By In Theology, Worship

Becoming Your Catechism

Becoming Your Catechism (1)

A Transformational Tool

Christian history has a strong and rich tradition of catechetical teaching. Most Catechisms consist of a series of questions and answers with the purpose of instructing another individual in the content of the Christian faith. There are a variety of denominational catechisms: Luther and Ursinus each composed their own catechisms during the Reformation Era. These provided their perspective movements with a common and unified vision.

St. Paul mentions a tradition of catechesis in his letter to the church in Galatia, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” (Galatians 6:6) St. Paul uses two greek phrases: katēchoumenos and katēchounti to mean “being taught” and “teaching.” Both begin with the same “kata-echeo” root, where we get the English word catechism.

The Divine Echo

Commentators have noted that this Greek verb “echeo” attaches the idea of learning to audible sound. The Apostle certainly implies that we are to learn by oral tradition. In Greek mythology, a nymph called Echo is cursed with a speech impediment by the goddess Hera. The consequence is that Echo is only able to repeat back what others have said. Christian catechisms with their prewritten questions and given answers free us from Echo’s hopeless repetitions. To our human questions, we receive the promises of God’s reciprocity. Unlike the curse of the nymphs, we are made whole in our echoed answers. The antiphonary nature of questions and answers in the catechism help build up the wholeness of the body of Christ. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)

Your Voice in God’s Story

My Bishop Todd Hunter (ACNA/C4SO) describes the importance of catechism in the context of your story: “Everyone is looking for a story to live in – that is why the catechism is important.” He continues with, “Catechism is not best understood as a bunch of bullet-point doctrines. When we understand catechism that way, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice.” Bp. Hunter argues that limiting catechism to just doctrine can limit the practice to only mental assent. “Catechism is a way of summarizing this amazing cosmic story from divine intention to divine completion. A story that invites our participation.”

Bishop Hunter is describing catechism as more than a theological exercise. The questions and answers of our catechisms create a vision and story that we can invite others into, “that becomes the life of discipleship.” Beyond being a pedagogical tool, the catechism is a way for Christians to be formed into new spiritual realities. Our personal narratives are supplanted by the united and concerted voice of the Church on earth. As the world asks, “What is thy only comfort?” The church responds: “my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is more than an ammunition of answers for apologetics. As Christians, it is the real participation in our vocation as divine image bearers. Our answers transform us, as the very sounds we form with our mouths become our story. Just as the first creation came to be by the Word of God, so each image bearer speaks his own new creation into being.  St. Paul describes this process as putting on a new man, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4) Our catechisms help us redirect our lives and our story back to the life and story of Christ. May we “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (3:10)

Just as in Crosby’s famous hymn Blessed Assurance, where the familiar lines “this is my story” are coupled with the lines, “echoes of mercy, whispers of love.”

Resources on Catechisms

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By In Culture

Feminism as a Self-Defeating Movement

Feminism (1)

Is modern feminism a self-defeating movement? How the Women’s March in DC reveals the inherent weakness of state-sponsored feminism:

On January 21, more than one million women marched as part of the Women’s March on Washington and in cities across the country. Many marched in response to the election of Donald Trump over would-be first female president Hillary Clinton. The march has inspired a flurry of social media activity over the weekend. Commentators have pointed out the various philosophical contradictions that the Women’s March represents: like excluding pro-life groups as anti-woman (Washington Times), the idea of gender fluidity against a gender-exclusive march (Feminist Current), and the threats of violence and anger by a crowd proclaiming peace and love (Matt Walsh).
Missing from the discussion is how this movement has further enslaved men and women under the heel of “the man.” For all of its so-called progress for women’s rights, the movement now called feminism is increasingly indebted to the benevolence of a government sugar daddy. This is revealed in the many, many homemade posters created by marchers. While they touch on a number of issues like equal pay, reproductive rights, and the increased sexualization of women – each keystone point of modern feminism is heartily undermined by their own “ball and chain” in their arranged marriage with the state.

Female Dependence on “The Man”

Independent women are a treasure to the church and the world. Let no one deceive you to believe that somehow a woman is intrinsically defined by her relationship to a man. But one must ask, what is independent about demanding the government to pay for your every whim and fancy? Birth control, abortion, and even tampons are described by marchers as fundamental entitlements of each and every woman. To a large degree, these entitlements are a present reality for the overwhelming majority of women in America. So why march? They march because of the threat of infidelity by the new administration. Feminism in its marriage to the state is awakened to a new husband in the Trump administration.

Is this the progress envisioned by women’s rights advocates? Begging a man to preserve their rights and entitlements? Or was feminism intended to be a movement of equality and independence where women held their own apart from the goodwill of men? Perhaps feminists once imagined a country where they reclaimed their own personal sovereignty and retained their individual rights apart from the dictates and handouts of the State? Instead, modern feminism has anthropomorphized the state, that is changed it into the form (morphé) of man (anthropos). In Trump, they discover how this man-state is not always amiable. Their dependence on the state dropped them into the most vulnerable section of Alexander Tyle’s cycle of history, the chamber just before bondage.

In demanding a Hegelian “god walking on Earth” state, the roots of feminism become their own undoing.

“Big Brother” & the so-called right to privacy

The most controversial of women’s rights are related to the right to privacy. This is how the U.S. Supreme Court described abortion in the 1973 Roe V. Wade case that has now led to the death of millions of women in the womb. Yet is feminism a principled approach to the right to privacy? Can a movement that gives ascent to the surveillance programs supported and defended by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have any real claim to a principled idea of privacy? At the same time does the paper thin case for abortion as a “privacy right” jive with the licentiousness of modern feminism? We are led to believe the lie that feminism is a movement to protect the private sexual behavior of women. This is contradicted by how the goals of sexual liberation lead to their increased exploitation and objectification in the public sphere and in media. From raunchy female comedians like Amy Schumer to the vagina hats at the DC march, feminism in its modern context has abused the right of privacy to define women as sexual objects.

vagina head

The real right of privacy of the 4th Amendment is sacrificed at “Big Brother’s” altar of privacy from moral censure. The cost is the politicization of sex at the expense of a woman’s dignity. Abortion itself represents the sad contradiction in the feminist idea of privacy: a woman strapped down, legs in stirrups, and vaginally invaded.

“Uncle Sam” and equitable pay

A historic argument against female domesticity was the robbery of a woman’s labor in childrearing.  The “cult of domesticity” is maligned as a patriarchal attempt to enslave women. As women joined the workforce they certainly faced an uphill battle in receiving equitable consideration for then male-dominated positions and the pay disparities were considered a form of oppression. Modern feminists insist there is an ongoing battle in this arena related to a “pay gap.” Some argue that the pay gap is as large as a twenty percent disparity between men and women. This twenty percent pay gap is seen as a massive injustice demonstrating the continued tyranny of misogyny in a patriarchal culture.

But what if the threat to women’s income in greater than the income disparity and greater than twenty percent? If we are concerned about the twenty percent loss that some may experience, how much more should feminists be concerned about the even larger cut that Uncle Sam is taking from women?

14939_I_Want_Your_Money_UncleSamFederal and State income taxes coupled with payroll taxes add up to a fifty-percent tax rate here in California. A rate that increases as women raise their pay. So that if the pay gap ended today – Uncle Sam would take an even bigger chunk away from women. Perhaps these taxes are the simple shards from breaking through the glass ceiling?

Do modern feminists not see how they feed the beast of their own demise? They created a culture that abdicated individual responsibilities for government dependence and constitutional protection for moral ambiguity.

This is why they hate Trump. He’s a bad husband. He’s unfaithful. He’s a bad daddy. Not only is he creepy, but he threatens to put the children out on their own.
Modern Feminism created its own crisis: have they ditched “oppressive” patriarchy for a tyrannical national patrimony?

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By In Theology, Worship

A Case for Working Hard in Worship: Eight Reasons to Sweat on Sunday Morning

From Couch to Warfare

There is a great app called Couch to 5K. It’s designed for people who have become comfortable with the couch and have an allergy to the treadmill. It’s an incremental approach to working out. As the weeks go by we become more accustomed to the patterns established and we long to achieve the final level when we run an entire 5K. It’s hard work. My proposition is very simple: Worship is hard. We cannot remain comfortable in our pews. We need to start running the race. We may not be ready to run a 5K, but we need to be headed in that direction. And like running, worship requires habits and consistency. I am calling you to burn your calories in worship not because I am a controversialist or a tyrannical trainer but because I want you to be a healthy sacrifice to God. In fact, the formal synonym for worship is liturgy. Liturgy comes from two words: “Work” and “people.” Therefore, worship or liturgy can be accurately defined as the work of the people. 

Our Lord was so righteously angry by the easy business transactions (easy worship) of the Temple that he turned upside down the world when he overturned the tables of the money-changers (John 2:13-16). Such audacity should be imitated by God’s people, but cautiously exercised in light of our sinfulness. So here is my attempt to cautiously turn a few tables upside down with the hope that some will decide to keep it that way rather than try to put it back up or mend the broken pieces. (more…)

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By In Family and Children, Theology, Wisdom

Raising Expectations

A few weeks ago, the young people at Emmanuel Evangelical Church in North London organised a conference to share with the wider church their own aspirations to stop thinking of themselves as overgrown children and instead to grow towards greater maturity in Christ. The conference was called Raising Expectations, with talks on The Myth of Adolescence, Godly Ambition, Motivation, and Taking Risks, and the videos are now online below.

(Click here for audio recordings only.)

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By In Theology

Two Births of Jesus

One night in Nazareth, God became man in the virgin womb of Mary, a young lady betrothed to Joseph. Three trimesters later, Jesus was born on Christmas day. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes (Lk. 2:7). Gentile worshipers brought him gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt. 2:11). The infant’s life was threatened by an evil king, but he escaped death (Mt. 2:13-15).

Thirty-three years later, Jesus had his life threatened again by evil rulers (Mt. 26:65-68). Instead of escaping, he volunteered to die (Jn. 10:18). At his death in Jerusalem, Israelite worshipers prepared spices and oils for him (Lk. 23:55-56; Jn. 19:39-40). He was wrapped in fine linens and buried in a virgin tomb, a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Mt. 27:57-60; Lk. 23:53). Three days later, he was reborn on Easter Sunday.

As we celebrate the nativity of our Lord, let us recall the glorious providence of God. Let us remember that not only does Christ’s first coming look forward to his second coming, but that his birth out of the womb foreshadows his birth out of the tomb. King Jesus conquered death and now sits on heaven’s throne. We join his mother in singing these words from the Magnificat: (more…)

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By In Theology, Worship

10 Questions Preachers Should Ask Before Sunday Morning

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon.a The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week. I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocateb–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners. (more…)

  1. Thankful for great interactions before this article was published. It helped sharpen my points  (back)
  2. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)

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By In Culture, Theology, Worship

Meaningless rituals?

One of the most common misunderstandings about rituals is that it’s necessary to understand them in order for them to be meaningful. In particular, we are told, unless we understand:

(1) what the significance of a given ritual is (what we might call the meaning of the ritual); and perhaps also

(2) why the ritual has the significance it does (what we might call the rationale for the ritual);

then the ritual means nothing.

At least, that’s how the argument runs.

The trouble is, the argument is complete nonsense. It’s very easy to see why.

(more…)

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