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Tuesday
Jan102012

Theological Term of the Week

catechism
A systematic instruction of the basic doctrine and beliefs of the Christian faith, usually written in the form of questions with answers to be memorized.

  • A catechisms helps fulfill commands of scripture: 

    And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 ESV)

  • From Kim Riddlebarger in The Need To Recover the Practise of Catechism:
  • Catechism (from the Greek word catechesis) is simply instruction in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Instead of replacing or supplanting the role of the Bible in Christian education, catechism ideally serves as the basis for it. For the practice of catechism, as properly understood, is the Christian equivalent of looking at the box top of a jigsaw puzzle before one starts to put all of those hundreds of little pieces together. It is very important to look at the big picture and have it clearly in mind, so that we do not bog down in details, or get endlessly sidetracked by some unimportant or irrelevant issue. The theological categories given to us through catechism, help us to make sense out of the myriad of details found in the Scriptures themselves. Catechism serves as a guide to better understanding Scripture. That being noted however, we need to remind ourselves that Protestants have always argued that creeds, confessions and catechisms are authoritative only in so far as they faithfully reflect the teaching of Holy Scripture. This means that the use of catechisms, which correctly summarize biblical teaching, does not negate or remove the role of Holy Scripture. Instead, these same creeds, confessions and catechisms, as summary statements of what the Holy Scriptures themselves teach about a particular doctrine, should serve as a kind of springboard to more effective Bible study. When this is the case, these confessions, creeds and catechisms are invaluable tools to help us learn about the important themes and doctrines that are in Scripture.

    The practice of catechism also serves as an important safeguard against heresy and helps to mitigate some of the problems associated with the private interpretation of Scripture. How many times have you been forced to sit through a Bible study in which the goal was not to discover what the text actually says, but instead to discover what a particular verse means to each of the studies’ participants? When we remember that virtually every cult in America began with an open Bible and a charismatic leader who could ensure his or her followers that they alone have discovered what everyone else, especially the creeds, confessions and catechisms, have missed, we see perhaps the greatest value of catechism. These guides protect us from such errors and self-deluded teachers. As American evangelicals have moved away from the practice of catechism for subjective and experiential modes of meaning, it is no accident that biblical illiteracy has risen to embarrassing levels and that false doctrines have rushed in like a flood. These important safeguards of basic doctrine have been removed, and since Satan is, of course, the fathers of all lies, we are most helpless against him when the truth is not known.

Learn more:

  1. Wikipedia: catechism
  2. Covenant of Grace RPC: Catechism, what is it?
  3. Zacharias Ursinus: What Is Catechism?
  4. Kim Riddlebarger:  The Need To Recover the Practise of Catechism
  5. Tom Nettles: An Encouragement to Use Catechisms, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
A few Protestant catechisms:1
Related terms:

Filed under Creeds and Confessions.

1I’ve not listed the Heidelberg Catechism, which already has it’s own Theological Term entry, nor the Shorter or Larger Westminster Catechisms, which will soon have their own entry, too.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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