I remember listening to a message by a prominent Reformed speaker. He contended that while our confessions and catechisms were right and useful, yet we tend to freeze-dry them and rigidly force them into cultural contexts were they are not always immediately relevant. He suggested that we need to be sensitive to the questions that the culture is asking in which we minister. Those questions may not be the same as those that have historically been asked. That was the gist of what I recall.
I don’t deny for a moment that each culture will come with its own set of questions, some of which we might consider ‘honest questions.’ As stewards of the mysteries of God, we should wisely parcel out God’s truth to them, given their own situation in life. Further, I admit that the Reformed confessions and catechisms were birthed in a context distinct from our own. Issues pressed on them in their day, and so there was a historical situation that conditioned the formation of these documents.
But on the other hand, the confessions and catechisms enshrined more than the Christian thought of one or two generations. They contain the collected reflection and judgment of the universal Church throughout the ages. Much of the language in the Reformed symbols was simply borrowed from earlier documetns, especially the ecumenical creeds. Further, they aimed to articulate that form of sound words – or what Irenaeus called ‘the rule of faith’ – embodied in the Scriptures. That truth is timeless.
But perhaps most to the point about questions. The questions that the confessions addressed and their catechisms acutally asked were the ‘right questions.’ Not all questions we ask are right. “Lord, wilt thou at this time again restore the kingdom to Israel?” “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And some are just downright nasty, or worse, blasphemous. “Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will?” What did our forebears do in their catechisms? They didn’t just give the right answers – they also told us the right questions to ask! They didn’t just listen to their generation’s questions in each instance, though they certainly did that. But they told them the right doors to knock on. Reformed catechism is biblical pedagogy. God has given us the deposit of truth, a timeless truth for each generation. Our catechisms furnish us with the right questions. True, they are not the only right questions that can be asked. But they are right questions that are also the main ones. Our culture may sometimes ask honest questions of the Bible. But it is not the best judge of which questions are most relevant. Relevance must be determined by God.
Let’s give our culture answers. If they are honest, let us answer them. But the teacher knows what is best. And so let’s give them right answers – but let’s give them the right questions too.