I understand, youthful reader, that you are a member of our churches; that you have passed through the various Catechism Classes, the earlier and the later which were prescribed for you. That is the way you look to me from the distant perspective I have of you from my study window here in the “deep South”!
Are you fully catechized?
Possibly you have passed through the years of life from the simplified Catechism Book, “Stories for Beginners” through the more ponderous, “Essentials of Reformed Doctrine” without ever having given any attention to the meaning of the term Catechism? It was simply a term which you took for granted; it simply meant that you were to memorize the various questions and answers in a given Catechism book. If one would interrupt you with the question: what is Catechism you might look at him in bewilderment with a bit of youthful scorn, and say: “Catechism? Why, that is going to Catechism!!”
Now we don’t want to go around in circles, do we?
Did you ever stop to ponder the meaning and the usage of the term Catechism? Well just draw up your chair a bit closer and let me tell you a bit about this term and the wonderful institution of Catechism in the Church. Maybe I’m telling you something you had not been told, or possibly didn’t remember after it was told you by your faithful minister. The term Catechism comes from the Greek language; it is a word which is made of two different words put together which we call a Composite. Now here is the word: Cat-eecheoo! You guessed it. The last part is exactly what it says. It is the word which in our present-day English is echo. An echo is a sound which we emit and which reaches our own ears as it sounds back. Now the first part is not to be identified with our word “cat”, but it is found in such words as catastrophe. It is a Greek preposition, the root meaning of which is: down. Again, you have already seen the combination; it means to sound down!
We are told by men who have studied these words a great deal, and who wrote dictionaries on the Greek language called Lexica, that this is a term which is really only found in the Bible in the general sense of giving instruction. We are further informed that the term is never used in the Old Testament Scriptures, and I believe they are correct. There is no such word found in the Old Testament, although we hasten to add that the entire Old Testament is simply replete with the same kind of instruction which is indicated by the term: to Catechize. Yes, it is only found in the New Testament times which was in a Greek speaking world. And in the church of the New Testament Dispensation, to which we too belong, we have a church vocabulary which speaks of Catechism, Catechumens, Catechists. Those who give instruction are the Catechists, and those receiving instruction are the Catechumens.
It is necessary at this point that I warn you not to jump at conclusions! You should not conclude, that, when the Bible-writers use the terms above-indicated, they necessarily have in mind formal catechetical instruction as an institution in the church. That was quite likely a later development. One rather receives the impression that both Luke and Paul, who are the only New Testament writers using this term, employ the term “Cat-echecoo” in the general sense of instruction concerning the facts and history of the Gospel.
The instances where Luke uses the term catechize, to instruct, are the following: Luke 1:4; Acts 21:21, 24. The usage of Luke in Acts 1:4 is rather interesting, and we intend to come back to this a bit later. The apostle Paul uses the term in Rom. 2:18; I Cor. 14:19 and Gal. 6:6. And, now, I am going to ask you to leave your chair for just a bit, go and get your Bible, look up all these Scripture passages, and then read “catechize” where your Bible has “instruct”, “inform” or “teach”.
At least it was a bit rewarding, wasn’t it?
That the term catechize and not simply instruction became the term for the ecclesiastical teaching of the children and the youth of the church, evidently underscores the truth that the teaching in the Church is not a matter of private opinion, personal research, but principally of imparting the doctrine, the teaching of the inspired Scriptures, which is profitable for instruction, correction in righteousness, reproof, that the teaching in the minds on the youthful believers , aspiring to full communion with their Lord, in the form of questions and answers. Not only the answers are important; the formulation of the questions is equally important. Both are given in the Bible as to their material content. The implication and presupposition of the “question-and-answer” form of teaching is that to the particular question there is but one correct answer, which must be placed in the mind indelibly so as never to be forgotten! The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and, therefore, teaches the truth of the Gospel with full assurance of faith!
Dear Covenant young man and young woman, take note!
You must hear the joyful sound (echo) and must “sound” it back. That must be a sounding back in childlike faith. We call this confession with the mouth of what is believed with the heart. It is in your heart and mouth; the Word is very nigh unto you (Rom. 10). Hence, nothing is left to hit-and-miss in this instruction. The trumpet must emit a certain sound in the Catechism class, both by the Catechist and the Catechumen!
We said that we would reflect a bit on Luke 1:4. Notice, that Luke is writing his “Gospel” to a man named Theophilus. It is a very beautiful name which, in a way, is the name of all of God’s dear children. It means: friend of God. The Bible is full of beautiful names. Incidentally, James 2:23 tells us that Abraham, the father of believers, was “called a friend of God”. We hold that Luke is not writing to some imaginary “Theophilus” but to a historical person by that name. He was undoubtedly a man of rank and honor amongst men, for he is designated as the “most excellent”. Luke writes to “His excellency”! Yet, he is a member of the church, a past Catechumen. He has been catechized in the words (things) pertaining to God, Christ, salvation and all the basic redemptive truths of the Gospel.
You should notice that Theophilus had been instructed too, just as you have been too or are now. He knew the great truths of the Gospel, the fulfillment of God’s sure promise in the Lord Jesus Christ. He had been instructed concerning the supernatural birth of Jesus, concerning His suffering and death, His resurrection and glorious ascension.
But, notwithstanding all of this, there was a place for more instruction to Theophilus. He must see the entire truth of the Gospel, and must see it in its historicity! That will give him instruction concerning the “certainty” of the things in which he has been instructed. It is on this count that all other “religions” fail miserably. They are all based upon cunningly devised fables. They cannot point out the calendar date and the geographical place of the happenings of their religion. That Luke will show to Theophilus. I believe that when Theophilus received this “Gospel” he read it from beginning to end. Have you, dear reader?
Then you will have noticed the grand “It came to pass in the days of Herod the King of Judea…” Luke 1:5. And, again, you will have noticed that sublime statement that “It came to pass in those days”, when God was sending Gabriel, John was born, and Jesus was about to be born, that “there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed”! Yes, when God does His work, Caesar must do his own little work and the “wise of this world are taken in their own craftiness”!
Have you read this? Or are you “fully Catechized” beyond the measure of Theophilus, and need not read concerning the “certainty” of the things in which you have been instructed?