What is Catechesis?
Friends in Christ,
From my perspective September feels like the first month of the year. After the carefree days of summer vacation a return to routine, school, and the Fall workweek, makes everything feel like a new beginning. This new beginning provides the opportunity to evaluate how last year transpired and make bold goals for the next cycle of learning and living. Learning is not something reserved for the young among us either. All folks of all ages can continue to grow in Christ, understanding his Word, and practicing the core tenants of the Christian life.
This fall we have plenty of opportunities to grow this Fall, between the numerous Bible studies, and new ministry opportunities. We also grow in our service and fellowship when we eat with each other. Our confirmands are picking up the task of catechesis in their confirmation classes. What is catechesis? How are we all participating in catechesis? How should we pursue catechesis? Read the following excerpt from the book Teaching the Faith at Home, by David L. Reuter. He lays it out well.
WHAT IS CATECHESIS ANYWAY?
“Catechesis? Is it contagious?” I love Hugh Laurie. His portrayal of Gregory House on the television show House was “Must See TV” for me for years. Each week, Dr. House and his team were presented with some rare condition to diagnose that no other group of doctors was able to figure out. In round table form they would run through a barrage of diagnostic possibilities with technical language that left me a bit confused (really, why was sarcoidosis mentioned in just about every episode?) and often caused me to watch the show with medical dictionary in hand.
Catechesis is one of those “churchy” kinds of words that we tend to stray away from to avoid unnecessary confusion not only for new believers but also for longtime members who may have never heard nor understood what it means. Making use of this term in a book such as this may seem to be similar to my armchair medical practice of watching House. Yet, I would argue that when we lose terms like catechesis, we run the risk of losing the essential core of the Church practice that the term defines. So what is catechesis anyway, and why is such a term worth explaining in a culture uninterested in tradition and traditional-sounding terms?
The Greek word katacheo, from which our term catechesis is derived, means “to sound again.” Thus, the educational process of catechesis is the sounding again of the historic truths of the Christian faith from one generation to the next. An elder generation presents the content of our common faith, and the younger generation echoes back what they have learned. Catechesis, then, in its simplest form is a sort of call and response of the truths of the Christian faith. Luther’s Small Catechism exemplifies this in its structure and form. Although there already were catechisms available prior to Luther’s work, his innovation in structuring the book in a question and answer format was new to the genre.
In the Preface of his Large Catechism, Luther states substantive reasons why the Christian faithful should continually use the catechism. Both the weighty reasons and the urgency remain today. Luther was concerned with the lack of teaching of the faith that he saw in the churches of his day. I believe that we face a similar crisis today. Churches are full of activity, but may often fail to ensure quality teaching, especially for the young. The Church continues to struggle against the prevailing winds of the culture that seek to instill in emerging generations what Christian Smith calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” While the culture pushes toward a conception of faith lacking in distinctions, faithful Lutheran pastors, DCEs, teachers, and, most importantly, parents seek with much prayer to impart the unique claims of the Christian faith into the hearts and minds of young people. As Paul teaches in Romans 6, while we are still dead in our sins and wholly incapable of reaching out to God, Christ reaches out to us, removes from us our sins, and restores us to life and a right relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit.
Catechesis is an educational practice of the Church that provides a portion of the pushing back against the tide of our culture. Through the sounding again of the truths of Scripture, one generation bequeaths to the next the essential core of Christianity. The presentation of the essential core truths of the Christian faith has developed over time, but the foundational structures have been with us for many centuries. What we have in the Small Catechism includes what are known as the Six Chief Parts. They are the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and finally Holy Communion. These, along with the Daily Prayers, Table of Duties, and Christian Questions with Their Answers, form the substance of Luther’s Small Catechism.
— Teaching the Faith at Home: What Does This Mean? How Is This Done?: What Does It Mean? How Is This Done? by David Rueter