Catechesis is an on-going discipline necessary for growth in godliness. Many people, however, hear the word and associate it with kids–it’s something done in order to prepare for admission to the Lord’s Supper as communing members.* Our congregation uses a version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that has been designed for use in instructing children. This is a wonderful approach and it has much to commend it, but it needs to be supplemented.
It’s weakness is that it assumes a linear progression from child to adolescent to adult in the same church. That is no longer a realty for many Christians. Most people change churches with alarming regularity, which demonstrates not that doctrine is unimportant but that being the church requires more than doctrinal orthodoxy.
As a result we need to reconsider how we train and form adult believers in the Christian faith, remembering that ultimately doctrine (in it’s purest expression) is not academic speculation, but an attempt to make sense of the Christian experience in light of self-disclosure of God in the Scriptures. In this sense, instruction in doctrine is as much spiritual formation as walking a labyrinth praying the Jesus prayer, perhaps more.
Here are seven theses about the place, role, and content of adult catechesis in reformed churches:
- The word “catechesis” should probably not be used–it’s alien to most contemporary people and sounds sort of surgical.
- The purpose of learning the content of faith is more, though not less than, learning the content of the classical theological expression of the Holy Catholic Church (generally) and the tradition (particularly) of which you are a part.
- This learning should begin with the content of the Grand Tradition–the expressions of the Christian faith held in common by all churches (the Ecumenical Creeds).
- It should progress to the specific major doctrines held by the particular denomination of which you are a part, but should be done with civility and generosity for those churches which disagree.
- It should ideally take place in community and with the opportunity for casual discussion.
- Doctrine should frequently be connected to its ramifications to the life of the Christian–doctrine has an essentially pastoral function after all.
- Instruction, in some form or fashion, ought to be strongly encouraged for all members of the church (and a prerequisite for membership) and required for all officers (whether elders or deacons).
- If any drafters of the catechism or confession is alive, it should not be used.
How were you instructed in the content of the faith? How does you present congregation tackle the need to form our hearts and minds around the content of the faith?
*In many presbyterian churches all children of members are baptized and considered non-communing members until they complete confirmation.