Sunday, 4 May 2008

Catechising

I'm rather excited to have started on the catechism with the 11-15 year olds in church. In Bournville we try to have a programme that helps this age-group get used to listening well to a sermon, knowing how to follow it, understand the Bible, and apply it. It works like this for them on a Sunday morning, over 4 weeks (not necessarily in this order!):
Week 1 - Sermon Search: they stay in for the sermon, and fill in a sheet prepared by the preacher with questions on the sermon.
Week 2 - Senior Bible Class: they go out during the sermon and look at the Sermon Search from the previous week, being helped to further understand and apply it.
Week 3 - Family service, they stay in for the sermon which is integrated into the service.
Week 4 - Senior Bible Class - they go out during the sermon and are helped to consider some other aspect of Christian doctrine and life.

If a church has a Sunday Club type thing for the children to go to during the sermon, I think this is a good transition for them. Of course, it's quite do-able not to have kids going out during the sermon, but that's another thing.

And I'm quite excited that in the 'week 4' session, above, I've just started on a catechism with the children. It sounds like an old, sterile thing, and I can hear some alarm bells start to ring!

- What's the value of learning off words by rote when you don't know what they mean?
Aha, but in the Senior Bible Class, we have whole sessions chatting about what they mean, giving illustrations, etc.

- So children learn off doctrines? What use is that in life?!
Much in every way. Doctrine forms life: right doctrine forms right practice. See Titus. But for example, much of the Christian life involves knowing the difference between justification and sanctification. Not that it's often said like that, but many issues of Christian living, attitude and worship are solved by a proper understanding of justification and not confusing it with sanctification! Now, when I was a teen I was given a wonderful foundation by learning that justification and adoption are acts of God's grace, whereas sanctification is the work of God's free grace. Difference? Once you've learned that:

Justification is the act of God's free grace by which He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight. He does so only because He counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. Justification is received by faith alone.

Adoption is the act of God's free grace by which we become His sons with all the rights and privileges of being His.

Sanctification is the work of God's free grace by which our whole person is made new in the image of God, and we are made more and more able to become dead to sin and alive to righteousness.

...then you spot the difference between an act of God's grace and a work of God's grace! You know that you are justified for ever no matter what - and that God continues to work in you by his grace (not just by your own efforts).

- Children shouldn't be learning off non-Biblical things: they should learn Bible verses.
Either or? They do learn Bible verses. Indeed, in the Sermon Searches, they learn how to study a passage of the Bible, understand it, and apply it. But then a friend in school asks (in a fit of existential despair or teenage angst?!), "What's the point to life?" And as soon as they start to answer that question, they're doing systematic theology. They're giving their friend a summary of what the Bible says, from what they can remember. Will it be accurate? Will it reflect the whole teaching of Scripture? Now, we could give them a series of 20 verses and passages to learn for each question. Or we could give them a Systematic Theology, tell them to look up the appropriate chapter, and they read 20 pages. Or, we could equip them with easy-to-learn summaries of the Bible's teaching, to have to mind.

Today, we looked at man's primary purpose (which is, by the way, to glorify God and enjoy him forever). We thought about the various different purposes other people might say we have (selfish gene, anyone?) We saw where we see in Scripture that our ultimate purpose is to glorify and enjoy God. We saw a few things in Scripture which help us see why glorifying and enjoying God is the wise and right ultimate goal for humans! We thought about what it means to magnify (or glorify) God - expressing how glorious He is (not adding to His glory!) We thought about how we could glorify and enjoy God in daily life. One of the boys said, "That's good - I'd wondered what the point is, to human beings!" And I pondered - his wondering was probably influenced by the recent unexpected death of their foster baby.

What's the point to life? To a human being? A pointless question? Unpractical catechising? Not a bit of it. In fact, learning and studying through the catechism will help these young people to glorify and enjoy God in the ups & downs of life.

See also John Piper's reasons for catechising, and Bish's celebration of a 16 year old's clear testimony to justification, in the 16th century.

[If you're interested, I'm using the Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English, which I learned, but for the paedobaptistic bits will probably adapt using the 1689 / Piper's adaptation, put into modern English... I'll get the other Senior Bible Class leader to do those, if we reach those questions - in several years' time possibly!]

1 comment:

Sean Clokey said...

That sounds great Rosemary! Glad you are getting to minister outwith of the campus.

Oh, I also had a chuckle at the future potential of you excusing yourself on grounds of conscience from teaching credobaptism!