I’ve just been re-reading Sinclair Ferguson’s book Some Pastors and Teachers. Although it’s a big book, it’s actually a collection of various essays that he has written over the years. The other night I was reading a piece entitled Puritans: Ministers of the Word. Here, Ferguson explains how Puritan ministry was fundamentally a word-based ministry – this is something which many evangelicals today would echo. However, what really jumped out at me was what he went on to say about catechism:
In the recovery of biblical exposition that has marked the church in our own time, it has not always been recognized that in addition to such exposition the Reformers and Puritans placed great stress on catechizing. We tend to think of this as children learning catechetical questions and answers by rote. But what the Puritans had in view was in many ways a more profound exercise. They saw the need to build into the thinking of all their people frameworks of reference, grids that would help them receive, understand, digest, and apply the biblical teaching given from the pulpit.
This is an essential ingredient in the recovery of biblical Christianity. Neither the Reformers nor the Puritans envisaged their task of the public exposition of Scripture without finding ways of anchoring what was heard in the hearts and minds and memories of their hearers. Without the framework of doctrine provided in some such pedagogical tool as a catechism a person might find it extremely difficult to assimilate all they were being taught. And without the personal probing of catechetical questions they might never work the public exposition through into practical understanding and application.
There is much here for pastors to dwell on. I have been bemoaning the way that modern churches have abandoned catechesis for some time now – I wrote my first post on this, The Lost Art of Catechism, back in 2018. Since then, not much has changed: it just seems many churches are reluctant to make a priority of catechesis. This is a real grief to me, because I completely agree with Ferguson here: catechesis is an “essential ingredient” if we want to recover biblical Christianity (and change society). Simply preaching on the Bible is not enough. Let me say that again: Simply preaching on the Bible is not enough.
Over to you…
This is where I’d like to throw the question open to you:
- Why did churches stop catechising? It seems to me that most evangelicals don’t even consider the fact that it might be necessary – I’d say the standard practice in my experience is “preaching plus home group”. Why?
- How can churches be persuaded of the benefits of catechism and how important it is?
- Practically speaking, how can churches implement catechesis? Have you experienced any good / bad ways of doing it?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
You might also be interested in an article I wrote for my friend Andy Brown called The Pattern of Sound Teaching.