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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Discipleship? A Realignment Process or Product to Develop?

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What comes to your mind when you hear the word “discipleship”?

If you’ve had any exposure to this concept, you may have had either a great, positive experience, or perhaps a negative one. If it’s the later, let me offer one possible reason why that was.

Discipleship was seen as means of creating a product, instead of a person.

Maybe it was a convert to a “tribe” or a leader in a particular “system”. The end, or the product, was another “part” added to something that probably had very little to do with you – who you are and what you were designed for.

That’s the difference between legitimate discipleship. It’s a process of realigning a person back to their original design of living as a human being – a creature in a true, good and beautiful relationship with his (or her) Creator.

In my reading and studies for the sermon on Mark 1:14-20 this week at Christ Presbyterian Church, Mansfield, I stumbled upon this great statement in the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. It’s rare that I find something truly significant in a one-stop study Bible, but this particular Study Bible has surprised me many times. This quote is but one example. It gets at the heart of what the call of discipleship is from Christ – a call to be brought back into alignment with the design for which we were created – to love and worship God, and have every area of life brought back into that alignment.

“In Christ, God calls people to return to “walking with God”—the creational design of human beings in the first place. Jesus’ call to discipleship is God calling human beings back to himself as the foundation of true and dignified human existence….This is the rhythm of grace. God does not respond to our wayward rebellion with disgust, throwing his hands up in the air. He pursues us in love. This is who he is.” – ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible, note on Mark 1:16-46.

Question: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “discipleship”? How does this line of thought add to your understanding of what we see as discipleship in the life and ministry of Jesus?

Links for the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible – Kindle and Hardcover editions.

Practicing Resurrection in the Ordinariness of Life

Quote

“Christian practice in matters of spiritual formation goes badly astray when it attempts to construct or organize ways of spirituality apart from the ordinariness of life.  And there is nothing more ordinary than a meal.  Abstract principles — the mainstay of so much of what is provided for us in contemporary church culture — do not originate in the biblical revelation…Breakfast and supper.  Fish and bread.  Their home in Emmaus and the beach in Galilee.  These provide the conditions and materials for formation-by-resurrection.”  – Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection (72)

Desiring to Know the Real Reason

English: Saint paul arrested

English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love this simple statement Luke includes when he recounts the trial of Paul in Acts 22.  Paul had been preaching the gospel, sharing his story of encountering Jesus, and it caused a stir.  People were upset.  They couldn’t handle what he was talking about.  And their reaction was to hand Paul over to the authorities.

 

The Romans did what they were trained to do – get the truth out of Paul any way that they could.  Their interrogation methods included flogging.  Nothing like a few lashings to get to the truth.  But before they made it that far down the particular path, Paul explains that what they are about to do us unlawful, for although Paul is a Jew, he was also a Roman citizen by birth, and thus he had some legal protection from being bound and interrogated without cause.
What strikes me about this story though is not Paul’s social and political savvy, or even his practice of what some have labeled “riot evangelism.” (Not arguing against this either.  The demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel should cause a stir!).
No, what I find fascinating is that the Roman tribune came to back to Paul, “desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews.” (v. 30).
Do our lives and our words have that kind of effect?
 
Not just the effect of causing a stir or a controversy.
Not just the kind that instigates a riot.
Not just the kind that shakes the comfortable and complacent out of their apathy.

But the kind that draws others closer, “desiring to know the real reason.”  

 
The real reason for the hope that we profess.
The real reason for our experience of God.
The real reason why some would struggle to the point of wanting to condemn, ostracize and even punish  us for what we believe, what we proclaim and what we demonstrate with out lives.
That’s the kind of impact I want to have.  To see men and women and children be so moved with desire to want to know the real reason why I believe the gospel.  This is why I’m excited to see more interest being taken up in the realm of “gospel neighboring” and if you haven’t yet stumbled upon Andy Stager’s  blog and podcast on this subject, you really should go check it out here.
It’s when we live with such radical hospitality, in close proximity to others in our communities, that the distinctiveness of our lives shaped by the Gospel will begin to have the effect of disrupting the perceptions and preconceived notions of Christianity and Christians themselves, and that space for desiring to know the real reason is created – in relationship.
Can you imagine what would happen if our words and lives had this as their aim and intention?
Can you see your family members, neighbors, and coworkers being so drawn to ask you that kind of question – “Tell me the real reason why……
….so-and-so seems out to get you?
….you’re not holding that grudge against that guy who threw you under the bus?
….you’re not falling apart when your husband lost his job?
….you’re neither a fundamentalist, prude, nor are you a anything-goes kind of person?
….you love your kids and yet your world doesn’t simply orbit around them and their schedules?
….you’re life has changed so dramatically?
….you go to that church?
….you are a Christian?
Can you imagine the folks in your particular sphere of influence asking you these kinds of questions? That’s the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people God wants us to be as we seek to live a distinctively Christian life in the world He has placed us.

“God is not a prisoner of our faith…”

Quote

“God is not a prisoner of our faith, but of his own perfection. Faith obligates God to act not because it is a magical incantation that can be used to control God but because faith in God’s promises calls attention to God’s own faithfulness. The assurance upon which faith is based is the glory of God’s character, not the power of our believing.”

— Scott J. Hafemann
The God of Promise and the Life of Faith
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001), 93

Recently came across this quote I had saved and found it helpful and pertinent to our small group discussion tonight on, “Can someone lose their salvation?”

Sin Can’t Have a Green Card

ImageAs I’m working through the book of Romans with a group of great guys at Christ Church Santa Fe, I am struck by how often the questions of the role of sin in the Christian life come up.  This question makes sense and comes up in the book of Romans in chapter 6, but it’s at least in the background throughout the whole book.  We are utilizing a study guide put together by Tim Keller and Redeemer Church New York, and it is a great tool for our study, but still, this question lingers.

One way I have found helpful in answering this question is by using a “green card” analogy.  Here’s what I mean:

Because of your union with Christ, sin can’t have a green card in your life. It can’t claim citizenship (status), nor should it apply for permanent residence (progress).  In union with Christ, what is true of Him, is true (justification) and will be true (glorification) of you as well.

The Nature of Ministry – from Brothers, We Are Not Professors (HT: Desiring God)

Just read a great little article on the nature and danger of pastoral ministry.  There is enough in this to meditate on no matter what the capacity is in which you serve in ministry (Pastor, Assistant, Ministry Director, Small Group Leader, or any interested church member).  Here is a quick highlight from the article:

“It was the enlightenment, not the Light of the World, that gave us education as its high and holy sacrament. What Jesus calls us to is to repent and believe the gospel. It is more important to us and our sheep that we would learn to believe more, than that we would find more to believe.”

via Brothers, We Are Not Professors – Desiring God.

Everything Which is His, We May Call Our Own – Christ’s Presence and Our Union with Him

ImageYesterday I was finishing up some work and studies on the Lord’s Supper, and could not shake this thought from John Calvin on the “great exchange” that is offered up to us by being united in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. Definitely more robust than even I am naturally accustomed to thinking.

“Pious souls can derive great confidence and delight from this sacrament, as being a testimony that they form one body with Christ, so that everything which is his they may call their own. Hence it follows, that we can confidently assure ourselves, that eternal life, of which he himself is the heir, is ours, and that the kingdom of heaven, into which he has entered, can no more be taken from us than from him; on the other hand, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from the guilt of which he absolves us, seeing he has been pleased that these should be imputed to himself as if they were his own. This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness…

“Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.”

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,

4.17.2  (pp. 896-897). OSNOVA. Kindle Edition.

God’s New Thing

Came across this quote while doing some research work this week and thought it

Courtesy of Jonathan Grassmick

worthwhile to share.

The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday is having the last word. He is answering the unspoken questions of Jesus’ followers, and the spoken question of Jesus himself on the cross. And what God is doing is not just an extraordinary miracle, a display of supernatural power for its own sake, or a special favour to Jesus. What God is doing is starting something new, beginning the new world promised long ago, sending the disciples to Galilee in the first place but then, as we shall see, on to the ends of the earth and the close of the age with the news of what has happened. A whole new world was opening up in front of them.”

N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Vol 2, (198-199), on the Great Commission in Matthew 28.