CATECHISMS, THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND HABITS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

26281_Highlighting_BiblesAs a church, we will be utilizing a tool to help us cultivate habits of spiritual growth and theological development: The New City Catechism. To help us understand this tool and how we will be using it, I’ve put together this blog post answering three questions:

Why use a catechism?

In every age, it is important for the church to know and love God’s Word as it has been passed down and delivered to the saints throughout every generation. It’s all the more critical when the culture around the church is asking the question, “What is truth?” Catechisms help ground the church in the foundational and formative truths of Scripture in the form of focused study and dialogical discussion in a question and answer format.

Our goal as the church is to know and love God. We do that through knowing and loving His Word. Catechisms help us to first memorize and then meditate on those aspects of God’s Word that are foundational to understanding God and His ways. This then proves formative for shaping us as His people in His world.

Sinclair Ferguson writes in Faithful God an insightful observation about one difference between the modern and historic church:

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechized, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following:

Question: Where do we find God’s will?

Answer: In the Scriptures.

Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures?

Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question “What does God want me to do?” will be found by answering the question: “How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?”

In this way, catechisms help us to know, understand, and thoughtfully and confidently apply God’s Word to our particular life and situations. 

Take the first catechism as an example:

Q1: What is our only hope in life and death?

A1: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

In a world and age where we are faced with rival claims to our physical and spiritual lives (“You belong to the State.” “No, you belong to your own determinative will; pick your fate and spiritual preference.”), or threats to our person (“Your body is not your own, it belongs to your boy/girl friend, abusive person or threat to your well-being, etc.,” or “Your suffering and experience as a person of particular color is part of life and not my/our problem”), or a form of spirituality that says only the interior life/world matters (“Your mind is all there is”, “This world doesn’t matter”, etc), this question on its own affirms that our bodies, our lives, our skin, our flesh, as well as our minds, our hearts, our inner life not only matter but they are in fact rightfully God’s alone!

It’s an encapsulation of Scripture: 

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:7-8

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” – Psalm 24:1

Everything we do or don’t do; everything that is done to/for us or against us is either an act of rebellion against God and deserving His just judgment, or a response of gratitude and worship to God because of His mercy, forgiveness, and love towards us in our Savior Jesus Christ. In Christ, we belong to God no matter what anyone else says or does.

Catechisms then are tools to help us know and love God and his Word as well as to help us apply it in timely ways in our lives.

Why the New City Catechism (NCC)?

The NCC is a modern catechism formed by the members of the Gospel Coalition. Some of it’s distinctives are that it is a simplified version of longer historic catechism namely the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms. In this way they serve as an introduction as well as a gateway or stepping stone to the other catechisms. It uses modern and simplified language to help communicate clearly the truths of Scripture that can be hard to sift through older and less common language of the historic catechisms.

Some of the features of the NCC also lend itself to easy use in simple family and personal devotional practices.

  • Full version and Children’s version
  • Scripture references for each questions and answer
  • Accompanying commentary in written and video formats
  • Scripted prayers in response to each catechism
  • Some even have accompanying songs or tunes to help assist in memorization

Our hope is that the NCC would be a useful tool to help introduce us to theological training by easily developing the habit of spiritual growth; specifically the habits of focused study of God’s word, prayer, along with memorization, meditation, discussion, and application of God’s word in our everyday lives.

 

How is this going to work for Christ Church Mansfield?

We will be incorporating the NCC into the two aspects of our life together: as a gathered church on Sundays and as scattered households throughout the week.

As a church

For the next year we will incorporate the NCC into our Confession of Faith segment of our weekly worship liturgy. The liturgy leader that day will provide some brief explanation of the specific truth highlighted in that week’s catechism question and response to better serve our understanding of the truth. Likewise, our children will be working through the same catechism questions in the Christ Church Kids Ministry environments (Infants, Pre-school, and Gospel Journey Elementary Ages).

As families/individuals

In addition to our Sunday worship gatherings, we envision and want to encourage each household – whether you’re a family or individual – to set aside some time each week to study and discuss that week’s catechism question. We recommend designating one meal each week as a “family and/or friends” meal where you sit down, eat together, and open up God’s Word and the NCC to work on memorizing and meditating on each question.

We will send out links and resources to the catechism each week in our Week In Review email (the WIRe) to help you lead in these family and friends discussions. You can also purchase the two physical resources to have in book format if you so choose; they are The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds and The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds. All of this material is available for Free in digital format, on their website and as downloadable apps for your phone or tablet.

 

26601_Family_Bible_StudyLinks to Resources

New City Catechism (NCC) web page and web app.

Youtube channel with video commentary on the NCC.

Tim Keller on Why We Should Catechize our Children (Gospel Coalition).

Promotional video of NCC in use as home and personal devotion practice.

Songs for the NCC (not complete yet, but a start).

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The Blessing of Divine Intrusion

New sermon video from last week is up! Share your thoughts, comments, and questions – I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!

 

The Blessing of Divine Intrusion
Ephesians 1:3-14
Part 2 of the series, Wondrous Mystery: Exploring the Depths of our Union with Christ

Sermon series through Ephesians at Christ Church Mansfield

Great Reads and Good Deals on Kindle

lightstock_78067_small_user_3970569Some great Kindle Deals on these books right now.

Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair B. Ferguson

The Gospel of Jesus Christ by Paul Washer

Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis

Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul David Tripp

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp

The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zack Eswine

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin

Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home by Donald S. Whitney

On Grace and Free Will by Augustine

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof

Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities by Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson

Multiply Together: A Guide to Sending and Coaching Missional Communities

by Brad Watson

Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities by Brad Watson

Refrigerators, Romans 4 and Preaching to My Own Heart as a Parent

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Recently, while preparing to preach on Romans 4 at Christ Church Mansfield, I came to this verse and had a new found sense of awe and wonder at the gospel:

“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:3b (quoting Genesis 15:6)

This word, “counted” (or in the NIV, “credited”) is a financial term, used in accounting. It means to calculate, sum up, to “do the math” and see what’s there. 

If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another.  Just think about the way bank overdraft fees work.  You over spent and under saved, and now you have a DEBIT or OVERDRAFT to your account. But in the event that you receive more money, your account receives SUFFICIENT funds status and is “in the black”, or “right” again. But if it’s the bank that gives it to you, it’s a CREDIT to your account.

To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.

But that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me. I’m not an accountant, and while I appreciate receiving into my bank account, there was another way of thinking about this that struck me as more significant.

Let me explain.

As a parent I have the wonderful privilege of receiving all kinds of “art” projects form my children. The one’s that are especially meaningful are the ones where my children try to depict our family, or me in particular.

Now if you were to come over and look at our refrigerator and all you see are a bunch of explosions of crayons, markers, and glitter glue, you would say, “Uh, that’s interesting.”

But to me, that fridge is the Kimball Art Museum and those are masterpieces of beauty!

You see a wreck; I see a work of art.

Why? Why hasn’t “family art projects” become an installation somewhere in the world?

Because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

To you, they’re a mess.

But to the father, they’re credited to the child as Masterpiece.

And this is a picture of the gospel.

If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another. To “credit” something is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.

Just like Abraham, we, in faith, receive from God the Father not merely forgiveness, but righteousness and justification — the state and process of being “good” and “in the right” again. Not because we are so special, but because He is.

It is because of His sheer act and work of grace that we are brought into the family of God.

Our mess becomes a Masterpiece in His eyes and His hands alone. This is the essence of grace, and like the man sang:

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. – Bono

Or before U2, there was this:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

– Psalm 51:7-12 (ESV)

“Grace” by U2 (unofficial video)

Creed (1) – Why Study Creeds, Theology and Doctrine (Teaching Notes)

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Creed: Understanding the Background & Ramifications of Our Beliefs – a new adult education series at Christ Church Santa Fe, 2012

So, why study creeds?

  • General intellectual interest: history, religion, etc.
  • Shouldn’t – “doctrine divides”
    • Question: would eliminating all creedal statements and confessions really clear up the confusion and division?
  • “No creed but Christ!”

This is what I call the “Deception of intention/sentiment, over substance.” It’s not as important that you believe, as it is what you believe: James 2:19

  • “It is never enough to say that you “believe.” ‘The real question remains: what do you believe about Jesus? Reality has a way of foisting this upon us. When you consider that Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, and a whole host of other religions all acknowledge a belief in Jesus, it should be obvious that affirming a belief in Jesus is simply not enough.” – L. Charles  Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 41-44). Kindle Edition.

No one is without a creed, theology, or doctrine of some kind.  All of us have some way of explaining who we are, how we got to where we are, and have proposals for how to “fix” things – in us and around us.

Significance:

Origin of Creeds

Scripture:

  • Genesis 12:1-3
    • “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (the Shema)

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

  • Matthew 16:13-20

“…You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16)

  • Acts 16:25-40

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they [Paul and Silas] said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”

  • Romans 10:9-10

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (Lord’s Supper); Matthew 28:18-20 (baptismal formula)
  • Hebrews 13:15-16

History

  • “Faith, like all strong conviction, has a desire to utter itself before others—’Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; ‘I believe, therefore I confess’ (Credo, ergo confiteor). There is also an express duty, when we are received into the membership of the Christian Church, and on every proper occasion, to profess the faith within us, to make ourselves known as followers of Christ, and to lead others to him by the influence of our testimony…This is the origin of Christian symbols or creeds. They never precede faith, but presuppose it. They emanate from the inner life of the Church, independently of external occasion. There would have been creeds even if there had been no doctrinal controversies. In a certain sense it may be said that the Christian Church has never been without a creed (Ecclesia, sine symbolis nulla). The baptismal formula and the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper are creeds; these and the confession of Peter antedate even the birth of the Christian Church on the day of Pentecost. The Church is, indeed, not founded on symbols, but on Christ; not on any words of man, but on the word of God; yet it is founded on Christ as confessed by men, and a creed is man’s answer to Christ’s question, man’s acceptance and interpretation of God’s word.” –
    Philip Schaff (2009-06-10). Creeds of Christendom Volume 1: The History of the Creeds – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 516-527). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition
  • The question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
  • “Jesus pushed Peter to this very point when He insisted that Peter answer the question, “Yes, but who do you say that I am?” [cf. Matthew 16:13ff; Mark 8] Sooner or later, in this world or in the next, we will be responsible for how we answer this question.” – L. Charles  Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 89-91)

So, why study the creeds of the Christian faith?

Because living and believing are inseparable parts of our existence.  In order to live out the truth of the gospel in our lives, we must believe the truth with our minds and cherish it in our hearts, because ultimately the “truth” of the creeds does not rest on or in themselves alone, but on the One they all point to – the God of the Bible, as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  • “It is in the New Testament that confession in the sense of acknowledging allegiance to the faith becomes prominent.  Confessing God’s name (Heb. 13:15) or the ‘name of the Lord’ (2 Tim. 2:19) is the mark of a believer.  And, since God has revealed himself and his truth decisively in Jesus Christ, confessing Christ becomes the hallmark of genuine Christianity. Jesus taught that ‘Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven’ (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8; cf. Rev. 3:5)…Reflected here is the secular Greek use of the word to denote solemn and binding public testimony in a court of law.  Confession of Christ, then, is no private matter, but a public declaration of allegiance.  Such claims can, however, be spurious, and are revealed by a lifestyle incompatible with a genuine relationship to Christ (Titus 1:16)…Confessing Christ, then, requires both a matching Christian lifestyle and a matching Christian theology.” – Douglas Moo, “Confess, confession” in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (111)

[Chris Gensheer is Pastoral Assistant at Christ Church Santa Fe, NM.  He leads and teaches regularly at the Adult Education Class Sundays at 9:30am. To listen to the audio from this class, click: http://www.christchurchsantafe.org/#/worship/christian-education]

Tim Keller on Denominational Renewal

Well,

It’s actually Tim Keller commenting on Greg Thompson’s talk from the 2008 PCA Denominational Renewal conference, and I think it is well worth the time linking and encouraging you all to read.

Click here for the full article.  Here’s a sampling:

As I read this terrific piece, however, it made me think about how we actually will have to do denominational renewal. The PCA is the great and tense place that it is because it is perhaps the only Presbyterian denomination that hasn’t purged or lost one or two of its historic wings. George Marsden says that Reformed churches have always had what he called ‘doctrinalist’, ‘pietist,’ and ‘cultural-transformationist’ wings. Weirdly, they all grow out of aspects of Reformed theology. Historically, they’ve produced some major splits–Old Side (doctrinalist) from New Side (pietist) in the 18th century, Old School (doctrinalist/pietist) from New School (reformist) in the 19th century. The OPC, though a doctrinalist church, grew and then shed a pietist wing (New Life Churches.) The CRC, though basically a cultural-transformationist denomination, had a doctrinalist split off (the URC.) In God’s providence, the PCA has significant numbers in all three wings.

Contemporary or Contextual – What would Keller do?

timkeller.jpgWell, Tim Keller’s new book is almost out – The Reason for God (Hey honey, if you’re thinking of any last minute Valentine’s gift ideas, this might be a good one.) – and low and behold there is quite a buzz swarming over the internet (here, here, here, here and here). Not only that, but Keller made it into a Newsweek piece. (I especially like the line about him being compared to your favorite “dim sum” place in Manhattan).

Here is a comment made by Ed Stetzer after visiting Redeemer Church in New York (Tim Keller’s church) regarding an interesting, and important thing to remember whenever we talk about “contextualization”:

“I was most impressed with how, well, non-“hip” the service was. (The giveaway was the note in the program reminding you to not applaud.)

The “band” was four men in suits who played wind instruments accompanied by an organ.

Yet, most of the crowd was young and engaged… a reminder that contemporary is not always contextual.”

The Reason for GodI think that statement is worth pondering some, don’t you guys? When did I, or we, ever begin to equate contextual with contemporary? I think that Stetzer nails it, and sees beyond the “transferable practices” of some successful church strategy’s, to the transferable principle of making the Gospel truth relevant and understandable for your context.

At the end of the Newsweek piece on Keller, the author makes another interesting comment. After picking up on some the anomalies that make Tim Keller a bit “odd” for the typical perceptions of pastors, she states that New York is a good place for someone as idiosyncratic as Keller, and she muses whether, “he—or his vision—will ever be at home anywhere else.”

I think that the writer of the article has expressed an important aspect of ministry and calling, but particularly for future and would-be church planters. When you consider whatever ministry it is that you think God is calling you to, ask yourself, “Would you or your vision be at home anywhere else?” A great question, and one to ponder before heading out into planting a church. If you don’t have a sense of what God can do and wants to do through His church under your charge for a specific city/town/area, then maybe you’re not really ready to minister.

Just something I’m thinking about. What are your thoughts?

Scott Clark does it again

R. Scott ClarkI’m really enjoying the thoughts and posts of  R. Scott Clark lately.  I confess that I don’t know much about him (personally or academically), but some of his posts over at Heidelblog have been very helpful to me trying to navigate the theological talk regarding Federal Vision, but more so, helping to understand the differences and similarities between the Old and New Covenant.

His most recent post deals with the sing and the seal of covenant membership, and what really distinguishes the theology and praxis of Presbyterians, Baptists, and Federal Vision folk.

Read it here.