Grounded and Growing in the Gospel
When we were first preparing to launch Crosstown Church in late 2009, we put much thought into discipleship strategies and processes. We were not the first ones to think about these things. Christian publishing has much to offer in this area, but the plethora of discipleship materials available today can only confuse the matter as there seems to be no cohesive approach among believers. Besides a few obvious necessities such as the importance of Bible reading and prayer, the way the church views discipleship seems to be as varied as the kind of churches you can find in the telephone book.
The Need for Catechism
The publication of J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett’s book, Grounded in the Gospel,1 gave us exactly what we needed for a healthy foundation of Christian discipleship in the church. We established our processes for both church membership and baptism with the help of this book, and we also began thinking about how we could make use of the historic practice of disciple-making for the children in our church. As Packer and Parrett point out, the church’s ministry of grounding new Christians in the basics of the faith has historically been known as catechesis.2 They trace the importance of catechesis throughout church history and offer reasons why the church in the West has largely given up on this historic practice. Why is it that most of the evangelical churches in which we have been raised did not use a formal catechesis?
Among the more surprising of the factors that have contributed to this decline are the unintended consequences of the great Sunday school movement. This lay-driven phenomenon swept across North America in the 1800s and came to dominate educational efforts in most evangelical churches through the twentieth century. It effectively replaced pastor-catechists with relatively untrained lay workers and substituted an instilling of familiarity (or shall we say, perhaps, over familiarity) with Bible stories for any form of grounding in the basic beliefs, practices, and ethics of the faith.3
Consequently, many who grow up in the church may know quite well the story of David and Goliath and the story of Jonah and the great fish. But they cannot adequately articulate the gospel or define such important words as justification and sanctification. Neither do they know how to pray or why the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are so incredibly important to their own spiritual formation.
It is our prayer that God will use this tool to help us pass on the faith to the next generation. Along the way, we also hope that many adults will become much more “grounded in the gospel” as they teach the catechism to the children in our church. How can we pass along a faith that we ourselves do not know well?
An Explanation of the Catechism
The Crosstown Catechism consists of 108 questions and answers that are intended to be learned by rote memory. These questions and answers will be learned in three cycles of 36 questions each. Cycle 1 covers basic theology. Cycle 2 covers the Ten Commandments. And Cycle 3 covers the sacraments and prayer. Together, these three cycles teach us three essential facets of the Christian faith which we might call “the Way,” “the Truth,” and “the Life” (John 14:6).
Cycle 1 teaches us the Truth, the basic theology of Christianity. It is represented by the image of a book, for it is in the Bible that God reveals these truths to us.
In Cycle 2 we learn about the Way, for the Ten Commandments teach us that following God’s way leads us to live a life of love for God and neighbor. This aspect of the faith is represented by the image of a compass.
Finally, Cycle 3 teaches us that the Life of Christianity is found only in a real relationship with God himself. Both the Lord’s prayer and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are concerned with this element of relationship with God. And we symbolize this facet of the faith with the image of a life-giving tree.
Each year we will go through one of the cycles together so that children will go through each of the three cycles twice while they are in the first through the sixth grades.
In addition to learning the catechism questions and answers, children will also memorize the Apostle’s Creed (Cycle 1), the Ten Commandments and the books of the Bible (Cycle 2), and the Lord’s Prayer (Cycle 3), along with songs and Scripture verses.
That’s a lot of material! But it is only right that we not view the religious education of our children as any less important than math and science and history. The most crucial thing you need to know about the catechism is this: if you are a parent, it is your responsibility to teach your children the catechism. We believe the church’s role is to equip and support the parents in this endeavor, and we have developed this resource for that purpose. Because we cannot replace parental influence on a child’s faith, we want to do everything we can to assist you as you catechize your children.
1J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010). BACK
2Ibid., 22. BACK
3Ibid., 24. Emphasis original. BACK