The Catechism: An Introduction
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Systematic instruction in God's word is important to our spiritual growth and doctrinal stability. One ancient and proven way of instructing Christians in the doctrine of the Bible is by the method of catechizing, i.e. by asking questions and providing the answers.
The regular and systematic instruction of God's word appeared to have been developed by the time the book of Galatians was written (around AD 49). Galatians 6:6 says, "Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches (Gal. 6:6)." The words “taught” and “teaches” are derived from “katecheo”, to instruct. Theophilus appeared to have been "instructed" in a systematic manner (Luke 1:3-4).
Furthermore, Jude refers to “the faith” (v. 3), while Paul refers to “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), and “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 cf. 20-21), which is able to “build up” the believers (Acts 20:32; Jude 20 cf. 2 Pet. 3:18; Matt. 28:18-20). The Christian faith was definable, being made up of doctrines that were used to build up the spiritual life of the believers. The systematic instruction in biblical doctrines developed into the question-and-answer method known as "catechizing". The compiled doctrines in the question-and-answer approach became know as a "catechism".
History of the use of catechisms
After the apostles, catechizing became a chief means of instruction in the churches. It was used by the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches to prepare “catechumens” for baptism. The Reformers used this as a means of instructing families. The catechism must be distinguished from other church documents.
Historically, three types of documents have been used by churches: (i) creeds, which are short statements of faith which have been handed down and are often recited in church services; (ii) catechisms, which are longer than creeds, couched as questions and answers, and used in baptismal classes and families; (iii) confessions of faith, which are longer than creeds and catechisms, and are used by Reformed churches to declare the doctrine held by the church.
Apart from being used as instructional tools, these documents served different purposes. The creeds (such as the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Athanasian Creed) distinguish professing Christians from the followers of other faiths. However, being too brief, they do not help to distinguish between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. The differences in belief between the churches show up in their respective catechisms and confessions of faith. Catechisms are intended to establish the faith of individual Christians, while the confessions of faith define the doctrine of a church.
Churches and denominations that were founded after the Reformation (e.g. Brethren, Evangelical Free, Methodist) do not use catechisms and confessions of faith. Such churches would generally accede to the creeds, and have a brief statement of faith, consisting of ten or fifteen articles, at most. Today, most churches do not value the catechisms and confessions of faith and claim, instead, to hold to "no creed, but the Bible". Among Protestant churches, only those that are Reformed (in the sense that we mean) are serious about using catechisms and confessions of faith. Such are often referred to as "confessional churches". As pointed out above, the catechism is useful in establishing the faith of the individual believers, while the confession of faith is useful in defining the beliefs of the church. In addition to the confession of faith, a Reformed church may adopt a statement of faith of, say, twelve articles to show visitors that it is a true (or evangelical) church. Reformed Baptist churches are generally confessional. How did this come about?
The Reformation began in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the church at Wittenburg, Germany. The Reformation spread throughout Europe and Britain. By 1630, two groups of Baptists emerged in England - the General Baptists and the Particular Baptists. The heirs of the Particular Baptists are today called Reformed Baptists. The Baptists were persecuted by the government and the Church of England for most of the time. In 1677, a confession of faith was drawn up by the Particular Baptists, based on the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians and the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists, to show their commitment to the same basic Reformed theology, although differing in baptism and church government. When toleration was granted in 1688, the confession of faith was published a year later which became known as the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
In 1693, the Particular Baptists assigned William Collins, to draw up a catechism. Based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism of the Presbyterians, a catechism was soon produced. Due to the involvement of another pastor, Benjamin Keach, who probably published and distributed it, the catechism became known widely as Keach’s Catechism. Other catechisms have been produced over the years, but Keach’s Catechism remain the most well-known and popular.
Structure of the catechism
Keach’s Catechism (KC) follows closely the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC), in structure and content. The WSC has 107 questions while KC has 118. KC expands on the number of introductory questions from 3 to 7, adds two questions to the first division on the death and judgement of the wicked (Qs. 43 & 44), adds one question on the purpose of the law (Q. 89), alters and reduces the number of questions on the “sacraments” to two instead of three (Qs. 98 & 99), alters and adds three questions on baptism (Qs. 100-104), and adds two questions on the church (Qs. 105 & 106).
In 1855, C. H. Spurgeon published the catechism with just 82 questions, by reducing the number of questions on the Ten Commandments and leaving out totally the section on the Lord's Prayer. It seemed that he modeled his version of the catechism after Thomas Watson’s book, “A Body of Divinity”, which did not include the Lord's Prayer. Watson produced a separate book of exposition on the Lord's Prayer. Spurgeon spoke highly of Watson’s book, and republished it, but with an appendix written by himself, giving the Baptist view on baptism.
In recent days, “The Shorter Catechism: A Baptist Version” (SCBV) was produced by a group of Reformed Baptists in America, published by Simpson Publishing Company, which consists of 115 questions. The doctrine of the church in Keach’s Catechism (Qs. 104 & 106) are left out, while alterations and additions are made to the doctrine of salvation (Qs. 88, 89, 93 & 93). The doctrine on Scripture is strengthened by an additional question (Q. 3).
The present series of studies will be based on Keach’s Catechism (KC), with reference to SCBV, WSC, and Spurgeon's Catechism (SC), and with the aim of making the questions and answers simpler and relevant to our time. It has been felt for a long while that a shorter and simpler version of the Catechism is needed, while remaining sufficiently comprehensive. Children who have been taught a much simpler Children’s Catechism have grown into their teenage years confused by learning a longer and complicated adult Catechism. A version that bridges the gap been these two would be ideal to serve as the only version that needs to learned, and even memorized.
Following the older catechisms, there will be three main divisions, viz. Introductory Section, What We Are To Believe, and What We Are To Do. Each division will consist of sub-divisions and sections. Our studies will be in instalments according to the sections. Throughout, we will bear in mind the following objectives:
(i) To produce a Catechism, consisting of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, which may be used for establishing the faith of believers and teaching children in families;
(ii) To produce a Catechism with explanatory notes which may be used, in conjunction with the Bible, for study purposes and to convince seekers of the Bible’s system of doctrine.
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