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Why is the Catechism no longer preached?

A fair question that deserves a direct answer: Why is the Catechism not preached anymore?

I can of course only answer for myself, but my reasons may overlap those of others, so it seems beneficial for me to try explain.

The Heidelberg Catechism has several very meaningful and important parts to it. I cherish those. What is important to understand is that they only became meaningful in my adult years. They meant nothing when I was first exposed to them. Nothing! There are also some parts that come across as nasty, because it was written in a time when stern arguments and denouncements were common ways of convincing people of the rightness of our understanding of God.

I will switch to explaining in point form, rather than telling long stories.

  1. The way the HC was introduced to me as a child and youth, both in evening sermons and Catechism class, had no meaning for me, and created a strong resistance to it. I take responsibility for trying to overcome that resistance, but it has not been easy. The church of my youth bears more responsibility than I do, because it did not understand or acknowledge two things:a) The HC (and the confessions for that matter) will mean very little to someone who does not have an age-appropriate form of relationship and love for God. Relationship comes before knowledge. The desire for more knowledge about God comes when the relationship is healthy, and then much can be willingly absorbed. The church gave us head knowledge when there was no heart relationship.b) We were presented the HC as ‘brain food’ in a rote manner of teaching that paid no attention to how we as kids and youth learn best.c) I suspect that the requirement for HC preaching every year was a serious challenge to pastors who had trouble being creative. I also believe it is a reason that in those days pastors rarely stayed more than 5 years in one place, because they knew that their congregations had heard all they had to give in terms of Catechism sermons. I am also convinced it is a big reason for the demise of the second service.Given the above, I do not want to even risk being part of doing the same to another generation. I work, as a pastor and preacher, to foster people having a relationship with a saving God and trust that once that relationship is in place, their desire for knowledge will make the Catechism a learning tool for them.
  2. The wonderful, personal learning tool of the HC was developed at a time when most people needed education of all kinds, and when educational tools were few. But all such tools have a time and a place, and a way of speaking to the culture in which and for which they were created. It does not speak to modern urban people anymore in a language they understand. So new tools need to be created, regularly, to help people understand the teachings and doctrines we derive from scripture. Even those get outdated within a few decades today.
  3. In this age of people knowing less and less scripture, I feel it is more important to preach and teach more directly from scripture in the evening service (when I am in a church that has one) in a way that deepens people’s bible knowledge and appreciation for the scriptures and God’s love for all creation etc. My hope is that their desire for deeper knowledge and relationship with God is enhanced, and they seek to learn more through reading the catechism and confessions. That is one reason why I do use the Catechism liturgically, so that people might just think “Hey, that is a neat way of saying that, I’d like to read more” or even, “Maybe it is time to have a class were we study this together.”
  4. Somewhat related, I believe spiritual growth in relationship to God’s word and God as revealed in that Word and in creation is a more important starting point than knowledge of intellectual teachings derived from scripture.
  5. Though at points the HC explains what we call the gospel well, especially in it’s outline of us needing to be aware of our fallenness and need for being freed from bondage, and how God brought that new freedom about, and then how we can live free and gratitude filled lives once we have become part of that Kingdom, I still prefer to preach that gospel directly from scripture.
  6. If I were to preach sermon on ‘scripture derived teachings’ there are more pressing needs in the church today that need addressing that the HC does not touch. Based on what God has taught me in life, our current culture in the CRC could benefit more from a series of evening services on the 12 steps of recovery than from the Heidelberg Catechism. That would address a greater need than the need for knowledge. The 12 steps are biblically based wisdom just as much as the HC is.
  7. My last reason for not preaching the HC is not necessarily my least important one. In the next week I may think of more reasons, but my experience in the past has also been that people who want to hear Catechism sermons want it more to keep Dad or Grandfather from rolling over in his grave (or rolling his eyes if he’s still alive but in a ‘strict and particular’ church) than any other reason. That is a blunt way of saying such people’s desire seems to me to be based more in fear of breaking with tradition than anything else. If that is the case for anyone reading this (and if my statement hurt or angered you, this may be you), may I refer you back to my blog post on Reformed principles and Reformed practices. There is a danger you are clinging to a practice, and not a principle. The principle is that we should educate our children in the things of God and model and nurture relationship with God for and with them, and that we should educate believers into an ever deeper knowledge and experience of God. The tools we use to do that must change with the times. I’d love to get a grant of some kind and help develop such a tool. I once tried to teach it creatively, but it was a lot of work to pastor a congregation, help raise a family, and come up with creative and interactive ways of teaching the truths the Catechism derives from scripture. Here is the story of what I tried: http://wp.me/P3etrg-6y

So those are some of my thoughts in attempting to give an honest answer to the question of why I do not preach the catechism. We are in a very challenging time, especially when it comes to passing on the Reformed faith to new generations. The challenge is to find ways of conveying scriptural meaning in a way that is meaningful to them. The ways that it was done with my generation do not work, and in fact in my case created barriers to me coming to appreciate the HC. A friend of mine in seminary, Shawn Brix, whose wonderful job of explaining Reformed Sabbath principles in the Today devotional this month is just finishing (His July 29th entry was AMAZING!), is one person God used to turn me around. In Seminary we were both signed up for a course on Heidelberg Catechism Preaching, and in the first class we were given instructions and assigned to pick 3 Questions and Answers to write sermons on. Us CRC guys moaned and rolled our eyes, but we knew this kind of preaching was expected in some places, so we were ready to work on it. The next morning I met Shawn in the coffee shop and he was all excited. “This is amazing! “He said, waving the booklet with the Heidelberg Catechism in it that we had been given in class the day before, “you guys have this all worked out in questions and answers. It’s amazing! I can’t wait to preach this stuff.” Through Shawn, finally at Serminary (deliberate typo), God began to show me the value of something my heritage had actually dulled me to.

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