Here’s a vote for the catechism!
A catechism is a summary of the doctrines of the Christian faith. It is usually set down in questions and answers, presented as simply as possible. The questions and answers are meant for memorization and cover the major doctrines of the church.
Throughout history catechisms have been used to instruct children of believers and in new fields new converts as well.
Catechisms have always been a part of the Christian Church from its earliest days. The Reformation produced Luther’s Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Larger Westminster Catechism, and on and on. I call catechisms embryonic theology.
Here are two examples of catechetical questions:
Question: “What is the first truth found in the Bible?”
Answer: “That there is a God.” (Genesis 1:1)
Here’s another: “If God is everywhere, why don’t we see Him?”
Answer: “Because God is pure Spirit and cannot be seen with bodily eyes.” (Exodus 33:20; John 4:24)
The Reverend Russell Veldman, pastor of the Free Methodist Church in Lawrenceville, Illinois, had an unusual reason for setting about to produce a catechism. Back in 2004 when he and his wife, Jennifer, were awaiting the birth of their daughter, Kiran, he was looking ahead to be sure there would be such a booklet to use for basic instruction in Christian doctrine when she was old enough.
Reverend Veldman had been raised in a congregation of the Reformed Church of America and had been “catechized” as a young boy. Though he is now a Wesleyan in theology, the importance of this catechizing had left a permanent impression on him.
The catechism he began developing was intended only for family use. But he found starting with a blank page made for a heavy task. Investigating, he discovered an original Free Methodist Catechism had been prepared for the young denomination by the four bishops serving the church in 1902.
He also found that this catechism had been republished in 1952, and for the next nearly half century had been a part of the curriculum for children and young people.
Working from the 1952 Free Methodist catechism as a base he updated certain words and replaced King James language with New International Version language. He also included a few further questions that seemed to him necessary.
When he tested his family project on adult Sunday School classes the interest this generated surprised him. Eventually the project was approved for use by the Free Methodist Church-USA, and published as the Classic Catechism.
Based on experiences in his own church he recommends that it be used for special Sunday School classes that encompass ages from early youth into adulthood. Or, taking three questions at a time, it can be used in Sunday evening services. Once the learners experience its value, he reports, they receive it with enthusiasm.
This valuable resource has not yet been fully discovered by North American pastors but churches in Asia are receiving it with enthusiasm. Bishop Narendra John from India came upon a copy and said, “This is what we need”.
Bishop John noted that in some places in India the only book a pastor has is the Bible, and he reported that he has been able to translate and publish 2000 copies of this catechism for a mere $700.
The Classic Catechism now exists in six languages in the Free Methodist denomination in Asia and more are being added.
How important is all this to an evangelical body of the 21st century?
Considering the special place catechisms have filled in a wide range of Christian communions across history, and the effectiveness with which they give understanding to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, the claim may well be true that the catechism is the second most important book to the church after the Sacred Scriptures.