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Creeds, Cathechesis, and Confidence in God
The Necessity of Prenatal Catechesis
R.C. Sproul was fond of pointing out that everyone is a theologian. Some are good theologians and some are very poor theologians, but everyone believes something. Even those who profess to have no beliefs actually hold that position as if it were true—thus constituting a belief system. There, as they say, is the rub.
Most of us believe the things we believe because we were taught them, not because we learned them. There is a difference. It is the difference between indoctrination and education. The former teaches you what to think, while the latter teaches you how to think.
When it comes to making disciples, which of these processes should be involved? The correct answer to that question is yes. We have a God-Breathed Book which serves as our final authority in matters of faith and practice. We are duty bound to teach what St. Paul called the “pattern of sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 1:13). We are not free to just wax Socratic and instruct boys and men to somehow “know themselves.” We have a text from which to work. But we must also teach people how to think by thinking through the text. We do this through memorization, explanation, exposition, and application.
Learning is a lifelong process. Learning about life takes even longer. So it is best for us to number our days and apply our hearts towards wisdom (Ps. 90:12). We start the process as early as possible—optimally nine months before the would-be disciple gets here. Otherwise Folly will get the jump on us.
Dame Folly has her own method of catechesis. She employs a plethora of professors. She commissions a million mentors. Every sight, sound, and smell is twisted to fit her agenda. This requires of us a level of vigilance. We must be ready to convert everything that Folly perverts. And always remember your mother’s true proverb, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Don't wait on symptoms before you start applying the medicine.
If you leave it to the Church of Contemporary Culture to catechize your child, then you may end up with something like the following.
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Why do you say man? Aren't women included? You seem very sexist.
Q. What is the chief end of humankind?
A. I dunno. To just do it.
Q. What rule has God given that we may glorify and enjoy Him?
A. Rules? Is this one of those legalistic churches?
Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach that we must learn to love and accept ourselves.
Q. What is God?
A. Were you under the impression that I wanted to go to seminary?
Q. Are there more gods than one?
A. I suppose not. At least not in our denomination.
Q. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. What are you talking about?
Q. What are the decrees of God?
A. You mean like predestination and all that?
A. I think that God wants us to be free. He knows everything, of course, but He still gave us free will. I couldn't worship a God who didn't do that.
Q. How does God execute His decrees?
A. Do you have to call them decrees?
Q. How does God work out His will?
A. Well, He looks down the corridors of time and sees what is happening and decides that is what He really wanted anyways.
Q. What is the work of creation?
A. The work of creation is what happened back at the start of everything.
Q. How did God create man?
A. I heard a guest lecturer at our church say one time that there really isn't any conflict between the Bible and modern science.
Q. Fine. How did God create man?
A. Isn't this where the Bible talks about natural selection?
Q. What are God's works of providence?
A. I think providence is when God looks down on us and sort of watches what we do. If we look like we are going to really get into trouble, He can help out. If we pray really hard.
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is the lack of self-esteem.
Q. Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?
A. No. Why would that happen?
Q. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. We are made partakers of His redemption when we ask Him into our hearts.
Q. What is justification?
A. Justification is when we ask Jesus into our hearts too.
Q. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is trying to learn to love yourself so that you can try to love others.
Q. What is the sum of the ten commandments?
A. The sum of the ten commandments is what the Jews had to do in the Old Testament. But we're under grace, not law.
Q. What is required in the first commandment?
A. No other gods. Each religion has to worship its own god in its own way.
Q. What is required in the second commandment?
A. Um ... I think that's the one about graven images. The Jews really hated graven images. I learned that from the Passion of Christ movie.
Q. What is required in the third commandment?
A. Not to cuss.
Q. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. What was the fourth commandment again?
A. That's the one about going to church.
Q. What is required in the fifth commandment?
A. Can I look at this sheet here?
A. Okay. Parents. The fifth commandment says that we should love our parents and try to forgive them for how they brought us up. Even though mine didn't give me the support that every child has a right to.
Q. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. Don't kill people.
Q. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. Not to have sex with another woman until after the divorce is final. And it is probably best not to be in the same church with your ex.
Q. What is required in the eighth commandment?
A. Don't take things home from the office. Or, at least no more than everybody else.
Q. What is required in the ninth commandment?
A. Not to tell lies. But everybody does.
Q. What is required in the tenth commandment?
Don't read catalogs so much that you wind up charging over your credit card limit. At least, that's what works for me.
Humorous though this may be, I fear that it is an unfortunate representation of far too many within out churches. We are called to better things. And to attain them this means that we have to teach the truth. Then teach what the truth means. Then teach what the truth means according to specific texts of Scripture. Then teach what the truth means according to specific texts of Scripture to disciples as morally responsible persons. And give them Christ at every turn. That’s catechesis. If the disciple happens to still in utero, then today is the day to start making up for lost time.
A Nicene Conversation
One of the tools we may employ in the task of catechesis is the Creed, the rule of faith. It is one thing to commit it to memory, but far more effective it would be if we learned (and taught) what it means to be conversant in its content.
A few days ago on Twitter I hammered out a brief, hypothetical conversation between myself and a person showing some interest in Christianity. While it suggests a way in which the Creed may be used for such instruction, it is by no means an exhaustive exposition. But what it does do is point in the direction that such a conversation might go if properly led along with an understanding of this basic symbol of our faith.
Them: “What is the ground of your epistemic life?”
Me: “I believe in God the Father, the Almighty.”
Them: “What is your metaphysics?”
Me: “Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible...”
Them: “Well how do you understand the problem of universals and particulars, the one and the many?”
Me: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ...”
Them: “But why believe such a Deity is in any way personal?”
Me: “The only-begotten Son of God”
Them: “Does that mean Jesus was created at some point too?”
Me: “Begotten of his Father before all worlds”
Them: “So you’re saying that the one we called Jesus is at least part god?”
Me: “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father”
Them: “Ok, so a personal God, yes. But why assume he’s as powerful as the Father God; further, why would he leave heaven?
Me: “By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven”
Them: “Could we not just say that Jesus was an inspired and inspiring man without appealing to the divine and the supernatural?”
Me: “He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost”
Them: “Well then how could he possibly identify with us or we with him?”
Me: “And of the Virgin Mary, and was made man”
Them: “I can understand the mythic potency of such a story, but why assume it was anything like a historical reality, a true myth?”
Me: “And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate”
Them: “Crucifixion implies suffering. Suffering implies weakness. Are you willing to say that God was capable of suffering as a man?!”
Me: “He suffered”
Them: “Hold on, you’re saying that this God-man literally DIED?”
Me: “He suffered and was buried”
Them: “Wouldn’t that imply that he ceased to exist that point, that this Jesus was annihilated? What good is a dead God?”
Me: “He descended into Hell”
Them: “Wouldn’t that mean that Hell and evil had won and that death is the end of all things?”
Me: “On the third day, He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures”
Them: “If he’s alive then where is he now?”
Me: “And ascended into heaven, And sits at the right hand of the Father”
Them: “So that’s it? He died, rose, and returned to heaven and left us to our own devices?”
Me: “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead”
Them: “And after this judgment you expect to live with him forever?”
Me: “Whose kingdom shall have no end.”
Them: “Ok, so the Father is God and Jesus is God, but don’t Christians believe in a Trinity?”
Me: “And I believe in the Holy Ghost”
Them: “So what is that? Like some cosmic force?”
Me: “The Lord, the Giver of Life”
Them: “How does he fit in with the Father and Son?”
Me: “He proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
Them: “Does that make him a lesser deity than the Father and Son?”
Me: “Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified”
Them: “Apart from giving life, has he been at work in other ways in the world?
Me: “Who spoke by the prophets”
Them: “Ok, but that was all in the past. Does he actively work in the present?”
Me: “And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church”
Them: “I see. So he forms and guides the Church. But If Jesus is the one who died for our sins then how does the Spirit work, if at all, in salvation?”
Me: “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins”
Them: “Ah, so the Spirit applies the work of Jesus through the ministry of the Church. Forgiveness is good, but is that the end, the final hope of salvation?”
Me: “I look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the Life of the world to come.
Them: “That does sound kind of glorious.”
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I believe in One, True, and Living Gods; a Triune Oneness—irreducible yet simple; Who in eternity dwelt alone in solidarity with Himself, enjoying the perpetual fellowship of His Other Selves. To wit, God was ever alone but never lonely.
I believe that He eternally exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the Speaker, the Spoken, and the Interpretation.
I believe that He is the Uncreated Creator of all that is not God. As God, He neither knows lack or lacks knowledge. He does not need to be served by creaturely hands, yet that is exactly what He has made them to do.
I believe that God is God and I am not; Jesus is Savior and I am not; that the Spirit is Wisdom and I am not.
I believe that God the Son was the instrument of creation; the Spoken Word by which nothingness became everythingness. Everything that is is only because He is saying so—right now. If He were to stop saying it, it would cease being it. He upholds all things by the word of His power. All things exist as He insists, and by Him all things consists.
I believe that the Maker of the world was also made in the world; the Infinite became an infant. The incarnation was the intersection of time and eternity, of history and mystery. He was born a faultless man, as other men were not, in order to bear the burden of fallen men, which other men could not.
I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God and so should we. The sun rises each day to bless His name, the trees of the field clap their hands, the morning stars sing for joy, and I refuse to let them have all the fun.
I believe that God so loved the world that He gave us His Word.
I believe that Providence is a soft pillow on which weary heads can find rest. Our Father is directing all of human history as pleases Him best—which simply is best. We live and die by deaths and resurrections. This is the deep comedy which the Author of our Faith as written.
I believe that the material creation is good, holy, and saturated with the kindness of God; and that He intends for us to squeeze everything we can out of it.
I believe that the all of the promises of God to us in Jesus are yes and amen. Not um, hmm, or maybe.
I believe in One, Holy, Catholic Church; troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the Body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our Body.
I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins; the Spirit washes His people with sanctifying water and purifying word. I am not at the center of baptism; God is. Holy Baptism is not a sign of my saving faith; Baptism is the effectual sign that the Faithful God saves His people by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ
I believe that corporate worship is a weekly audience with the King. He calls us, cleanses us, hears our petitions, grants our requests, instructs us, encourages us, exhorts us, renews covenant with us, shares a meal with us, pronounces a blessing upon us, and tells us to bring everyone that we know next time.
I believe that the Kingdom of God is like wheat and weeds, and an arboretum, and a woman baking bread, and gold in a garden, and a sailor searching for pearls, and a pile of dead fish. The Kingdom is like the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship upon the sea, and the way of a man with a maid. The Kingdom like everything which we have ever known, yet unlike anything we have ever imagined.
World without end, Amen.
A Denomination Catechism
This catechism was developed when I was having a bit of fun at everyone’s expense. Enjoy it, and pray for the state of Christ’s Church. Join our Lord in His own prayer that “we all may be one.”
Q. 1. What is the chief end of denominations?
A. To glorify themselves and enjoy the process immensely.
Q. 2. What is a denomination?
A. A loose collection of tightly wound Christians who generally tend to hate the same things.
Q. 3. How many denominations are there?
A. They are more numerous than the starry eyes which wink mischievously in the heavens and the cumulative collection of grains of sand upon the shore; their number is far beyond the powers of the census bureau; a feast of fragments for which twelve baskets could never suffice (Gen. 15:5; Rev. 5:11; Jn. 6:13).
Q. 4. What rule hath God given to direct denominations so that they may serve His holy purpose?
A. Wait, there are rules? (Jdg. 21:15)
Q. 5. What do denominations principally teach?
A. The particular glories of their founder, the peculiar sanctity of their own tradition, the perfunctory nod toward others in the larger Church, and directions to their own tribal booksellers (1 Cor. 1:12; Jn. 8:33; Mt. 16:1; Prov. 23:23).
Q. 6. Is the fractured nature of denominationalism a sign of pride, a barrier to the peace of the Church, a threat to the bond of unity, or the antithesis of Our Lord’s prayer that we all “might be one”?
A. Of course not, silly. Denominations are the gift of God given in order that we might harbor our provincial grudges to prove our commitment to the lighter matters of the law, thus showing our fiducia in minutia (1 Cor. 11:19).
Q. 7. What is a Roman Catholic?
A. Usually neither. They make loud and boisterous claims as to being the rightful successors of Saint Peter. This claim is partially granted by the larger Church since they show some signs of Petrine paternity due to making such rash and brash claims.
Q. 8. What is Eastern Orthodoxy?
A. A formulation of patristic catholicism shrouded in such bearded mystery that Western minds can hardly penetrate behind the hair-lined veil. They have a particular talent for art, but are less well known for their aptitude for hat-making.
Q. 9. What is a Lutheran?
A. A form of beer-battered Protestantism; temperamentally and historically German. Good with hammers, better with Hefeweizen. Ever guided by the Formula of Concord, even if not always by the spirit of it. Any list of distinctive features must include their penchant for paradox, sacramental quibbling, and drinking games.
Q. 10. What is an Anglican?
A. “The secret things belong unto the Lord” (Deut. 29:29). But as much as can be surmised, they are Reformed Catholic English Protestants who would like to place equal emphasis upon each descriptor while often simultaneously denying the validity of adjectives altogether. They are “episcopalian” in their government, which is Greek for “Bishops move diagonally but often in the wrong direction.” Their most distinctive feature is the Book of Common Prayer, a liturgical expression of common frustration with Rome, Latin, and the uptightness of a certain Genevan (uncharacteristically priggish given his being French). *Warning* Triggered over discussions regarding the marital state of certain 16th Century monarchs.
Q. 11. What is a Presbyterian?
A. Followers of Jean Cauvin, who was most famous for his no bs approach to predestination and a high-profile barbecue. They are "presbyterian" in government (as they tend to like to point out the obvious), which basically means that they view themselves as the judicial branch of Christianity. Their role as Keepers of the True Flame—given jure divino—is oft contested, but never in such a way as to cause them to waiver in their resolve. For the elect do not doubt.
Q. 12. What is a Baptist?
A. One who rejects the validity of any child baptized without having first attended Vacation Bible School. Championing personal and congregational autonomy, they defy any central authority or institutional hierarchy—unless aforementioned authority is a Blue-Check Tweeter. They generally are governed congregationally, which is to say, by the deacon board. According to recent statistics, there are more Baptists than people.
Q. 13. What is a Methodist?
A. Methodists are renegade Anglicans. Historically, equestrian pietists; contemporarily, as likely to make the horse a bishop as a pietist. Typically, Arminian, though generally reluctant to allow theology to intrude either upon their politics or their religion.
Q. 14. What is a Pentecostal?
A. Tracing their historic roots back to the Azusa Street Revival, their ancient legacy is just as old as Cornflakes (circa 1906). They are undeniably the most energetic sect of Christians, having swallowed the Holy Ghost feathers and all. Their most distinctive feature is the gift of glossolalia, or the ability to turn comprehensible prayers into utterly unintelligible speech. Might be characterized as being more telegenic, than theological.
Q. 15. What is a Charismatic?
A. A Pentecostal dipped in hot pants, or poured into the skinniest of jeans.