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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We Need a Hero

We Need A Hero

One of the most iconic songs to come out the 80’s, was Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Where have all the good men gone

And where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules

To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

– “Holding Out for a Hero

We need a hero. That should go without saying. The world we live in is a mess.  War. Terrorism. Murder. Microagressions. Racism. Bias. 

When we live in a world where there’s a battle over whether #blacklivesmatter or #policelivesmatter is more important or necessary (by the way, both are!), you know you have problems. But what kind of hero do we need?

That all depends on our predicament.

Some might say we simply need a good example to follow. That we have it within our own capability to come up with the solution to the problems of this life.  The British poet W.H. Auden living in New York in the 1930’s-40’s recounts that he left his Christian upbringing and was a secular humanist; basically believing that man could be educated and put into a better environment in order to make the the world a better place. He held this view until one day when he went into a movie house in 1939. He went in to watch a German movie reel on the invasion of Poland. He was frightened when the people in the audience got wrapped up into the movie and started to yell “Kill them” whenever the Poles were portrayed on screen.

He had thought that if we had the right education, right cultural setting, we would move beyond the barbarism and inhumanity of the chaos and calamity around us. But this one incident shattered that. Because of his worldview, he couldn’t admit to himself how bad the world was. Without sin, he couldn’t account for what he had just seen, and was without hope (education, enlightenment, reason had failed). He didn’t have the resources to meet what he saw. He returned to his Christian roots and found hope for what he encountered.  (Check out this great write up over at First Things).

On the other side of the world, not in a movie theater, but in a extermination concentration camp, there was another man observing and suffering the same atrocities that riled up the crowd in the movie theater in New York – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Observing the cruelty and inhumanity around him, he could have thought that the problem is other people. If we could simply get rid of the “other”, the world would be alright (funny how that’s the very same thought that animates all totalitarian regimes and “ethnic cleansing” campaigns). Instead, he reasoned and concluded the following:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

Auden and Solzhenitsyn were confronted with the fact that the world is the way that it is because we are the way that we are. And having the right upbringing, credentials, education or experiences won’t solve it. We need more than an example (the view of Human ability and the Myth of Human Progress; also called Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism in theological circles).

But neither will it do any good to simply get rid of the problem people, because there is no clean cut separation (the view of Human eradication and “cleansing”; Pride, Arrogance, and Superiority). All of us are both victims and victimizers of our world, environment, and other people.

The picture Paul paints of our predicament is one of human solidarity with the original man – Adam. As Adam went, so did all humanity – his posterity. Our problem is more than the cumulative total of our individual actions and certainly greater than just “them” over there.

We need a hero.  And he’s got to be larger than life – at least the life as we now currently know it.

Enter Jesus.

This is Paul’s whole point in Romans 5:12-21. Paul is contrasting two men who represent two humanities: the merely human, and the more human than human.

Just as in Adam all are in sin and under it’s rule and reign, are transgressors of the law of God, and contribute to the problems in the world by thinking of themselves as greater than God the Creator of all, so then many can come into a state of mercy, grace, and renewal in Christ.

Jesus Christ comes to not merely reverse the work and effects of the “first man”, Adam, but He comes as the “last man” or the “second Adam”, to not merely put things back together again, but to make it better than ever before. There is a progressive nature to Christ’s work that doesn’t just repair what is broken, but makes it utterly beautiful instead of miserable.

Jesus Christ lived the life not only we should have lived, but Adam should have as well. And now that He has done it, we don’t have to be only enslaved to sin, even if we still feel it’s effects (death, destruction, and dysfunction). There is a new way to live, by the larger than life hero, Jesus Christ.

How then should we respond?

Faith in Christ, not ourselves. The way of the human race is to trust in our own instincts, abilities, and progress. Christianity cuts that off at it’s root. We don’t have the resources to get ourselves out of our own problems – the same heart that got us into it all won’t get us out of it, at all. But because of Christ’s work in living, dying, and rising again, we don’t have to. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through faith,(Romans 3:23-24). We live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us; not ourselves.

Repent of Sin. Our contribution to the misery of the world is still something we deal with. We need to repent of the bad things we do and the good things we don’t do. But we do so not to earn, achieve, or merit God’s favor, but because our fundamental identity has shifted. Repentance could be described as simply “aligning our thoughts, actions, and habits with the new life of Christ He gives us by His Spirit.” It’s not about “dos” and “donts”, but becoming more “who we are” and “who we are meant to be” in Christ.

Work for renewal. Just as repentance is taking on the characteristics of our new identity in Christ (in union with Him), we can and should actively work to make the world around us, in our respective spheres of influence, look and act more and more like the world it will be one day. Jesus is not just doing a work in us – “Taking the evil out the people/[so that] then they’ll be acting right.” (Tupac, Changes) – but through us, to redeem all things to Himself.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)

How can you partner with Him in making your little corner of His world reflect His image, His truth, His beauty, and His goodness?

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn (or The End of the World as We Know It): Jesus and the End Times

Here is the video to my latest sermon at Christ Church Mansfield, To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn (or The End of the World as We Know It) from Mark 13.

This is part 30 of our series in the Gospel of Mark called, The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World.

“To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under heaven.”- Pete Seeger and Ecclesiastes 3

When Pete Seeger penned those words to the classic folk turned rock song (popularized by The Byrds), he was putting music and emotion to the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes that said “No matter what you are experiencing, it won’t always be like this. Things will change. They will “turn” eventually.”

When it comes to biblical prophecy, and more specifically, apocalyptic literature (like Mark 13), those same words hold true but with a different meaning. Biblical prophecy gives us a picture of the future as told from God’s perspective – what Tim Keller calls “poetic history told ahead of time” – for the expressed purpose of giving those who see what He sees and hear what He hears a chance to respond appropriately in the present.

In Mark 13, Jesus will address one of the most controversial topics that have been debated and even divisive within all of Christianity throughout the centuries – eschatology; or the view of the “end times.” And what we find in Jesus’ “Little Apocalypse” here is that perhaps we have focused too much of our discussions on minor points, and completely missed the major point.

While there is little consensus on the minors – such as timing, sequence, correlation to world and geo-political events – there is overwhelming consensus on the majors; namely Jesus Christ will return at the end time to judge as well as redeem, renew and restore all things, inevitably but unexpectedly.

Tweetable Thoughts:

“Christ’s return is inevitable, even though it will be unexpected – no one will know before it happens.” @gensheer @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

“The real abomination is man in murderous revolt against his Maker & Redeemer.” @gensheer @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

“When Jesus comes it is the end of the world as we know it.” @gensheer @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

About Christ Church Mansfield

Christ Church Mansfield is a worshiping community on mission to make to reach this and the next generation with the transforming power of the gospel.

We exist to love God (worship), connect people (community), serve the city (mission) and reach the world (discipleship) with the transforming power of the gospel. We serve the communities of Mansfield, Arlington, Burleson, Midlothian, Cedar Hill, Grand Prairie and Fort Worth, TX.

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we stand in the reformed tradition that celebrates that the church is always to be reformed; meaning, we are to be reshaped and molded into the image of Christ as declared in the scriptures.

For more free content, or to make a contribution to the ministry, go to www.cpcmansfield.org