Catechism Preaching

Gilbert Van Dooren wrote in 1976 about the proper place of catechism preaching in the Reformed tradition, which in the second Lord’s Day service was intended to complement the expository preaching of the morning service. This afternoon or early evening preaching, I wager, is how pastors can preach the full Christian doctrine to their flocks. Different from expository preaching but still drawn from the Scriptures, it seems highly effective for keeping each part of the doctrinal system in perspective of the other parts. (I also highly approve of using the Heidelberg Catechism as a Protestant confession of the faith, pretty close to a ‘mere Christian’ catechism, to teach the orthodox doctrine of the Church in all its parts.)

If the weekly expository preaching be moving slowly through a single book (be it Hebrews or Job), I think this catechism preaching is almost the only good counterbalance for the people to get not only the fulness of the book but, regularly, the fulness of Christian doctrine; more systematically full and coherent than Sunday school classes, and more authoritative through the pulpit from which a parson expounds Scripture, catechism preaching remains the ideal. If the minister conduct morning and evening prayer daily, of course – as was customary not only in England but also in the Palatinate – then on weekdays he may also, according to his ability, preach on the passages read at those times.

The practical difficulty of this scheme, of course, in a place where the Christian faith isn’t fully established, is getting anyone to worship that many times every week. The other side of the coin, though, is that people are to have a life too, and therefore spend the rest of their time doing normal (non-churchianity) things in service to the Lord, to cultivate society as he imagines. In this way we may free up the time to hold public worship every day, since we’re not coöpting everything into an ecclesiastical ‘ministry’.

We may, therefore, consider reconfiguring the ways in we sanctify the time if catechism preaching becomes . Small groups, as commonly practised, may be had or not; their main point is for Christian friends to give direct support for the troubles of life, in prayer and discussion of practical ways to approach life as a Christian. Individual and group Bible study, similarly, may be occasioned by the questions of particular needs, for I see no need to have it as a regular fixture; anyone with further questions knows to seek help, if he hears enough preaching on the fulness of gifts in the Church. With regular corporate prayer, likewise, there’s only occasional need for prayer meetings, usually of the kind accompanied by fasting for penitence or public calamity. These suggestions might, admittedly, dismantle much of the formal structure of fellowship groups, but perhaps this is ultimately fitting.

May the earth be full of knowledge of the Lord as the gospel pierces the uttermost corners of the human heart.

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