Catechizing: Grounded in Scripture

In the Old Testament we see God commanding older generations to raise up and teach the younger

Fathers are to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Indeed, young Timothy himself was taught at an early age the teachings of God’s word, which Paul says was used to bring him to faith in Christ (2 Tim. 3:15).

 

The act of catechizing, though somewhat foreign to the ears of modern evangelicals, was part of the regular diet of our early Christian forbearers. The word catechize comes from the Greek word katecheo simply meaning to teach, or instruct. In the Old Testament we see God commanding older generations to raise up and teach the younger generations those things God has revealed (see Deut. 6:6-7; 11:18-19; Psalm 1; 78:4-5; 119). Similarly, in the New Testament we see the same imperatives. Fathers are to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Indeed, young Timothy himself was taught at an early age the teachings of God’s word, which Paul says was used to bring him to faith in Christ (2 Tim. 3:15).

Catechizing is therefore concerned with teaching biblical truth. We see this in 1 Timothy 4:6 where Paul instructs Timothy to “put these things before the brothers… being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” Verse 7 gives us the result, that they will have trained themselves for godliness. Important to see is that tiny phrase found in verse 6, the faith. It’s most likely describing a body of recognized doctrine essential to the Christian faith, and it was this good doctrine with which Timothy was to “put before the brothers.” In other words, if someone were to ask Timothy “what exactly do you believe as a Christian”, Timothy wouldn’t answer by reading the Scriptures, beginning in Genesis and going right through to the end. His answer would need to be statements of good doctrine derived from Scripture; concise teaching about the truths of Scripture. It’s here where Christian catechizing finds its start.

Interestingly, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 intentionally uses a technical Greek word, paradidomi, meaning to deliver, to describe the manner in which Paul taught the church. He first commends them “because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). These traditions were established gospel-doctrine. Where did they come from? Well, a few verses later he says that he “received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” (1 Cor. 11:23). What becomes striking is that later in chapter 15 Paul, using the same technical word to deliver, gives us a summary of what these traditions, these doctrines were. He says, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Here then was the substance of Paul’s catechizing.

J.I. Packer comments in light of these passages that “we who worship the Lord today receive God’s word through the ministry of preachers and teachers and through our own reading and study of the Scriptures. Beyond the issue of how Paul received this instruction, however, is the simple but crucial fact that he received it. If ‘passing on’ or ‘delivering’ describes the catechetical process from the vantage point of the teacher or catechist, ‘receiving’ describes the same process from the vantage point of the disciple or catechumen. In fact, all who engage in the ministry of catechizing others are continually exercised in both directions – they pass on what they have received. Catechesis, then, is not concerned with novelty – certainly not in terms of content. It is concerned, rather, with faithfulness in both learning and teaching the things of God.” (J.I. Packer, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, 42).

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