In 2004 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada commended a document prepared by the Church Doctrine Committee for use in churches. The document was called “A Catechism for Today,” and it was an updated version of a kind of teaching tool, in the format of a series of questions with supplied answers, that has been used in churches since the time of the reformation.
You can download and read the Catechism for yourself by clicking here.
This year at St. Andrew’s Hespeler, we were looking for a way to reconnect with some of the basic teachings of Christianity and of our tradition. Unfortunately, we increasingly find ourselves in a world where people, including practising Christians, are not familiar with some of the basic ideas that have been so important to the faith down through the centuries. So we decided that we would make use of “A Catechism for Today.” throughout the year. The document is conveniently broken up into 52 readings so we are placing one of those readings each week in the bulletin and I am using them to inspire my sermons as often as possible.
I just thought that it would be a good thing if, from time to time, I would blog about the experience. I am coming to the end of the first month using the document; here are a few things that I am noticing.
- It is a good thing to be using something that disciplines me to focus on some of the most basic questions that people really have. People do really wonder about their purpose. They worry about the relationship between faith and science and they wonder about faith and doubt (all topics that I have tackled so far). I have always been driven in my preaching (as I think that I should be!) by what the Scripture text is saying to me and to us. It is important to step away from that, at least sometimes, to directly tackle the real questions that people have. Yes, sometimes the scripture does lead us to do that, but I feel that using the Catechism is going to be a helpful discipline.
- One big surprise, however, is to see how hard it is sometimes to draw a line between what the scripture says and what the traditional doctrinal positions of the church have been. The document very helpfully includes a series of scripture passages to support a particular answer that is given and to inspire further thought and discussion based on those scriptures. I must say, however, that I am finding that the connection with the supplied passages is sometimes tenuous and sometimes even contradictory. My favourite example so far is the answer to the first question which states, “We have been made for joy: joy in knowing, loving and serving God, joy in knowing, loving and serving one another, joy in the wonder of all God’s works.” A terrific answer, certainly, but not many of the scriptures that follow it really say much about what our purpose is. One of them, Job 22:26, is actually a quote from Eliphas the Temanite, one of the antagonists of Job, whose words, I would say, are ultimately rejected by the book.
- All of this has made me begin to wonder to what degree our doctrines are really driven by scripture and to what degree we have decided what we believed and then sought to support them with scripture — a question that I suspect I will continue to ponder as I continue this experiment.
- Just one more observation on the difference between the answers supplied to question 4 and question 10. To the question “Is the pursuit of science incompatible with faith in God?” the catechism answers a clear “No!” That clarity is very much needed; it is something that is important to affirm. But the question, “Does faith exclude all doubt?” does not get the same clear answer. That troubles me because I know many people who feel so very inadequate because of their doubts. I feel a great need to affirm not only that doubt is okay but that it valuable and hardly disqualifies someone from expressing faith. I just wish there had been a clearer answer.