Introducing the New City Catechism
What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
What is your only comfort in Life and death?
That I am not my own, but Belong--body and soul, in life And in death--to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Pastor and church leader Tim Keller writes:
These words, the opening of the Westminster and Heidelberg Catechisms, find echoes in many of our creeds and statements of faith. They are familiar to us from sermons and books, and yet most people do not know their source and have certainly never memorized them as part of the catechisms from which they derive.
Today many churches and Christian organizations publish "statements of faith" that outline their beliefs. But in the past it was expected that documents of this nature would be so biblically rich and carefully crafted that they would be memorized and used for Christian growth and training. They were written in the form of questions and answers, and were called catechisms (from the Greek katechein which means "to teach orally or to instruct by word of mouth"). The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 and Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms of 1648 are among the best known, and they serve as the doctrinal standards of many churches in the world today.
At present, the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost. Modern discipleship programs concentrate on practices such as Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism and can at times be superficial when it comes to doctrine. In contrast, the classic catechisms take students through the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Pastor Dave’s Desk continued..... Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology, practical ethics, and spiritual experience. Also, the catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts deeper into the heart and naturally holds students more accountable to master the material than do typical discipleship courses. Finally, the practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning.
In short, catechetical instruction is less individualistic and more communal. Parents can catechize their children. Church leaders can catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. Because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be integrated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise.
Because we have lost the practice of catechesis today: "Superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living—career-wise, community-wise, family-wise, and church-wise—are all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today..." (From Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by Gary Parrett and J. I. Packer, published by Baker, 2010.)
This week, we are launching a two-year, churchwide initiative encouraging every person and family at New Covenant to make New City Catechism a regular part of their devotional practices. Each of the catechism’s 52 questions and answers will be featured for two weeks, beginning this Sunday. Like the Bible reading plan that we recently completed, our desire is not that this would be just another checklist item or become a rote exercise. Rather, we would like to see our congregation (young and old) grow in the depth of their knowledge of God and His redeeming work through Jesus Christ.
Several aspects of New City Catechism make it “user-friendly”:
- There are only 52 questions and answers, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.
- It is divided into 3 parts to make it easier to learn in sections and to include some helpful divisions:
PART 1 = God, creation and fall, law (20 questions);
PART 2 = Christ, redemption, grace (15 questions);
PART 3 = Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (17 questions).
- Because parents who teach their kids a children’s catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing (the children are learning one set of questions and answers and the parents are learning another completely different set), New City Catechism is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer.
- An easy to navigate website: www.newcitycatechism.com. Attached to each question and answer there is a short written teaching from a historical preacher (e.g. Augustine, Edwards, Spurgeon, Wesley, etc.) and a short video teaching from a modern one (e.g. Don Carson, Mark Dever, Timothy Keller, John Piper, etc.).
- An iPad app.
There are a number of ways we are encouraging the use of this teaching tool:
- As an element of the Sunday morning worship service (as appropriate to the theme of our worship but not forced into the order of worship every service)
- Highlighted in the bulletin each week
- Pre-worship service slides
- Children's & youth ministry memory homework and in class
- Individual & family devotions
If you have not been to www.newcitycatechism.com, I encourage you to check it out. Read the introduction page for the rest of Keller’s comments and begin to familiarize yourself with the catechism.
Keller goes on to say…
In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes, "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor" (Galatians 6:6). The Greek word for "anyone who receives instruction" is the word katechoumenos, one who is catechized. In other words, Paul is talking about a body of Christian doctrine ("catechism") that was taught to them by an instructor (here the word "catechizer"). The words "all good things" probably means financial support as well. In this light, the word koinoneo—which means "to share" or "to have fellowship"—becomes even richer. The salary of a Christian teacher is not to be seen simply as a payment but a "fellowship." Catechesis is not just one more service to be paid for, but is a rich fellowship and mutual sharing of the gifts of God If we re-engage in this biblical practice in our churches, we will find again God's Word "dwelling in us richly" (Colossians 3:16), because the practice of catechesis takes truth deep into our hearts, so we find ourselves thinking in biblical categories as soon as we can reason.
As we venture into a new year of life together, may God’s Word dwell in us richly causing each person at New Covenant to be transformed by the Spirit so that God receives more glory and we experience more joy in Him.
In Christ alone,
Pastor Dave DeHaan