Some groups that are planting churches are neglecting catechism. This is true in churches where baptisms are performed before candidates understand what baptism means. It is common also in missionary work where various methods of teaching allow members to continue practicing questionable aspects of their former religions. New methods such as Church- Planting Movements (CPM) and Disciple-Making Movements (DMM) include some efforts in the right direction but fall short of what has historically been considered a proper preparation for a fruitful Christian life. In this article, I would like to review some aspects of catechism which I call “engines” to affect true understanding of the biblical teachings necessary to empower the Christian life.
First of all, catechism is not a bad word. It means to sound out or sound down and it seems to be a Greek word constructed to describe oral teaching. From early days, some forms of oral teaching have been a practice of the church to teach doctrine in a systematic way. The famous Westminster Catechism illustrates a question and answer format, which is usually thought of as typical of the catechism. For example, “Q. What is the chief end of man? A. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever!” Something important about the nature of man and God is stated in this question and answer. A worldview factor emerges. Enjoying God is a worldview not held by other religions.
Clement (150-215 AD) who was the second head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria is considered the great mind that spurred the understanding of biblical doctrine by explaining worldview aspects such as that man is made in the image of God, that he has free will, that justice is an aspect of God’s perfect love, and that atonement is the revelation of God’s mercy. Early church fathers like Clement created the dialogue that explained much of biblical theology and worldview to the common man. Catechism structure came out of their exegesis.
Hymnody has been an engine of catechism
Early church leaders in England understood the importance of catechism. In the 19th Century a number of Christian leaders like Emily Elliot, Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, and Samuel John Stone developed hymns that would explain various aspects of the catechism in song. These hymns became an engine of catechism for all believers. Emily Elliott (1864) wrote “Thou didst leave Thy Throne” to clarify meaning of Advent and Nativity to children with two verses for Jesus’ birth, and one each for his life, his death, his second coming.
Other hymnists concentrated on the Apostle’s Creed as an engine of catechism. Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander created Hymns for Little Children- 1848 to explain the Apostle’s Creed to her students. Her work is an example of the way in which catechetical helps have been created for use in the church. They not only amplify doctrine but they reflect the biblical worldview that underlies it. She penned All Things Bright and Beautiful to explain the phrase, “Maker of heaven and earth.” She wrote, Once in Royal David’s City to teach about our Lord who was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Another example is: There is a Green Hill Far Away. This was written for the phrase, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
Another writer was Samuel John Stone Curate of Windsor who wrote Lyra Fidelium; Twelve Hymns of the Twelve Articles of the Apostle’s Creed (published by Messrs. Parker and Co., London, 1866). One of the modern church’s favorite hymns, is “The Church’s One Foundation,” which was taken from this book to illustrate the phrase “…the Holy Catholic Church: the communion of the saints…”
Engines of Catechism for unreached people groups
Just as early hymn writers in the English tradition created engines for catechism, workers among the unreached peoples need to consider new ways to teach biblical doctrine. It is seldom that an unreached people would create hymnody which could be used like the previous examples. So other ideas have to be developed for use among them.
One example is a leadership-training program developed in Indonesia for church leaders among an unreached people. The candidates are instructed in various aspects of ethics and biblical character traits using Bible stories where worldview is embedded. An attempt was made to correlate as many of these stories as possible with theological categories. I can’t relate all of the categories and Bible verses because there are more than 72 theological topics with nearly 100 passages of the Bible that illustrate them. Worldview teachings for all the themes were constructed so that the candidates for leadership would struggle with the incompatibility of biblical doctrine with their local cultural belief system and their formal Islamic worldview. These bible studies are powerful engines of catechism.
It is important that the candidates for leadership do not remain in the confusion of Islamic doctrine or local animistic belief. This training module encouraged them in their movement out of these faith systems rather than allowing them to remain in them. As they recognized the differences between what the Bible teaches and what they had been taught in their former belief systems, they were able to grow spiritually. When they shared their new understanding with others, they came to realize that they were actually leading others into deeper faith. They experienced what Israel did. “The Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him…” (Deut.32:12)
The worldview questions that related to the Bible stories were intended to guide the candidates for leadership in comparing the biblical worldviews in those Bible stories with the worldview of their local community. Although a convert’s spiritual movement out of another belief system may take many months or even years for some people, knowledge of biblical worldview will increase this movement drastically. The end result desired was for candidates for leadership to be able to facilitate that movement among those they served.
The Value of Catechism
New Christians will learn biblical worldview more quickly through catechetical helps.
When people come to Christ, their worldview does not automatically change. Much of the thinking that has been inculcated from birth continues to dominate their worldview.
New believers need to be nurtured in biblical thought. This enables them to move away from their incorrect worldview about God, man, salvation, and many other concepts. The Holy Spirit teaches them as they study the Bible.
Christian nurture begins when a person receives Christ. Most evangelism models incorporate a follow-up of some kind that involves counseling the convert in assurance of salvation. This may be done immediately or in a future meeting. If there is a congregation already formed, the convert will be incorporated into the congregation. However, in the early stages of church planting, the congregation may be very small and fluid with many dropouts due to family and community pressures. New converts should be given some type of catechism in which Christian doctrine and worldview is presented in a systematic way.
One of the new training models used in mission work is Church-Planting Movements (CPM). It is basic beginning evangelism and nurture that needs to be linked to a comprehensive church-planting model. An innovative feature to draw the enquirer into a continuing relationship is called the “Person of Peace.” It suggests the forming of a Discovery Bible Study (DBS) where the enquirer/family/group discovers God and His salvation. I haven’t seen any of the material where this is called catechism but their series of Bible studies functions as a beginning. The method does not separate evangelism from ongoing nurture. Instead, both of these features are linked to the embryo of a primitive congregation. This model incorporates Christian nurture in that it includes prayer, worship, and an accountability structure. Accountability is structured through a series of questions concerning what lessons were shared with others and what ways the lessons were applied during the week.
The Necessity of Catechism
The important point here is that cross-cultural church planting should have some type of catechism integrated in its model because Christian nurture should start immediately. When the Church is struggling to survive in a hostile environment, it may have a small membership and slow growth. Teaching biblical worldview is critical to survival. Unless converts understand and embrace biblical worldview, they will not be able to grow spiritually. They may follow the church but also continue in their non-biblical beliefs. When people continue to be active in non-biblical activities common to many religions, they fail to thrive in Christ. The new Insider Movement paradigm is a good example of ministry that fails to differentiate biblical worldviews from those of other religions. It is difficult to see how IM approaches will result in thriving Christian life.
We want the emerging congregations to say what God says about the Church. They will not be able to do this if they do not know their Bibles. When they know the word of God, they can interpret it’s meaning both for the individual and for society. Since Jesus commissioned us to “make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded,” we know that teaching is a serious obligation. Catechism lessons should be constructed in view of the learning styles of the focus group. It may prove fruitless to just translate various confessions and catechisms without investigating whether their methodology will be understood.
Scriptural assumptions affect how one views the value of human life or the activity of supernatural forces in the affairs of humans. They exercise a strong influence on various spiritual understandings such as the nature of sin and salvation. It is a constant struggle to prevent human worldviews from warping the biblical view of the character of God.
This is why God has given us his own word as a polestar. The magnetic effect of other worldviews cannot affect his written word.
Reading, studying, and grappling with the biblical text is the best way to experience worldview change. Churches that do not have a Bible or fail to use the Bible do not develop deep understanding of biblical worldview. In the UPG where I worked, there were and might still be congregations whose only educational tool was primarily a catechism translated from the Dutch language. We have visited churches that did not have Bibles and did not understand much about biblical worldview. Catechism must be biblically based.
Creating Engines of Catechism
For example, God says that he has a Son. We must accept what that means and convey it to others. We must say what God says. We may devise many ways of approaching this subject but we must not fail to explain it. When we allow the magnetic pull of other belief systems to alter our own, then we begin to sail off into an unplotted course. We must keep the compass free of the magnets. Only then will our direction continue to be true.
The deeper we delve into cultural patterns the more we see the central role of worldview. Worldview drives every cultural model with all of its functions. All philosophies of life are based on an underlying worldview. People often cannot articulate either their philosophy of life or the worldview upon which it is based. However, these beliefs will guide their actions. For example, if people believe that all life is under the sovereignty of God, they will not kill their babies nor commit suicide. They will nurture the lives of all their family. Their philosophy of life and their actions will reflect their worldview.
Every culture has a worldview when they are discussing religion, ethics, manners, politics, or other aspects of culture. In the area of religion, people have spiritual questions underlying all their belief systems. This is true for those who are followers of world religions or believers in various animistic or inner spiritual life disciplines. Many groups have two sets of spiritual questions because they integrate two belief systems in their daily lives.
It is necessary that we share the biblical worldview with our adopted people but we must always remember that this requires them to make a major shift in the way they perceive the world around them. If we do not share Bible lessons in ways that they can understand and relate to their worldview, they may not be able to truly understand the depth of the biblical message. The narrative theology of much of the Bible is a model for teaching worldview. The Holy Spirit led the writers to record stories that would teach lessons about the nature of God, man, sin, evil, and other aspects of life. These lessons are embedded in the stories.
Our primary responsibility is to describe biblical worldview and relate Bible studies that relate to the spiritual questions of the culture. People mature in faith when they decide to leave an inadequate worldview and embrace the truth of the biblical worldview. As Paul expresses in Colossians 1:28, our goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ.” This will mean that believers will not only have a deep fellowship with God but that they will also understand how to mentor others in faith.
When we have catechetical procedures in place, people will have a better chance to learn the Bible and grow in their spiritual relationship with Christ. Such an example is John Wilbur Chapman’s song “One Day” which was written in 1910. It was recorded recently as “Glorious Day” and ends with this chorus:
“Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day!”