Before I offer my “sort of” apology to the Catechesis Task Force of the ACNA, I should start with some background.
When I became a believer in the early 1970’s, it was through osmosis, in a way. I went to summer church camp. I attended church youth group. I believed in the church leaders and youth mentors that God put in my life. I learned their faith from them by watching them operate in church. They loved me and accepted me. I fell in love with the church and then I learned what that meant later on: follow Jesus
In those days, 40 years ago, it was said that Christian faith was essentially ‘caught’ and not ‘taught’. That was the adage that went around in my youth. And it made sense in the context of a church-friendly world. It meant that the Christian faith was transmitted person to person, heart to heart. Some significant leaders would say it this way, “People will not care how much you know (about the Christian faith) until they know how much you care (about them).”
Therefore, this was the mantra, as it were, of the church leaders of my generation:
Don’t preach, man.
Don’t teach. Teaching is a drag, man.
Just reach people with love.
Be real and people will love what you love.
They’ll follow and learn along the journey.
But as our culture has shifted and bent, I think we all have seen the absolute importance of teaching the doctrines of the bible and of the Christian faith. Don’t we all see it now? A Christian faith that is transmitted heart to heart is great…but it is lopsided. It tends toward the heart; toward feeling and emotion.
But that is not going to be sufficient in the days ahead. We should all see that now. It must also be transmitted from mind to mind. We must teach what we have received. We must ask God for the renewal not only of the heart…but of the mind. The Catechism is one way we can begin a parish-wide, comprehensive effort to instruct adults, older students, and children in what it means To Be a Christian which, gladly, is the title of the Anglican Catechism.
Now, my apology:
A few years ago, I thought developing a catechism for the Anglican Church in North America was a bad idea. I believed it would create theological camps and divide our fragile coalition. Let’s get down the road, I thought. Let’s get some history together, I reasoned, before we try to put something in print that will define us.
My worst fears and worries were confirmed when I looked at the initial version of the work which found its way into my inbox in late 2013. What I saw was a draft. It was clunky, disorganized, and in a way, its format seemed old and oddly irrelevant. It answered questions that I hadn’t heard anyone asking. It’s “voice” and “tone” seemed confused. It was a lop-sided in its churchmanship, if that word means anything to anyone anymore. I was right, I thought, about my initial concerns.
I sent my unsolicited thoughts and objections to a few people I know on the Catechesis Task Force…and to a few bishops who were scheduled to meet in Florida in January of 2014.
I forgot about it for a few months.
What emerged at the Provincial Synod in June of 2014 was a completely different version. It was good. The committee had done wonderful work. The language had evened out into a nice style of prose. The ‘churchmanship’ issues has receded. I liked the bible passages that were included with each answer. There were fewer questions (still too many, in my opinion). And it was attractive in its ‘leatherette’ version. I was pleased to hear that Archbishop Duncan had presented a copy of it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Well now, I thought, what do we have here?
Then J.I. Packer sold me on it. His address at the Provincial Assembly was a full-on, wisdom-rich Packer-packed backing. Dr. Packer, who is a friend, has written more blurbs for books that any other living human being…but this was way more than a blurb. It was a serious endorsement of To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism.
He challenged churches to get on board. He persuaded me to a higher vision. I trust him and he swayed me. I bought a few copies and started to read.
Actually, I bought more than a few copies. I ordered a few hundred of them for our bookstore and lastFall, I entered into a 3-4 year, multi-seasonal series of messages on the contents of the Anglican Catechism. I spent 5-6 weeks preaching the “Q and A” format in the book. I am looking forward to the next installment this summer.
Here is the way it works for us. (See below.)
- I have copies available in the bookstore for everyone. We are not trying to make money on them, so we have them for sale at our cost.
- I select 5-6 questions for each Sunday and print them in our bulletin for everyone to have. We print both the question and answer, just as it appears in the book itself. The page in our bulletin looks just like the page in the book.
- I choose some of the bible verses in the section of the Catechism as the lectionary reading.
- At the sermon, it gets fun. I ask the congregation to look at their bulletin and I ask them to ask me a specific question. I engage them. “Ask me question 11.” They look at their bulletin and say, in unison, “How should you respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” I answer, “I am glad you asked!” Then I begin my sermon! I’ll read the written answer in the catechism…and then preach/teach that topic and Scriptures for about 4-5 minutes. I will tie it to the Scripture passages, of course. Then I’ll go on to the next question.
- I finish each sermon with a wrap-up conclusion and bring out a ‘teaser question’ for the next week.
I cannot address every question in the book. That would take years and years. But I will touch about 20-25 of them in a series of sermons over 4-5 weeks…and then wait for the next installment. We have sold hundreds of book and I will encourage our members to bring their copies. There will be more available in the bookstore.
So, I am a convert to this idea of a catechism.
To the Catechesis Task Force I now say, “I am sorry…it is a great resource for the church and I am thankful to have it. I am using it as a teaching/preaching guide and resource for my parish. There are, of course, dozens of other ways it can be used, but this is how we are beginning with it as a parish project at Christ Church.”
(But there really are too many questions. )