The Blessing of the Confession and Catechisms
Confessional Christianity can bring people to a stronger walk with Jesus. Growing up in a non-confessional church left me ignorant and spiritually malnourished. The churches I grew up in lacked a unified theological understanding. After I asked a question at 13 years old, someone finally explained the doctrine of the Trinity to me. I read my Bible, but I only got a hit-or-miss idea about the central doctrines of our faith.
In the Fall of 1994, I took a class with Dr. Morton Smith on Reformed Theology. He did not lecture but read the Confession and Catechisms and explained their teaching. During this semester, the Lord answered the theological questions I had been wrestling with since childhood. Now I had a foundation, and my spiritual life began to grow.
It is surprising and saddening that many are unfamiliar with our Confession and Catechisms. Many churches have replaced the Shorter Catechism with the Children’s Catechism, and many churches have no catechism instruction. Elders and Deacons have vowed to uphold the Westminster Standards, but many have little idea what they say. I went through the Shorter Catechism for a few years with our adults. The comments were telling. The members said, “Why have we never been taught this before?”
If you grew up in a church that taught the Shorter Catechism and studied the Confession of Faith, give thanks to the Lord because that is a blessing. If, like me, you did not grow up in a church that taught the Confession, then take the time to study it now. I know it can seem too advanced, but it is not. It is a summary of what the Bible teaches. Remember, the Shorter Catechism was written for children. The Confession and Catechisms are approachable to everyone in the church. Each of us needs to avail ourselves of this wonderful gift from the Lord.
Where do you start? Read the Confession. You could also start with the Shorter Catechism and read a question a day. Many resources can help you as you study the Confession and Catechism. One of my favorites is Vos’s Commentary on the Larger Catechism. I recommend this to every seminary student and tell them to use it devotionally every day. Chad Vandixhoorn’s Confessing the Faith: A Readers Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith is a helpful resource for studying the Confession. There are many resources for those who want to study the Confession or Catechisms. If you are a podcast person, you must listen to the Jerusalem Chamber podcast, which goes section by section through the Confession of Faith.
What is important is that you engage our Confession and Catechisms. They are not on the same level as the Bible, but they are a guide that will help you understand what the scriptures teach. If you are an officer in the church, you need to know what you have vowed to uphold. For all Christians, they are helpful in growing us closer to God and deeper in our faith because they give us a central, full-orbed summary of what we are to believe and how we are to live from the word of God.
Pastors and Elders, does your church have a catechism class? How are you encouraging parents to teach the Catechism at home? Parents, are you having family worship, and are you using the Catechism to instruct your children? These are the ABC of the faith. Yes, they require some effort to learn but do not most things of real value? We need to make a big deal about memorizing the Catechism and celebrate the hard work when it is accomplished.
As I look back on the last thirty years of my life, the Lord used the Confession and Catechism to open my eyes to Scripture and settle most of my theological questions. These Standards of our church gave me a solid foundation. This foundation was missing in my other churches. Yes, these other churches taught salvation by faith alone, belief that the Bible was true, and how to live as a Christian, but they lacked the foundation that the Confessional church has in its theological standards. This Confessional foundation allows for assurance of salvation and growing trust in the Lord. Don’t miss the blessing that you have in our Confession and Catechisms.