Catechizing the Church

 |  July 24, 2019

Few times in the history of the Christian church have God’s people been more serious about spiritual maturity than the age of the Puritans (c. 1550–c. 1700). Part of the reason so many people embraced spiritual maturity during this time was because of the ministry style of Puritan pastors. J. I. Packer refers to these men and women as California Redwoods, spiritual giants in terms of holiness and godly endurance.[1]J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 11. If pastors want to produce strong, sturdy believers then we must emulate the Puritans. Let me offer two ways for us to do just this.

First, we must teach people by the time-honored method of expository messages. After all, Paul tells young Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).[2]All Scripture is taken from the Christian Standard Bible. Note the last word listed by Paul here for he calls on pastors to teach God’s people. Let me offer a working analogy that I use in my weekly sermon preparation. Nearly every time I am responsible for preaching, I aim to draw a rectangle around a certain Scripture passage as the foundational passage for my sermon. During my sermon delivery (about thirty minutes on any given Sunday morning), I want to stay almost exclusively inside this rectangle to ensure I am communicating God’s entire message. In fact, I picture myself “coloring” every part during my message by continually referring back to various parts of the passage inside my rectangle. When the rectangle is “colored in” then I may have confidence I have spoken God’s Word. And how can I have any hope of success if I do not prioritize God’s Word in my life and ministry? The pulpit is the primary way pastors can teach God’s Word, so we must prioritize this aspect of our ministry.

Second, we extend our teaching by asking people to consider a variation of the catechism that Puritans such as Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, or John Owen utilized. Catechism comes from a Greek word meaning “to teach orally” and this has historically been a method where God’s people were taught God’s Word in the form of question and answer. The classic example of this is the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The historic reply has been, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” This was the preferred method for building up the people of God so that would not be tossed back and forth by every new fad that comes along (see Ephesians 4:14). Again, this is an extension of a pastor’s teaching during his time in the pulpit.

While few people in our churches know what the word “catechism” is, we can smuggle the concept inside the modern day church through means of a Trojan horse. I doubt I would even use the word “catechism” if I were introducing the concept in most churches today. Perhaps the word to use is simply “conversation.” We can initiate conversations about the important contours of the faith. Again, history serves as our guide, as we may wish to include such foundational truths as the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. We may also wish to add elements included in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. For example, we might ask, “Do you think women should pastor local churches?” This is taken from Article Six: The Church. When discussing the question, the conversation should be lively because of the widespread confusion on matters related to gender in our day. We must include God’s instructions from Titus and 1 Timothy to shape our answers. We will want to include a complementarian view of Scripture where both males and females are gifted, competent, and equally intelligent before God, yet he has reserved certain functions for males, such as pastoral leadership in the church.

Pause to consider that people attempt to have conversations about life-changing matters on social media all the time in our day. Yet, many of these contemporary conversations offer more “heat than light” on controversial subjects. Often, we check our Twitter feed only to see Republicans on one side and our Democratic friends on the other side. Plus, many times we revert to generational divides on important doctrinal matters. Pastors should seek to emulate our Puritan forefathers by educating the church to have these conversations through catechisms as families and within the various Bible study groups in the church family. With the proper godly leadership in place, the discussions will be lively and interesting. More importantly, the interaction between one another will shape us as we speak to one another in love.

If we use these two Puritan methods together, we will ensure that nearly every heresy and error is addressed and we will form a congregation that is both godly and distinct from the culture at large.

Scott Maze is the Senior Pastor of North Richland Hills Baptist Church and Cross Church in Fort Worth, Texas.


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