and growing of the next generation, including Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Deuteronomy 11:1-7 and Psalm 78:1-7.
If we don’t fulfill our responsibility to pass on the Gospel to the next generation, as the psalmist tells us, the consequences are dire.  We’ll raise, as Asaph continues in Psalm 78:8: a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
That’s what happened in Judges 2.  After Joshua and his generation died, we read in vv. 10-14:
And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.  And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.  And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.  They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them.  And they provoked the LORD to anger.  They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.  So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel…
How did they not know the LORD and His deeds?  Obviously they had never been taught…
Moving into the New Testament, there are also a whole host of words associated with katacheo, including: teaching, doctrine, and tradition.
It’s what Luke wrote to Theophilus.  It’s Apollos who was instructed in the way of the Lord.  It’s Paul writing in 1 Corinthians about the Lord’s supper: what I received from the Lord (through some sort of instruction) I passed on to you, through formal instruction!
It’s the fulfillment of the Great Commision to make disciples and teach them all Jesus commanded.  It’s entrusting the gospel through instruction to faithful men who will turn around and teach it to others.
And not surprisingly, it’s about walking worthy of the gospel.  How can we do that if we don’t know it?
How can we boldly stand for the faith of the gospel against opposition if all we have in our noggins are a few Bible stories, Genesis 1:1 and John 3:16?
How will it cause us to live in such a way that we blaze for the hope of the gospel in a dark world?
And what will we sacrifice out of love for the gospel if our understanding extends no farther than: Jesus died for my sins so I can go to heaven when I die?
Contemporary Need:
 
During the Ezra Institute Leaders Round Table Day Pastor Greg and I attended, we heard the following: It takes a whole Bible to preach a whole Gospel to make a whole Christian.
That’s what we need in our day: whole Christians.
It is the contention of Garrett and Packer in their book on catechism, as well as Tim Keller, that “because we have lost the practice of catechesis today, “Superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living – career-wise, community-wise, family-wise, and church-wise – are all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today.”
We heard about the recent survey that tells us our young adults are hemorrhaging faith.  Our youth are pressed in hard by a culture aggressively pushing tolerance.  Christians are questioning and concluding that homosexuality is not sinful in God’s sight.  There’s a dangerous anti-intellectualism towards our faith.  Here’s a quotation from Don Carson:
“The most dangerous seedbed for intellectual rebellion is a home where faith is sentimental and even anti-intellectual, and where opponents are painted as ignorant knaves, because eventually our children discover that there are some really nice people who are atheists and agnostics, and they can present arguments in sophisticated, gentle, and persuasive fashion.”
We’ve heard it over and over again: the church in North America is three thousand miles wide and half an inch deep.
I’m not even sure we’re playing defense right now, when we should be playing offense.
What’s the answer?  Alongside rigorous Bible study, expository peaching, I believe, with others: a return to what Packer calls old fashioned disciple making.
Thus: New City Catechism.  Which, as you’ll see, is something old made accessible in a new way.
 
Purposes of Catechism:
 
Why catechism?  If the above is not convincing enough, here’s what it aims to accomplish:
To set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel.  Is that something we need today?  Absolutely.
To address and counteract heresies, errors, and false beliefs.  Is that something we need today?  Absolutely.
To form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflects the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.  Is that something we need today?  More than you know.
 

Vision for HBC:
 
How would I like to use it?  Where would I like to use this?  Everywhere.  I’d love for all ages, from 5-85 to be learning this together.  I’d love to see what that would do to our community.  I’d love for kids in Awana to be learning the same truths as seniors at St. Luke’s.  I’d love for prayer groups to spend some time learning these answers together, and asking each other the questions to make sure we have it down.
I’d love to embark on this together as a church, and at the start of every service for a year, ask the question and have young and old and everyone in between answer.  I’d love to see us take joy and delight in our learning about our God together, and seeing how the gospel transforms our lives as individuals and as a church.
I’d love to stand before a room full of teenagers and ask them what justification was and them be able to tell me.  I’d love to embed into the mind of a 5 year old why we needed a Redeemer who was both fully man and fully God.
I can’t speak to you enough about the potential this has.
 
What I’m asking you do to:
 
I want you to explore New City Catechism.  I want you to print the booklet (see below) and take a good look.  Browse the website and interact with the tool provided to help us engage in catechism (again, see below). Memorize the first three Q/A’s and see how it makes you think and what it makes you think about.
Introduce it to your family, to your kids if you have any.  Use it in your family devotions.  I say this only to communicate how much value I place on this, I’m already using it with my own son, and will continue to do so.  I can give no greater commendation than as a father using it to teach his own children.
As you explore it, please give me some feedback.  Let me know what you think.  Call me, email me, talk to me, facebook me.  It doesn’t really matter how, just go to town and throw something my way.  Let’s explore it with the intent of starting something together as an entire church for an entire year, and see what God will do.
 
Click here to start exploring!
Click here to download the New City Catechism Booklet!

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