Too often doctrine and teaching (but I repeat myself) are pitted against missions and disciple-making; however, whenever we consider Christ’s Great Commission for His church, we note that we are called to make disciples by baptizing in them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the name of the triune God is like a Christian’s adoption ceremony, where the new family name is formally pronounced over the adopted child.
The command that then follows is to teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded us. Of course, we believe that all that our Lord commands of us is found in His Word, but how do we begin the lifelong work of teaching one another to know and obey the Bible? That is certainly the chief benefit of creeds, confessions, and catechisms as I see it. They are succinct, time-tested guides to knowing and understanding the great doctrines (aka teachings) of the Bible.
Generally speaking, the creeds serve as useful guides to the boundaries of the Christian faith as a whole. To disavow the deity of Christ or the resurrection of the body is heresy, a breach of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Confessions further clarify doctrines outlined in the creeds but also clarify denominational boundaries, which is necessary and can actually be used to further overall unity. For example, the Westminster Confession and the 1689 Baptist Confession (to which I affirm) are wonderful documents to lay side-by-side and rejoice in how much Presbyterians and Baptists can agree with one another. They also clarify on our disagreements in polity and baptism. Though both are significant enough that are two distinct denominations are necessary, we can gladly affirm one another as brothers in Christ.
Catechisms also serve along the denominational lines and can be wonderful to use during gathered worship. However, catechisms truly shine as vehicles for taking the truths of the creeds and confessions into households and into individuals’ hearts and minds.
Thus, I contend that creeds, confessions, and catechisms should be reembraced as tools for making disciples and fulfilling the Great Commission, both at home and to the ends of the earth, and I believe that our hearts, our homes, our churches, and our missions would all be healthier for it.
Now I didn’t learn about catechisms until my late twenties. Growing in a charismatic denomination, we never got formal enough to use such resources. It wasn’t until my first church history class at seminary that I heard (or at least remember hearing the word). My assignment was to read some portions of a book on baptism in the early church and write a paper on it. That book was where I learned about catechumens, catechesis, and catechisms.
The catechumens were Christians who wanted to be baptized, but before they were baptized, they were instructed (catechesis) in the basics of the faith. The instructed material (catechism) was most often the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.
Having also never heard of a baptism class, that process resonated deeply within me. The principle of being taught the very basics of the faith that one is proclaiming seemed like common sense. I then adopted those three texts of the ancient catechism into my rhythms of daily prayer, using the Apostles’ Creed often as a guide for praise and thanksgiving, the Lord’s Prayer for petition, and the Ten Commandments for confession.
My experience with catechisms then stalled until the release of the New City Catechism, which I likely first discovered through the Gospel Coalition. It was my introduction to the question-answer format that is so heavily associated with catechisms today, and I have regularly turned to it since that day. Though I am not an avid user of devotionals, I have gone through the New City Catechism Devotional a number of times, particularly appreciating the historical writings that are presented.
And though the Heidelberg Catechism has replaced the New City Catechism as most dear to my heart, I still treasure it. Particularly, I appreciate it as a resource for my children and to place before new believers as a guide. My girls love the songs and have memorized a significant portion of the catechism through them. The devotional has also been my default resource to give to those being baptized.
While older catechisms certainly contain more detail that is greatly helpful, especially explanations of the parts of the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, the New City Catechism is still a wonderful reintroduction of catechisms into many churches and Christians that have long abandoned them.
Since our church will soon begin to go through the New City Catechism as a part of Lord’s Day worship, I hope to increase my own use of the instructional resource by writing out meditations upon each question. I also hope that those meditations will be worth sharing here to stimulate your own meditation upon each doctrine. May the Holy Spirit, who “convicts us of our sin, comforts us, guides us, gives us spiritual gifts and the desire to obey God” (Q37), do so in our hearts as we set our gaze upon knowing God’s Word through the New City Catechism.