A Baptist’s Ode to Catechesis

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Catechesis has been the church’s continuous ministry of teaching the faith to believers, aiming to instill within them a Christian way of living grounded in Scripture, dripping with theological truth, and spiritually enriching.  As a Christian educator, I’ve come to embrace the practice. As I’ve plumbed the depths of the ancient church fathers, the reformers, and contemporary theologians for insight into how the church has sought to form and shape believers’ spiritual lives, the collective voice of the church throughout history has directed me toward a renewed practice of catechesis. However, I approach the subject from an unlikely perspective; one sometimes infamous for disregarding ancient practices—that of an evangelical Baptist. How does the church’s ancient practice of catechesis align with my own convictions as an evangelical Baptist? Here are a few ways.

Catechesis Is Biblically-Grounded

For Baptists, our sole authority for doctrine and practice is the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17). How does catechesis align with this commitment? Catechesis simply summarizes the core teachings of Scripture on the triune God, the fall, Christ, and other crucial doctrines. From the creation of the universe to its redemption through Christ, catechesis expounds rich biblical theology in a way that is comprehensive, coherent, and formative. While it is important to know certain biblical passages about a specific doctrine, it is equally as important to coherently summarize a theological viewpoint that encompasses the entirety of Scripture. Doctrine not only informs our minds, but forms our hearts and shapes us into the people God demands us to become. Since catechesis derives from the teachings of Scripture, as a Baptist, I can look to a catechism (well-footnoted with biblical references) for theological instruction and insight.

Catechesis Maintains Doctrinal Orthodoxy

Baptists are committed to “mere Christianity,” the essential doctrines that inform our theological convictions. Since the inception of the church, the correct teaching of doctrine has been a primary concern. Even in the apostle Paul’s time, theologies foreign to Christian faith were profusely sprouting up in churches, making the orthodox teaching of faith a critical practice (1 Tim. 1:3-4; 4:6, 11, 13, 16; 6:2-4; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:2; 14-15, 24-25; 4:2-3; Titus 2:1, 7-8, 15; 3:1). Not only this, but these doctrinal heresies led many within the church to practice immoral behavior. Maintaining doctrinal orthodoxy means enabling correct practices and ensuring that believers are growing in the life of faith. Hippolytus, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Baxter all put forth their own approaches to catechesis, seeking to ensure that true Christian faith would be maintained in the life of the church.  As a Baptist who places a high emphasis on correct doctrine, catechesis meshes well with my convictions.

Catechesis Is Theologically Balanced

There are many pastors who delight in the redemptive love of God and others who expound on God’s judgment of sinners. Some pastors prize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and others completely forget them. Catechesis provides a safeguard against the practice of “hobby-horsing” and ensures that the whole counsel of God is being taught to the church. Take, for instance, Question 43 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?

A. By Christ’s power our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may offer ourselves as a sacrifice of gratitude to him.

Notice how this answer points to the need for believers to crucify the desires of the flesh and put on good works as a sign of gratitude and love toward Christ. At times, we are tempted to either “beat” our bodies into submission at the expense of replacing bad practices with good works. Other times, we focus so much on doing “good deeds” while failing to cast off our selfish practices. This question from the Heidelberg Catechism encourages us both to cast off evil deeds and put on good works, ensuring that we do not practice one and disregard the other. Catechisms as a whole emphasize both God’s love and justice, God’s transcendence and immanence, as well as the exclusivity of Christ and his graciousness to all humankind. Catechesis helps this Baptist to not disregard any doctrine that makes me “uncomfortable,” but instead challenges me to embrace a robust theology that celebrates theological paradoxes.

Catechesis Is Educationally Engaging

Most catechisms comes in a dialogical question-and-answer format that allows for both memorization and fruitful engagement. Baptists enjoy a rich lineage of religious education, and catechesis fits the bill when it comes to rigorous content in an engaging format. While many curricula out there try to plan out the finer points of an instructional lesson, the elegance of catechesis is its simplicity that enables broad engagement with biblically-grounded ideas. Moreover, these “holy” discussions enrich our growth in the life of faith, challenging us to ponder the majesty of God, live to glorify him, and heartily engage Christian practices. As an educator, I embrace the practice catechizing people into the Christian faith through rigorous engagement of ideas with the hope of crafting biblically-grounded Christ-followers.

My journey toward embracing catechesis has only just begun. Catechesis provides a solid framework by which to educate people into the Christian faith and guard them over against a society that embraces skepticism and vague spiritualities. My prayer for Baptists, and evangelicals as a whole, is that we take up the call of the ancient church to catechize people into our faith and enable them to become a people who not only know about God, but embody God’s love in a world that desperately needs it.

Check out Seedbed’s own Echo Catechism, 30 Questions, and This We Believe: Meditations on the Apostle’s Creed in our store.

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Ben Espinoza currently serves as a pastor at Covenant Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. A frequent writer in areas related to Christian formation, ministry, and theology, he currently serves on the board of directors for the Society for Children’s Spirituality: Christian Perspectives.

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