Happy Birthday To The Shorter Catechism!

Westminster Shorter CatechismThanks to Wayne Sparkman for his consistently excellent daily posts. From his keyboard comes a reminder that today is an anniversary of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. On this day in 1647, the House of Commons ordered the printing of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Consisting of 107 questions and answers, it is, indeed, a shorter catechism but it is a powerful little catechism, a collection of carefully written questions and answers used for basic instruction in the faith both for children of believers and new converts. These instructional tools were written to be memorized (especially by children) during that period of life described by Dorothy Sayers as the “parrot” phase of intellectual development. Tragically, we’ve largely (though not completely) abandoned this practice. As a consequence we’ve young people often grow up in our churches without basic Christian vocabulary, categories, and distinctions. We’re not even aware that we have these things. I recall a student of mine from several years back who, much to his credit, complained bitterly that no one seemed to know basic Reformed categories. He was right. A category is a way of thinking, a way of approaching a problem. These are the sorts of things that are built into our children and, eventually, into our churches through memorizing the catechism.

There is, however, a related and equally profound question. Borrowing from William Carruthers, Wayne writes,

There was an old expression, particularly among the Scottish Presbyterians, who would say, “I own the Confession.” By that, they meant that they had made its doctrine their own; they had taken the content to heart, and saw that indeed it was an accurate reflection of the teaching of Scripture. So too the Catechism, though briefer.

In order to own the confession (or the catechism) we must first know it. One cannot come into personal, intimate possession of vocabulary and ways of thinking if one does not know it intimately and thoroughly. Having gained that knowledge, however, what then? One must take personal possession of what it teaches. Ordinarily, that comes over time but ultimately, it comes by grace alone, through faith alone. As we compare the teaching of the catechism with Scripture and see that we confess what we do because Scripture says what it says, then we begin to close the loop that was begun with our original catechesis. That loop, however, cannot be closed if it is never begun.

If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever we can do neither if we do not know the faith through which we come to know God, his Word, his salvation, and his promises.

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