Exploring Catechism

If you are interested in a tool for teaching that has been in use almost as long as the New Testament church has been, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way (J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett) is a great resource.

As a member of a Southern Baptist church I once recommended that we explore the use of catechisms in teaching the church’s children. You would have thought that I had suggested shrinking the heads of our deceased members and putting them on poles in the tea parlor. Yes, we had a “tea parlor.” I know.

Since that time even Baptist catechisms have enjoyed a bit of resurgence in interest. Packer and Parrett point out that almost all Christian denominations have made use of the catechism — a series of questions and answers — to instruct both children and adults in the fundamental tenets of the faith.

Packer and Parrett propose a pyramid diagram to understand the teaching function in the church.

Four levels culminate in the One Focus of our teaching: the proclamation of Christ. The second level of the pyramid is what the authors refer to as the essentials of a teaching and catechetical ministry: the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the two sacraments (ordinances). Most of the Christian church has used this four-fold method to devise their catechisms.

The authors suggest that though churches today might not use catechisms in an exact question-answer format, we should explore the possibility of grounding our teaching in those four essentials.

Part of this instruction would be to teach our members to distinguish the significance of various doctrines. Christian Consensus includes those doctrinal matters that make us Christian and others not. Evangelical Essentials further distinguish between evangelical Christians and others. Denominational Distinctives are those things that separate one denomination from another, such as the mode of baptism. And Congregational Commitments are those things that a particular congregation chooses for itself.

Part of the difficulty posed by contemporary methods of instruction in the church is that they are sporadic and are not unified to achieve a certain teaching goal. Employing a method like that suggested by Packer and Parrett — even if the catechism form is not used — might help to achieve better results in our instruction.

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