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

Gospel within the Gospel

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In preparation for our upcoming sermon series at Christ Church Mansfield on Luke 15 I came across this magnificent quote, explaining how to read and understand the parables of Jesus, from Kenneth Bailey.

A parable is not a delivery system for an idea.  It is not like a shell casing that can be discarded once the idea (the shell) is fired.  Rather a parable is a house in which the reader or listener is invited to take up residence.  The reader is encouraged to look out on the world from the point of view of the story.  A “house” has a variety of windows and rooms. Thus the parable may have one primary idea with other secondary ideas encased within it.   It may have a cluster of theological themes held together by the story.  Naturally the interpreter should only look for the themes that were available to the first century audience listening to Jesus.  What themes are set forth in this marvelous “Gospel within the Gospel” as it has been called for centuries?” Kenneth Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, p. 87

Jesus Brings a Deeper, More Comprehensive Fix (Mark 1:40-45)

christcleansingHere we have what seems to be a familiar enough story. As Jesus was going through all Galilee preaching in the synagogues and healing people, a man approaches Jesus with a particular need. Up to this point, we might expect Jesus to say a word and heal the man. After all, Jesus has places to go and people to see. He just told his disciples that He couldn’t stay put long enough to meet the requests of everyone who had needs (Mark 1:35-39). But Jesus surprises us (you would think we might get more comfortable with this, even this early in the Gospel of Mark).

Jesus touches the man and he is healed. Actually, he is “made clean.” What vexed this man was he suffered from leprosy. Today, we can distinguish between leprosy and other skin abnormalities, but in Jesus day, any skin related issue – deterioration, discoloration, deformity, etc. – would be labeled leprosy. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “This disease in an especial manner rendered its victims unclean; even contact with a leper defiled whoever touched him, so while the cure of other diseases is called healing, that of leprosy is called cleansing.” According to Leviticus 13-14, anyone who suffered from the affliction was to be isolated and in effect quarantined in order to contain the spread of the disease. Likewise, if anyone came in contact with someone suffering in this way, they themselves became “unclean” – a term not necessarily denoting that they became leprous, but at least susceptible to it and thus needing to “purify” themselves to become clean. This man was not in that situation.

Most likely, he would have been living with the other “outcasts” – those who because of their unclean status were forced to live outside of the city walls. It was common for these people to dwell in caves with others in similar situations. If they had loved ones or deeply committed friends, they might have a visit occasionally with the visitor bringing some kind of food, often lowering it down into the cavern. This man had no basis for hope of escaping his stations whatsoever; at least not until Jesus shows up.

Imagine the obstacles he had to overcome to come to Jesus. Wading through crowds of people that Jesus tended to attract, venturing into the city’s perimeter, even daring to cross the six-foot perimeter he needed to maintain in order to approach this popular teacher and healer.

This man implores Jesus to heal him and make him clean. And Jesus is “moved with pity.” The phrase is translated from a single word in the Greek, its splanxna, and it means “the inward parts,’ specially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys,” and eventually would come to denote “seat of the affections.” Jesus sees this man and is moved in his inmost being.

Remember, Jesus can heal with a word; he has just done so in the verses preceding our passage here. But here it says that Jesus “touches him,” and he is cleansed. Why this peculiar detail? Is it just a demonstrable flourish for Jesus?

To a man who has spent perhaps his entire life being isolated away from others, not able to participate in the community life, always making sure he kept his distance (or rather, feeling the awkwardness and emotional devastation of watching others adamantly avoid him), this man didn’t just need physical healing from the leprosy – he needed a more comprehensive healing.

He needed one that covered his physical (cleansing from leprosy), his emotional (the touch from another person) as well as his social and even spiritual needs. Jesus goes on and doesn’t tell him to go on about his new life. Instead, Jesus directs him to present himself to the “priest” and make the acceptable offering for his cleansing to him (Mark 1:44; cf. Leviticus 14:2-32). Why bother with this at this point? Jesus had healed him. More to the point, Jesus is doing something so new and qualitatively different from the priests of his day – why bother sending the man there?

This was the accepted practice to be restored to the community at large. Jesus was telling him to go through the official, proper channels, not in order to become clean, but in order to be seen as clean. For Jesus, this is proof enough that the kingdom of God is at hand, and a new thing is being done in their midst. There’s no need for the man to go out and make a big show of what happened. Just go do what is necessary to be welcomed back into the life of the community. But the man can’t help himself. His deepest longings and wildest hopes have been met by this different kind of teacher, a different kind of healer than even he had dared possible.

How could he not tell everyone about it?

Don’t Call it Inspirational. It’s Depressing

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“Don’t call this story inspirational. It’s not. It’s depressing.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Recently listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast Revisionist History, “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.” This is a powerful and sobering story talking about the reality of privilege and the struggle of those without it in our country, in our day.

One step towards working for a better world for all is first coming to understand how others live. That’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t just begin when He is dying on a cross, or raised from the grave, but when he comes “in the flesh” (incarnation) and walks in the shoes of His people. It even begins much earlier than that though, where we see that the story of Jesus and His incarnation, substitutionary death, and resurrection life is really the fulfillment of how God entered into the world wrecked and ruined by sin. 

In the Garden, God comes into His ruined creation and asks, not “What have you done,” but “Where are you?”

God leads with empathy and entering in. 

We can do the same for others in our midst – loving and serving them and their interests, regardless of our own interests – but only if we do the work of building relationships with them. Relationships characterized not by moral judgments or simply making opportunities available, but by entering into the world and life of others and seek to be a blessing.

This is how we build the shalom Jesus brings. Not through triumphalistic endeavors or merely good intentions. But through empathy and relational trust whereby we seek the interests of others ahead of our own.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Listen to the episode for the story “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.”

http://apple.co/29W6gEl

#empathy #know #feel #act #shalom #notthewayitssupposedtobe #gospel #incarnation