Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is a graduate of California State University in Fullerton (B.A., Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (Ph. D.). Kim has contributed chapters to books such as Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Unites & Divides Us, and Christ The Lord: The Reformation & Lordship Salvation, and is currently the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California.
The Importance and Practice of Catechism
“Fathers – Instruct Your Children
The Importance of Catechism
Growing up in American fundamentalism, as I did, the very word “catechism” brought to my mind images of the liberalism of mainline Protestant denominations, or some mysterious Roman Catholic ritual that could have no biblical support whatsoever. As a Bible church person, I was taught from my earliest youth that catechism was at best a worthless practice, if not downright dangerous to the soul. But if you were to have asked me just what exactly catechism was, I’m not sure that I could have given you an answer. Growing up with such misconceptions, I often viewed my friends who attended catechism classes as people who could not possibly be born again and therefore, in desperate need of evangelization. For unlike their misguided and dead church, our church had no creed but Christ, and we needed no such man-made guides to faith since we depended upon the Bible alone. Whatever catechism was, I wanted no part of it!
The burgeoning evangelical men’s movement, demonstrated by the huge amount of interest garnered by such groups as Promise Keepers, has raised a whole host of legitimate questions about the role of Christian men in society, the work-place and the home. This is certainly an important and indeed, a healthy trend. But I wonder if the answers to such questions are perhaps best found in the wisdom of earlier generations, rather than from among our own contemporaries. Many of these same questions have been asked before and the answers given to them by our predecessors and fathers in the faith were not only based upon a thorough knowledge of Scripture (which Gallup and Barna remind us is sadly lacking in our own age), but additionally, were forged through a kind of wisdom and life experience gained during an era in which Christians were less apt to simply react to the secular agenda and uncritically imitate its glitz, glamour and noise. Evangelical Protestants of previous generations, it seems, were often more careful about confusing the sacred and the secular than our own leaders, and they often dealt with such weighty issues theologically and historically. Inevitably, when we look to the theological wisdom of the previous generations regarding the role of men in society, the work-place and the home, we come back to the importance of the practice 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 jig-saw 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 spring-board 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. Continue reading