A companion piece to Fr. Lee Nelson’s series on Catechism, and Canon Dan Alger’s article on sacramental church planting, by Dr. Winfield Bevins.
What does Anglican church planting and catechesis have in common? The answer is a lot. As Fr. Lee Nelson recently and masterfully pointed out, Christians have used catechesis to teach the essentials of the faith for centuries. And Canon Dan Alger pointed us recently to sacramental church planting. One of the biggest challenges church planters face is teaching new believers the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Many of the people who come to a new church know little if any about the basic doctrines and catechesis is one of the best ways to instruct them in the essentials of the historic Christian faith.
What is a Catechesis?
Just as a review, lets look briefly at the question, “What is a catechism?” The Greek word for “instruct” or “teach” is katecheo from which we get our English word “catechize.” Catechesis is the process of instructing believers both young and old in the basics of the Christian faith and catechisms are basic summaries of the church’s teachings to ensure that all members of the church understand the essentials of the faith for themselves using questions and answers.
Catechisms are not a pass or fail fill-in-the-blank test, but an invitation to learn the doctrines of grace. Using a catechism is an invitation involves vital learning, ongoing reflection, and discussion within the community of faith that has been a normal part of the church’s discipleship for centuries.
As early as Augustine (353-430), the Christian Church has used catechesis to instruct new believers. Author J.I. Packer reminds us, “Richard Baxter, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, and countless other pastors and leaders saw catechesis as one of their most obvious and basic pastoral duties.” Among these classic reformation catechisms, was the classic Anglican Catechism (1549).
The Process of Catechesis
J.I. Packer has embarked on what he is calling “Packer’s last crusade in this world.” Packer’s “last crusade” is a call for the church to rediscover the lost art of catechesis. In their book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett explore the church’s need to make catechesis an important part of its life once again. Catechesis, according to Packer and Parrett, “is the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty and delight.” Packer and Parrett offer three phases of using catechism, which can be adapted to your own context or ministry.
Phase one, is about giving people their first glimpses into the Gospel. This would be a focus is on introducing the essentials of the Faith. This can be a more simplified use of catechesis for new believers.
- Phase two, is a formal grounding in the Gospel, usually in conjunction with preparation for baptism or confirmation and for official leadership. This is a foundational instruction in Christian doctrine for believers of all ages.
- Phase three, is ongoing catechesis, which focuses on the continuing growth in depth of knowledge of God and His ways. This is a more systematic teaching that can be done in different ways such as a weekend seminar, Sunday School, midweek classes, or small groups.
Catechesis in Church Planting Today
You may be asking yourself several questions, “Why use catechisms today? Aren’t they outdated or irrelevant in the postmodern world?” I believe they are important because they provide an outline of the essentials of the faith that is universal for all Christians regardless of denomination or affiliation.
These essentials are what C. S. Lewis had in mind when he wrote Mere Christianity, “To explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” In a similar way, the essentials are what G.K. Chesterton said were to be, “understood by everyone calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed.”
Many church planters today are rediscovering the need for catechesis and the benefits that come using a good catechism. Both new and existing churches can benefit from using catechisms. A catechism can be used as an individual study, during times of family worship, or in small groups. They are still as useful today as they were then.
When using a catechism, allow yourself time to ponder each question and reflect on the answer then let them speak to your head and your heart. Once you get the hang of using it, you can begin to use a more in depth catechism or even write one of your own. Remember, the point is to be slavishly tied to the past, but to learn and apply the principle of using questions and answers for helping Christians learn the essentials of the Christian faith for today.
We would like to recommend To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, which is now available in print and download. The Catechism is designed as a resource for the renewal of Anglican catechetical practice and follows the essential of classic catechetical instruction: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. It is ideal for new and existing churches to instruct and disciple new believers in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.
Dr. Winfield is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He also directs Asbury’s Anglican Formation program. As a seasoned practitioner, he has helped plant several churches and has used his experience to train leaders from around the world. He is the author of several books including his forthcoming book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2018). As an author, one of his passions is the intersection of spiritual formation and mission. He and his wife Kay, have three school aged children and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky.