Catechetical Schools in University Towns

Encyclopædia Britannica describes a catechetical school, in early Christianity, as ‘a type of educational institution with a curriculum directed toward inquirers (especially those trained in the Greek paideia, or educational system) whose aim was to gain a greater knowledge of Christianity and eventually, perhaps, baptism into the Christian community.’ The most famous was the catechetical school of Alexandria.

The Shah Mosque of Isfahan with two madrassas.

The Shah Mosque of Isfahan with two madrassas.

The Church needs such institutions today to teach the fullness of the faith to both pagans and Christians. Catechetical schools in American cities, especially those with major institutions of higher education – such places as Berkeley, Claremont, Cambridge, Evanston, and Morningside Heights – would help engage pagans in thought and train both seminarians and laymen for their respective callings.

For pagans, courses such as Christianity Explored have their place – and even for these congregations may find it useful to work together – but in different places Christians may find it necessary to spend additional time addressing local issues, and in dealing with the facts on the ground they may find it immensely helpful to find and implement solutions together. In parts of China, for example, it would be necessary to address the heresies of the Gnostic ‘Lord’s Recovery’ sect; in parts of the United States, the thing to oppose up front would be the ‘name it and claim it’ prosperity gospel. Furthermore, of course, in different places, churches will simply need to listen to different questions. Catechetical schools adapted to their places would help the Church minister to the people of these places.

Churches should also offer courses for Christians on Christian doctrine, including social teaching. Much of the Church is woefully unprepared to deal with the many ways in which Christians sell out to ungodly ways in the name of the gospel, and we need catechesis that deals with these problems. Like Fred Sanders, moreover, I also ‘hope to be at a leverage point for the vast, vast, vast world of global Pentecostalism that needs catechizing, guiding, and equipping to be faithful to the word of God’. At St Andrews, the Theology Network, as part of the UCCF: The Christian Unions, ran a ‘Foundations’ course over multiple weeks, in addition to the weekly Christian Union meetings with preaching, to teach students the great themes of the catholic faith. Some of the speakers were local clergy, some local faculty, and some workers invited from outside the area. Once there was also a special evening session to discuss the area of biblical scholarship known as the New Perspective on Paul. Though not every place is like St Andrews, things could likewise be done in other places to promote the doctrine of the catholic faith.

As well as opposing both idleness and overwork, the Christian faith also both factually and ethically addresses the various fields of work. We need not have an overblown view of worldview to know that it does. I do not mean there needs to be a distinctively Christian mathematics, but that even mathematics is a field of knowledge and practice under the law of God, to be reflected upon in a way that honours the one God. Any student of public health must be aware of the many ethical issues touching his area of study in the fields of œconomics, politics, and medicine, and there is a need for Christian students to learn to reflect soberly on these issues. The Church needs classes addressing law and politics, œconomics and business, natural science and natural philosophy (including anthropology), health care, and the arts. Even if the schools and universities will not teach these things, the need will not go away; so let the churches work together, putting their resources together to build up their members.

It is objected that the Church is about the gospel, not the law. But a focus on the gospel does not mean that we leave practical ethics untouched. Instead the transformation of the gospel enables us to say, with David, that we love the law of the Lord. This is what St Paul does in so many of his epistles: having explained the theology of the gospel, he applies it to the conduct of a Christian and of the whole Church. Nor is the Christian ethic – the same as truly a sound human ethic – even something for the Church to keep to itself: the Church is called to preach the gospel while showing the law of charity obeyed by the power of that gospel, as a witness that the Lord is true and good, and that he only is to be worshipped as God. The beauty of the Lord is whole, and so then is the beauty of his gospel one with the beauty of his natural order; for all of it is the beauty of the Word of God.

Therefore let the congregations in each place bear witness together to the full teaching of holy Scripture, each teacher contributing his singular gifts. Let separate Sunday schools be transformed into an integrated system in every city, for no congregation is a self-contained church. If missionaries are needed for the Church to be built up in love, some giving their linguistic facility, others their theological acumen, and still others their advocacy for the righteousness of God, then so much the more are congregations in the same place to be yokefellows in the labours of Christ. One teacher may be an excellent apologist, another an excellent jurist. Just as our ministers share their pulpits, so should our catechists unite their efforts.


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