“The catechisms are excellent tools to focus like a scope of a rifle. They give us clearer insight into who we are, who God is, how we respond, and how to live life with others. Because of the many faithful pastors who have gone before us, we have at our disposal a collection of confessional, rich, and succinct declarations of our God and our faith.”
Many Christians have a hard time knowing how to make “gospel” and “discipleship” stick in our personal lives and relationships. We’re called to be disciples who make disciples, but how? In our desperate search to answer this profound question, we devote books, studies, podcasts, and resources to uncover how we live this out.
In his short and powerful book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, Ray Ortlund champions one pivotal idea: “Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture.” Ortlund concisely demonstrates that the Christian life is founded on the truths of our faith, which then become the lifeblood for our relationships. Therefore, our discipleship efforts and relationships must converge with the foundation of our faith. Thankfully, we’ve had many faithful men and women in our generation labor to help us. But in our search for fresh answers to this question sometimes we forget time tested resources.
What is a Catechism?
A catechism is a collection of theological questions and answers. They are meant for instruction and teaching. Although many evangelicals who are unfamiliar with catechisms might associate this practice with the Roman Catholic Church, many Protestant traditions have gospel rich catechisms waiting to be re-discovered Studying a catechism might seem dated, laborious, and overwhelming for many Christians today. This may be the likely reason they aren’t a part of our regular worship and study of God. It’s important to note here the various benefits of catechisms, and how easy it is to make them the “glue” for the gospel in our pursuit of a life of discipleship.
The catechisms are excellent tools to focus like a scope of a rifle. They give us clearer insight into who we are, who God is, how we respond, and how to live life with others. Because of the many faithful pastors who have gone before us, we have at our disposal a collection of confessional, rich, and succinct declarations of our God and our faith. They are devices for Christian use that make doctrine and culture gospel-centered. Here are six reasons why catechism make “gospel” and “discipleship” stick.
1. Putting Words to Beliefs
Oftentimes one of the pitfalls in explaining your doctrines to another person is trying to figure out how to put words to what you believe. That seems backwards, but out of fear of incorrectly describing or using too technical language, we often become complacent with “I don’t know.” Certainly admitting what you don’t know is appropriate, but it should be our exception, not the norm. Catechisms “do the talking for us,” helping us describe in succinct, clear, and assured words what we believe. Personally, this was a huge factor that drew me to using catechisms. Instead of having to create my own evangelistic tract or discipleship program, I could walk someone through a catechism like Q&A2 from the Heidelberg Catechism. In this question we learn the three necessities of the gospel: man’s sin, Christ’s redemption, and our response, with a slew of verses for support. As our culture grows more post-Christian by the day, we must hold fast our beliefs and have the appropriate language for them. Catechisms are not the source of truth but they can give us structure to speak about it.
2. Connecting Scripture to Doctrine
While the doctrines we hold should be based on the whole of Scripture, the great advantage of familiarizing ourselves with catechisms is that it gives us immediate and clear support for our beliefs from Scripture. This does wonders not only for our personal relationship with God’s Word, but it helps us in apologetic and doctrinal discussions with those who ask us questions. For example, say a Catholic friend of yours asks you how many sacraments you believe in. You remember the Heidelberg Catechism question 68 is devoted to this subject. Not only does it give us the answer (“Two: holy baptism and the holy supper”), but it also gives us passages under this answer as Scriptural support (Matt. 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Divorcing Scripture from our beliefs is dangerous practice; likewise, uniting these two as often as we can help us stay grounded in the Word and able to make a clear defense (1 Pt. 3:15) for our faith.
3. Helping Readers to Interpret
Few people want to spend the time going through a seminary-level hermeneutics class to learn principles for better Bible study. A great place to start in our search for better Bible interpretation is a catechism. Because of this connection to Scripture, we are aided greatly in how to summarize key Biblical texts. We start to see how Scripture not only supports, but relates to our thoughts. Associating ourselves with catechetical thinking will help us approach further Scripture reading with the same interpretative ideas.
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