Archive for the 'Westminster Shorter Catechism' Category

True Worship according to Hughs Oliphant Old

April 25, 2009

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be his image—an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect the divine glory. The psalmist tells us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19.1) The apostle Paul in the prayer with which he begins the epistle to the Ephesians makes it clear that God created us to praise him.

Ephesians 1.3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace… (Eph. 1:3-6)

This prayer says much about the worship of the earliest Christians. It shows the consciousness that the first Christians has of the ultimate significance of their worship. They understood themselves to have been destined and appointed to live to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:12). When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to this same basic principle; God created us to worship him…Worship must above all serve the glory of God.—Hughes Oliphant Old

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What is a Catechism?

February 19, 2009

catechism-paul-teaching1

You’ve probably heard the word before but almost certainly it was said with a sneer: ‘Catechism.’ In our day and age, the word usually conjures up a dreary scene where innocent little children are taught to mindlessly recite church dogma, without really understanding what that dogma means. The teacher force feeds the children knowledge that is outdated, outmoded thus stifling the child’s natural ability to discover answers to life’s questions on his or her own. According to this view, those who promote the catechetical teaching love to follow tradition more than they do free enquiry. The only problem is, this view of the catechetical teaching is a distortion of the truth.

So, what is catechism?

The word means ‘to instruct’ and is put forward in the New Testament as a proper means of teaching others the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 14.19, Paul says he ‘would rather speak five words with my mind so that I may even teach others than ten thousand words in a tongue.’ In the original Greek in which Paul wrote, the word which is here translated ‘teach’ has the same root word as ‘catechism.’ Simon Kistemaker, a scholar of the Greek New Testament, explains:

The Greek verb katecheo (I teach) actually means that a teacher utters words that are directed to listeners who are seated at his feet. In the early church, the verb connoted a question-and-answer method that we associate with the term catechism (1 Corinthians, New Testament Commentary, Baker Academic, pp. 496-97)

The point is, Paul would rather speak a few meaningful words that people who are listening may understand, than speak ten thousand meaningless words that no one who is listening may comprehend. A few sensible words are better than ocean of senseless words because the sensible, meaningful words may teach people the truth. And how is the teaching accomplished? Through the simple method of the teacher asking questions and the pupil providing answers.

The first question of one of the great Protestant catechisms asks, ‘What is man’s primary purpose?’ (I’m using a modern version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in this instance). The answer is, ‘Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’

Who was taught by the catechitical method? Lots of people, including the first two or three generations of Protestants and Reformers. In fact, many of the great leaders of the Protestant Reformation wrote catechisms so that their people would have a firm grasp on the content of their faith. But catechisms were used in the church long before the Reformation of the 16th century.

The early church used catechisms to instruct the people. The writer of the gospel of Luke says that Theophilus, for whom the gospel of Luke was written, had been instructed according to the catechetical method. Luke writes, ‘it seemed good to me…to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things that you have been taught.’ The last word of that quote is familiar to us, it is katecheo (I teach). Theophilus, says Luke, has been catechized. Other places in the New Testament that speak of instruction are Acts 18.25; 21.21, 24; Romans 2.18; 1 Corinthians 14.19; and Galatians 6.6. All these instances may not refer to catechism. But in Galatians 6.6, Paul does seem to speak of teaching in the sense of catechetical instruction, that is, imparting the content of faith through the simple method of questions and answers.

William Hendriksen observed, ‘The church that neglects catechetical instruction has itself to blame for its waning strength.’

A Book for Couple of Family Devotions

February 18, 2009

book-training-hearts-teaching-minds1At bedtime, Terri and I observe a time of devotion. We’ve been doing this for some time and it has added something very important to our marriage. I can’t imagine our life without it. A good devotion helps a couple reflect on the day gone by and plan for the one to come. A good devotion points us towards God, reminds us of his goodness, clarifies his Law, underscores his grace, and leads us into fuller praise and prayer. And, hopefully, does so in a clear, simple way that is devotional, not academic.

With this criteria for assessing the value of a devotional in view, I recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Meade. It is simply superb. Terri and I have received many blessing  for this plain little book. The format is straightforward: there is a short devotional for each day of the week (except Sunday) and each week has a theme. The weekly themes are based on the Westminister Shorter Catechism (a method of teaching Christians knowledge about God through questions and answers).

From start to finish the book takes about two years to go through, but as I say, the reading for each day is more than manageable. It takes us about ten minutes per night to complete that night’s devotion.

Starr Meade, the author, is easy to read and only rarely uses jargon. When she does, she clearly explains the jargon so that you understand what it means and why it is important to understand the idea the word conveys. It is very, very user-friendly. Again, it is not a text book, it is a devotional.

For Terri and I, devotions have become a time to take stock of our day, the words we said (or didn’t say), the actions we took (or didn’t take), the thoughts and feelings that went on. Since no one is ever perfectly perfect even for an hour (‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves…’, 1 John 1.8), the devotion becomes the moment when we confess our sins to our gracious heavenly Father and seek his forgiveness. It also is the moment when we renew our pledge to follow his Son and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds usually cites one or two verses of the Bible per day. The Bible reading are the centre of each devotion.

Click here for more details about the book.