American evangelism today is rife with scandals, politics, moral failures, and a confused message. This is largely due to a failure of catechesis.
This is argued by James Ernest, editor-in-chief of WB Eerdmans, a leading Christian publishing house. In his article Evangelicalism in the USA: Discipleship Failure Owing To Catechsis Failure, he writes, referring to the forgotten part of the Great Commission (Matthew 16: 19-20), “For the past five decades or so, the evangelical church in the United States has failed to form its adherents into disciples.
The failure of discipleship is due to the failure of catechesis. “Catechesis” is the Latinized spelling of a Greek word that refers to teaching. . . The mission of the church (read again the end of the Gospel of Matthew) is to “make disciples, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”. This teaching is catechesis. . . New Christians must learn to observe, which means not only being aware of what Christ has done for them according to a particular doctrinal slogan, but becoming an observer in the sense of putting Christ first, before all other loyalty. Key elements of catechesis would include knowledge of scripture and doctrine and the practice of the sacraments and prayer, all in a way that eliminates all conflicting and competing gods, spirits and loyalties and enables a life of built-in faith. . . .
Christians do not automatically become faithful disciples. It is a difficult process, fueled by the Holy Spirit and deliberately encouraged, cultivated, by teachers and pastors, older sisters and brothers in the faith, according to inherited patterns. This is the meaning of catechesis. No catechesis, or inadequate catechesis, means people are not discipled, or their training is flawed.
Dr. Ernest goes on to cite three areas in which most evangelicals exhibit faulty catechesis:
(1) The Bible. Most evangelicals today hardly ever read the Bible and know little about how to study or apply it.
(2) Doctrine. Most evangelicals also know little about doctrine, what Christians have always believed, and what their own church traditions have always believed. For example, all theological trends in Christianity – Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Pietist – have a lot to say about how Christians should deal with politics and other challenges of life in the world, and yet Christians today seem oblivious to them.
(3) Pray. American Christians pray very little today, and when they do, it is often very different from biblical prayer, which includes soul-searching and repentance. Dr. Ernest points out that Christians today often devote a great deal of their energy to maintaining how innocent they are, rather than acknowledging their sinful state and their need for Christ’s forgiveness.
I think Dr Ernest is right, and I invite you to read his article. I would add however that, in order to have an effective catechesis, it is useful to have a catechism in fact.
I’m not saying this to brag that we Lutherans have a really good one, the Little Catechism, which is perhaps Luther’s greatest writing. Calvinists have their Westminster Catechism and their Heidelberg Catechism, just as, of course, Catholics and other Protestant traditions have catechisms somewhere in their history. But most of today’s evangelicals have no catechism.
Dr Ernest speaks of catechesis more broadly, and he is right to do so. Even those churches with catechisms are insufficient in the areas he describes. But I would say that part of the problem he documents comes from most evangelical churches having no specific, well-defined theology they can teach.
Much of the evangelical church is “non-denominational,” and even many that are affiliated with a larger church body imitate non-denominational churches by downplaying doctrinal distinctions and allowing their members to believe, with a few exceptions. almost, pretty much anything. They want. This is linked to another trait, the extreme individualism of evangelical piety. Again, individuals – being filled with the Holy Spirit, with the right to interpret the Bible themselves, and with the assumption that Christianity is all about the relationship between them and Jesus – will tend to believe, within certain limits, anything and live as they want.
Now to their credit the evangelicals to do believe in the bible and to do believe in Jesus and his importance in salvation. These are immense and definitive convictions of faith. And they serve as a bulwark against the worst manifestations of disbelief.
But theology is useful, especially in times of trial, when your faith is called into question, when new problems arise and it is not clear how to deal with them. That is, at times like today. While it is true that theology has been reduced to an academic discipline, Church theology at its best provides guidance, shaped by historical experience and by the in-depth study of Scripture by many Christians, on the depths of Christian spirituality and on how to live this faith. in the world.
It is possible for Baptists to believe in the believer’s “only sufficiency” to interpret Scripture, and for Pentecostals to believe in the illumination of the Holy Ghost without abandoning theology. In fact, there are Baptist and Pentecostal catechisms. These could be dusted off.
Or, if that’s too much to ask, here’s a broader understanding of Sunday school. Technically, I am told, the term “catechism” referred to the the texts which were the foundation of Christian education: the Ten Commandments, the Symbol of the Apostle and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as other texts considered essential by the particular theological tradition (for Lutherans these included the biblical passages on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Vocation). The question-and-answer format is a means of education catechism, an application of the teaching technique in classical education known as dialectics.
So if you are non-denominational, start with an in-depth study of the Ten Commandments, which will give you and those you teach a framework for biblical ethics. If you cannot use the credo, which states the facts which are the basis of Christian faith, tinkering with an equivalent of the Bible, using, for example, the first chapters of the Gospel of John and the first chapters of Romans. Then immerse yourself in the riches of the Our Father, which teaches our relationship with God and the practice of prayer.
Then if you want to go into the evidence texts for the particulars of your church, whether it’s salvation or the Holy Ghost or good works, or whatever. (Note that your church has at least one implicit theology after all.)
And lest you think that such a catechesis is only a “head knowledge”, consider how the Word of God creates faith in the heart, which in turn bears the fruit of love. for our neighbor. And also provokes prayer.
See, for example, Praying for the Little Catechism by John Pless on how the Short Catechism is to be used not only as a collection of doctrines, but also as an instrument of prayer, spiritual growth, and Christian living. (To order directly from CPH, go here.)
And lest we think that catechisms are only meant to teach children and new Christians, consider what Luther says in the Preface to the Great Catechism, another more extensive catechism that we have:
I am also a doctor and a preacher, yes, as educated and experienced as can be any who has such presumption and such security; yet I act like a child who is taught the Catechism, and every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Our Father, the Psalms, etc. And I still have to read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but I have to remain a child and a catechism student, and I am happy to remain that way.
HT: Chris Gehrz, another blogger from Patheos. Read his article on the subject.
Illustration: “The Catechism Lesson” by Jules-Alexis Muenier (1890), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons