What do church planting, confessions, and catechisms have in common? The answer is a lot. Christians have used confessions and catechism to teach the essentials of the faith for centuries. Many of the great confessions and catechism were originally discipleship tools for new churches during the time of the Reformation.
One of the biggest challenges church planters face is teaching new believers the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Many of the people who come to a new church know little if any about the basic doctrines.
What is a Catechism?
You may be wondering, “What is a catechism?” When I was a new believer, I had no idea what a catechism was. For those of us who were not raised in the church, words like catechism, creed, or confessions sound like something you would learn in a catholic school.
So what is a catechism? A catechism is the process of instructing believers both young and old in the basics of the Christian faith. The Greek word for "instruct" or "teach" is katecheo from which we get our English word "catechize".
Catechisms provide basic summaries of the church’s teachings to ensure that all members of the church understand the essentials of the faith for themselves. Most catechisms generally have questions and answers accompanied by Biblical support and explanations.
Brief History of Catechisms and Confessions
As early as the Middle Ages, the Church required new believers to learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments. During the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers compiled many catechisms to help train new believers.
Donald Van Dyken says, “The great leaders of the Reformation, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, attacked the colossal ignorance they met in Germany, Geneva, and Scotland by making catechisms and by catechizing.”[i] Among these Reformed documents were The Augsburg Confession in 1530 and the Heidelberg Catechism written in 1562.
Martin Luther whole-heartedly believed in using them. He said, “In the catechism, we have a very exact, direct, and short way to the whole Christian religion. For God himself gave the ten commandments, Christ himself penned and taught the Lord's Prayer, the Holy Ghost brought together the articles of faith.”[ii]
The Puritans later developed catechisms, including the Westminster Confession and Catechisms in the 1640’s. For many Protestant Christians everywhere, the Westminster Catechisms are the most important and influential of all the catechisms. The Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms where written in the 1647 by English and Scottish divines. These documents were written to provide children, new believers, and church members alike a short but comprehensive summary of the Reformed church’s doctrines.
Evangelicals on the Catechism Trail
Today, there is a misconception that only non-evangelical liturgical churches use catechisms and confessions. However, many evangelicals such as Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists have used them for a long time. Some may be surprised to know that the Southern Baptists have a rich confessional history.
Tom Nettles remarks, “Many contemporaries have a deep―seated suspicion of catechisms. In our own Baptist denomination, many would consider the words "Baptist catechism" as mutually exclusive.” However he goes on to say, “Baptists, including Southern Baptists, produced scores of catechisms for use in this variety of ways.”[iii]
Spurgeon on Catechisms
Standing in this tradition, the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon developed his own catechism from the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He believed that a good catechism was essential in training the faithful. He said:
“I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly's and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation. Those who use it in their families or classes must labour to explain the sense; but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as years pass.”[iv]
Using the Confessions and Catechism
Many evangelicals are rediscovering the benefit of a good catechism. Both new and existing churches can benefit from using catechisms. A catechism can be used as an individual study, times of family worship, or in small groups. Catechisms are not a pass or fail fill-in-the-blank test, but an invitation to learn the doctrines of grace. This invitation involves vital learning, ongoing reflection, and discussion within the community of faith.
They are still as useful and as needed today. Ponder each doctrine and let them speak to your head and your heart. Share them with your children or your spouse.
Here is a sample of the First Catechism for beginners that you can use in your church, with your family, or in times of study.
- Who made you? God.
- What else did God make? God made all things.
- Why did God make you and all things? For his own glory.
- How can you glorify God? By loving him and doing what he commands.
- Why are you to glorify God? Because he made me and takes care of me.
- Is there more than one true God? No. There is only one true God.
- In how many Persons does this one God exist? In three Persons.
- Name these three Persons. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- What is God? God is a Spirit and does not have a body like men.
- Where is God? God is everywhere.
- Can you see God? No. I cannot see God, but he always sees me.
- Does God know all things? Yes. Nothing can be hidden from God.
- Can God do all things? Yes. God can do all his holy will.
- Where do you learn how to love and obey God? In the Bible alone.
- Who wrote the Bible?
Chosen men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.[v]
[i] Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism. New Jersey: P&R publishing. 2000. 14.
[ii] Martin Luther, Table Talk.
[iii] Tom Nettles, An Encouragement to Use Catechisms. Founders Journal.
[iv] Charles Surgeon, A Puritans Catechism.
[v] First Catechism. Great Commission Publications, Inc. 2003.
Dr. Winfield Bevins serves as lead pastor of Church of the Outer Banks, which he founded in 2005. His life’s passion in ministry is discipleship and helping start new churches. He lives in the beautiful beach community of the Outer Banks with his wife Kay and two daughters where he loves to surf and spend time at the beach with his family and friends. Twitter: @winfieldbevins