Catechism. (ˈkadə kizəm) A particularly churchy word even among a community that loves churchy words. It’s right up there with ecclesiology. Oxford’s online dictionary defines catechism as “a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.” A catechism is a tool for teaching a biblically faithful summary of the Christian faith.
The first catechisms were designed to help church leaders prepare early believers for baptism. While there are a variety of approaches, many catechisms contain questions and answers related to three touchstones of the Christian faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. Often catechisms also include teaching about creation, sin, God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ, and the nature of the Trinity.
Within the Christian Reformed context, the Heidelberg Catechism is one of three confessions that both reflect and guide our interpretation of Scripture. As such, the Heidelberg serves as the primary catechism tool for summarizing our faith. However, it’s not the only catechism written during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For example, John Calvin wrote one called Instructions in Faith (1537). In fact, it could be argued that every generation has a responsibility to find new ways of communicating the richness and substance of the Christian faith. These new expressions of the Christian faith are not attempts to replace the biblical teaching expressed through the Heidelberg, but to find contemporary ways to tell God’s story.
Synod 2019 considered a request to officially recognize one of these contemporary catechisms, the New City Catechism, as a contemporary testimony within the Christian Reformed Church. Though declining to give an official status to the New City Catechism, Synod 2019 tasked Faith Formation Ministries with providing a review of this teaching tool. Rather than offering a comprehensive review of the theology of the New City Catechism itself, which would be better suited for Calvin Theological Seminary, Faith Formation Ministries reviewed the children's curriculum based on the New City Catechism.
Faith Formation Ministries recently presented our report to the Council of Delegates for the May 2020 meeting. The Council of Delegates has endorsed this review, which is now being made available to churches (see the attached pdf). The report shares our review process, highlighting questions and observations about the content of the New City Catechism and about the curriculum content, pedagogy, and design. This approach is shared with a desire to help church leaders and members grow in their capacity to engage and discern other discipleship resources.
As we think about catechism resources for the CRC, the Faith Formation Ministries team would love to hear from you.
- How are you teaching the content of the Christian faith in your context?
- Is there a structured approach to teaching catechism that works well for you?
- How are you helping new believers, especially those who come to faith later in life, learn the basic content of our faith?
- Do the resources you are using meet your needs for teaching the Christian faith?
- Do you have suggestions for what else would strengthen or improve your church’s approach to teaching the content of the Christian faith?
Please share your stories and ideas in the comment box below or email us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!