Sacred Space: Cat a Kiss Him? What's a Catechism?

Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.

It was a lovely fall day, and I was in car line to pick up my son from his preschool class. His teacher brought him to the car, sat him in his booster seat and asked, “Ummm…Brad. What church did you say you all go to?” The look she was giving me was not one of curiosity, but genuine puzzlement. I told her that we were members of New Covenant Baptist Church. This did not seem to ease her befuddlement, so I asked if everything was alright. She said that she had asked the class if they knew what “sin” was. My son had raised his hand and said, “Sin is any lack of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God.” She asked him to repeat it three times. He was 5 years old, and this was an evangelical Christian school. His answer blew her mind.

At our church, we teach our children the catechism. And yes, we are Baptists. Baptists have been writing catechisms for the instruction of children since at least 1652. I confess that I delight in it, and it brings me great sorrow that evangelicals in general, not just Baptists, have forgotten the rich tradition of instruction that has been bequeathed to us in the form of catechism from our fore-bearers. And yes, I like the instruction they receive from it better than I like AWANA. The catechism teaches Bible verses and systematic theology. It is a verse, or verses, with a context.

Recently, I watched a Q & A with Stanley Hauerwas where he says that the problem with evangelicals is that they act like Christianity is something they can make up, not something that is received. I gasped at that because it cut to the quick and also because it represented one of the few times that I can remember agreeing with the venerable professor of Duke. Evangelicals act like “tradition” means stuff we have done since I can remember, not a great testimony of the church for 2,000 or so years.

I love to read the early church fathers, the old creeds, old commentaries, and old theologies. Augustine’s Confessions has thrilled my soul more than once, and I still use Athanasius’ arguments for the deity of Christ when I talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who would deny the full deity of Jesus. We make an effort at our church to connect our folks to that tradition, that beautiful tradition that has been handed to us.

We do not think that tradition is infallible, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Just because I do not think the Didache is Scripture does not mean I don’t find it a wonderful work. If you cannot take the writings of Clement of Rome seriously, you ought not be reading John Piper either. Both men are fallible, but both have things to say that will help shape your understanding of the church and Scripture.

So what does this have to do with your church? I would say this: consider the catechism for your children. Read that treasure, and even if your church isn’t devoted to it, why not use it as a supplement to your curriculum? I testify that there is hardly anything that I find more satisfying than hearing our children answer this question in unison, “Who made you?” and they shout, “God made me!” I love that. Or when I tuck in my 3-year-old daughter and ask, “Why did God make you, baby girl?” And she says, “For His own glory.”

Take a look at the catechism, dear reader. It will help you understand both your church and your God.

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • Ben

    I think we have lost catechisms because we have attempted to simplify the gospel and to make it relevant. Those two things in themselves are not bad, and can actually be quite good, but as it was pointed out, they come with some strings attached.
    So what has happened is that instead of declaring fundamental truths that God has blessed us with (take note, not just the fact that things are true, but the fact that God has given us knowledge and understanding of them as well) we declare the simplified version of basic truth; Jesus saves. Yes, Jesus saves. Declare him your lord and you’re good. True. But that doesn’t mean you are done. And to simplify it to that level actually waters it down.
    To top that off, we don’t look any deeper because we are hip and modern. Our attempts to show that Christianity is still relevant today has us practically ignoring any history of the church and “antiquated” things such as catechisms.
    In my opinion, this generates shallow Christians more often than not. We have shallow relationships with God and then expect our children to stand up and accept him too? Oh then we are surprised at how many leave the church. It must be those liberal scholars in college. No, it isn’t (or at least not totally). It is the fact that we send our children off unarmed with no knowledge of their faith (if it is really theirs and not ours). Catechisms are quick remembrances when things get tough. Simple, factual truths that we can repeat to ourselves to remind us on whose foundation we stand.


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