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Archive for the ‘Diets of Catechizing’ Category

The following are anecdotes from the labors of Puritan missionary John Eliot (1604-1690) among the Native Americans of early Massachusetts.  The extract is drawn from The Life of John Eliot by Nehemiah Adams (1847).

Specifically, we witness Eliot and company catechizing the heathen, ushering them into the holy knowledge of the faith and so into the bosom of the Church.  Obviously, our Puritan forbears entertained a broad view of this discipline.  It was not simply for those in the Church seeking to deepen their understanding of  but also for those laying hold of the skirt of a Jew and begging for guidance to Zion’s God.

After one or two more posts, I’ll conclude with some reflections on Eliot’s evangelistic catechesis.

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An hour and a quarter was occupied in the discourse. Mr. Eliot gave the Indians first a brief exposition of the ten commandments, showing the wrath and curse of God against those who break the least one of them. The subject was then applied, and the law having been brought to do its work in their hearts, and their sins being pointed out to them, as Mr. Eliot says, with much sweet affection, Jesus Christ was preached to them as the only Saviour. He told them who Christ was, and what he did, and whither he had gone, and how he will come again to judge the wicked and burn the world. The creation and fall of man, the greatness of God, heaven and hell, the pleasures of religion and the miseries of sin were then explained in language and with illustrations suited to their capacity.

The sermon being finished, Mr. Eliot proposed some questions to them, and first inquired whether they understood what had been said, and whether all or only some of them understood it ? A multitude of voices exclaimed that they all understood every thing which had been spoken. Leave was then granted them to put questions, and it is interesting to notice the first questions which these children of the wilderness proposed. The first questions were, “What is the cause of thunder?” “What makes the sea ebb and flow?” “What makes the wind blow?”

But there were some questions proposed by them which Mr. Eliot says some special wisdom of God directed them to ask, as, for example, How may we come to know Jesus Christ?

Mr. Eliot told them that if they could read the Bible they would see clearly who Jesus Christ is, but inasmuch as they could not then read, he desired them to remember what he had told them out of the Bible, and to think much and often upon it, when they lay down on their mats in their wigwams and when they rose up, and to go alone in the fields, and woods, and muse on it, and so God would teach them.

He told them that if they would have help from God in this thing, they must begin to pray, and though they could not make long prayers as the English did, yet if they did but sigh and groan, saying, “Lord, make me to know Jesus Christ for I know him not,” and if with all their hearts they persisted in such prayers, they might hope that God would help them. But they were especially to remember that they must confess their sins and ignorance to God and mourn over them and acknowledge how just it would be in God to withhold from them any knowledge of Christ, on account of their sins.

This instruction was communicated to them by Mr. Eliot through the Indian interpreter whom he had brought with him, but he says he was struck with the fact that a few words from the Preacher had much greater effect than many from the interpreter.

One of them asked, whether Englishmen were ever at any time so ignorant of God and Jesus Christ as they themselves?

Another put this question: Whether if the father be naughty and the child good, will God be offended with that child ? because in the second commandment it is said that he visits the sins of the fathers upon the children.  They were told in reply to this that every child who is good will not be punished for the sins of his father, but if the child be bad, God would then visit his father’s sins upon him, and they were bid to notice that part of the second commandment which contains a promise to the thousands of them that love God and keep his commandments.

One of them asked, How is all the world now become so full of people, if they were all once drowned in the flood? This led to the story of the ark and the preservation of Noah.

Mr. Eliot then proposed some questions to them, for example, Whether they did not desire to see God, and were not tempted to think there is no God because they could not see him?  Some of them answered, They did desire to see Him if it could be, but they had heard from Mr. Eliot that he could not be seen, and they did believe that though their eyes could not see him, he was to be seen with their soul within. Mr. Eliot endeavored to confirm them in this impression, and asked them if they saw a great wigwam or a great house, would they think that raccoons or foxes built it? or would they think that it made itself? or that no wise builder made it, because they could not see him who made it?

Knowing that the doctrine of one God was a great stumbling block to them, Mr. Eliot asked them if they did not think it strange that there should be but one God, and yet this God be in Massachusetts, and in Connecticut, in Old England, in this wigwam, and the next, and every where at the same time?  One of the most sober of them replied that it was indeed strange, as every thing else they had heard preached was strange, and they were wonderful things which they never heard of before, but yet they thought “It might be true, and that God was so big every where.” Mr. Eliot illustrated the truth by the light of the sun, which, though it was but a creature of God, shed its light into that wigwam, and the next, in Massachusetts and Old England, at once.

He inquired of them if they did not find something troubling them within after the commission of murder, theft, adultery, lying; and what would comfort them, and remove that trouble of conscience when they should die and appear before God?  They replied that they were thus troubled, but they could not tell what they should say about it, or what would remove this trouble of mind, whereupon Mr. Eliot enlarged upon the evil of sin and the condition of the soul which is cast out of the favor of God.

Having spent three hours in this interview, Mr. Eliot asked them if they were not weary, and they said, no. But thinking it best to leave them with an appetite, Mr. Eliot concluded the meeting with prayer.

 

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In the previous post on building multi-generational churches, I focused mainly on the duties of parents and especially fathers.  On their shoulders, in large part, rests the future of the Church.  But of course, as we observed, the church ‘fathers’ must cultivate them, and so really it does come back to the teaching and ruling ministry of the Church at the end of the day.

The following extract from Samuel Miller (1769-1850) comes from his masterly work, The Christian Education of Children and Youth. In this passage, he urges one particular duty of church officers in raising up and retaining a godly seed for the Church.  It is the time-honored Reformed practice of pastoral catechizing of the youth:

It follows, of course, that the pastor who does not diligently attend to the religious instruction of the young people of his charge, is blind to the comfort, the acceptance, and the popularity of his own ministry. Why is it that so many ministers, before reaching an infirm old age, grow out of date with their people, and lose their influence with them? Especially, why is it that the younger part of their flocks feel so little attraction to them, dislike their preaching, and sigh for a change of pastors? There is reason to believe that this has seldom occurred, except in cases in which pastors have been eminently negligent of the religious training of their young people; in which, however respectable they may have been for their talents, their learning, and their worth, in other respects, they have utterly failed to bind the affections of the children to their persons; to make every one of them revere and love them as affectionate fathers; and, by faithful attentions, to inspire them with the strongest sentiments of veneration and filial attachment. Those whose range of observation has been considerable, have, no doubt, seen examples of ministers, whose preaching was by no means very striking or attractive, yet retaining to the latest period of their lives, the affections of all committed to their care, and especially being the favourites of the young people, who have rallied round them in their old age, and contributed not a little to render their last days both useful and happy. It may be doubted whether such a case ever occurred excepting where the pastor had bestowed much attention on the young people of his charge.

Such are some of the evils which flow from neglect on the part of the Church to train up her children in the knowledge of her doctrines and order. She may expect to see a majority of those children—even children of professors of religion—growing up in ignorance and profligacy; of course forsaking the church of their fathers; leaving her either to sink, or to be filled up by converts from without; turning away from those pastors who neglected them; and causing such pastors to experience in their old age, the merited reward of unfaithful servants (22-23).

Here is one big reason why churches, even Reformed ones, lose their youth.  The ministry has neglected catechizing.  Church catechizing, that is.  Much of the evangelical ministry today, sadly, has farmed out its duty here to ‘youth pastors’ – most of whom are often little better than glorified baby-sitters.  At best, it has delegated church education to pious, but unordained lay people.  But as Miller shrewdly observes, this passing on duty is also passing on a major opportunity.  An opportunity for the ministry to win young people’s minds to the principles of the church of their baptism, as well as an opportunity to win their hearts by sustained care and attention.  A profound insight indeed.

My mind here is taken to a beautiful mental image I have of the good Dr. Luther.   I can’t recall if it was a painting or something I read at some point – but forever irretrievable, I fear.  The master has gathered his pupils around him, and he is imparting a sacred lesson.  The little peasant catechumens are listening with rapt attention, and on occasion one is put on the spot to give an answer.   Here we see the embodiment of duty, of love, and of shrewd church policy, aimed at winning and at retaining the young.

We in the Reformed ministry must imitate our Saviour.  “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.”  And when we are done baptizing them, let us yet hold on to them.  Let us retain them in our hearts, in our prayers, in our attentions – and in our devoted, focused instruction of them.  And combining this discipline with godly parenting in the home, by the blessing of the Spirit, shouldn’t we hope to mend the breaches in Zion’s walls?

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The following comes from President Edwards’ The Life and Diary of the Rev. David Brainerd (1743).  It in an insightful snapshot of the old Reformed discipline of catechesis and demonstrates how integral it is to evangelism itself. 

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THE method I am taking to instruct the Indians in the principles of our holy religion, are, to preach, or open and improve some particular points of doctrine; to expound particular paragraphs, or sometimes whole chapters, of God’s word to them; to give historical relations from Scripture of the most material and remarkable occurrences relating to the church of God from the beginning; and frequency to catechise them upon the principles of Christianity. The latter of these methods of instructing I manage in a twofold manner. I sometimes catechise systematically, proposing questions agreeable to the Reverend Assembly’s Shorter Catechism.  This I have carried to a considerable length. At other times I catechise upon any important subject that I think difficult to them. Sometimes when I have discoursed upon some particular point, and made it as plain and familiar to them as I can, I then catechise them upon the most material branches of my discourse, to see whether they had a thorough understanding of it. But as I have catechised chiefly in a systematical form, I shall here give some specimen of the method I make use of in it, as well as of the propriety and justness of my people’s answers to the questions proposed to them.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at death.

Q. I have shown you, that the children of God receive a great many good things from Christ while they live, now have they any more to receive when they come to die?–A. Yes.

Q. Are the children of God then made perfectly free from sin?–Yes.

Q. Do you think they will never more be troubled with vain, foolish, and wicked thoughts?–A. No, never at all.

Q. Will not they then be like the good angels I have so often told you of?–A. Yes.

Q. And do you call this a great mercy to be freed from all sin?–A. Yes.

Q. Do all God’s children count it so?–A. Yes, all of them.

Q. Do you think this is what they would ask for above all things, if God should say to them, Ask what you will, and it shall be done for you?–A. O yes, be sure, this is what they want.

Q. You say the souls of God’s people at death are made perfectly free from sin, where do they go then?–A. They go and live with Jesus Christ.

Q. Does Christ show them more respect and honour, and make them more happy* than we can possibly think of in this world?-A. Yes.

Q. Do they go immediately to live with Christ in heaven, as soon as their bodies are dead? or do they tarry somewhere else a while?–A. They go immediately to Christ.

Q. Does Christ take any care of the bodies of his people when they are dead, and their souls gone to heaven, or does he forget them?–A. He takes care of them.

These questions were all answered with surprising readiness, and without once missing, as I remember. And in answering several of them which respected deliverance from sin, they were much affected, and melted with the hopes of that happy state.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at the resurrection.

Q. You see I have already shown you what good things Christ gives his good people while they live, and when they come to die; now, will he raise their bodies, and the bodies of others, to life again at the last day?–A. Yes, they shall all be raised.

Q. Shall they then have the same bodies they now have?-A. Yes.

Q. Will their bodies then be weak, will they feel cold, hunger, thirst, and weariness, as they now do?–A. No, none of these things.

Q. Will their bodies ever die any more after they are raised to life?–A. No.

Q. Will their souls and bodies be joined together again?–A. Yes.

Q. Will God’s people be more happy then, than they were while their bodies were asleep?–A. Yes.

Q. Will Christ then own these to be his people before all the world?–A. Yes.

Q. But God’s people find so much sin in themselves, that they are often ashamed of themselves, and will not Christ be ashamed to own such for his friends at that day?–A. No, he never will be ashamed of them.

Q. Will Christ then show all the world, that he has put away these people’s sins,† and that he looks upon them as if they had never sinned at all?–A. Yes.

Q. Will he look upon them as if they had never sinned, for the sake of any good things they have done themselves, or for the sake of his righteousness accounted to them as if it was theirs?–A. For the sake of his righteousness counted to them, not for their own goodness.

Q. Will God’s children then be as happy as they can desire to be?–Yes.

Q. The children of God while in this world, can but now and then draw near to him, and they are ready to think they can never have enough of God and Christ, but will they have enough there, as much as they can desire?–A. O yes, enough, enough.

Q. Will the children of God love him then as much as they desire, will they find nothing to hinder their love from going to him?–A. Nothing at all, they shall love him as much as they desire.

Q. Will they never be weary of God and Christ, and the pleasures of heaven, so as we are weary of our friends and enjoyments here, after we have been pleased with them awhile?–A. No, never.

Q. Could God’s people be happy if they knew God loved them, and yet felt at the same time that they could not love and honour him?–A. No, no.

Q. Will this then make God’s people perfectly happy, to love God above all, to honour him continually, and to feel his love to them?–A. Yes.

Q. And will this happiness last for ever?–A. Yes, for ever, for ever.

These questions, like the former, were answered without hesitation or missing, as I remember, in any one instance.

Questions upon the duty which God requires of men.

Q. Has God let us know any thing of his will, or what he would have us to do to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. And does he require us to do his will, and to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. Is it right that God should require this of us, has he any business to command us as a father does his children?–A. Yes.

Q. Why is it right that God should command us to do what he pleases?–A. Because he made us, and gives us all our good things.

Q. Does God require us to do any thing that will hurt us, and take away our comfort and happiness?–A. No.

Q. But God requires sinners to repent and be sorry for their sins, and to have their hearts broken; now, does not this hurt them, and take away their comfort, to be made sorry, and to have their hearts broken?–A. No, it does them good.

Q. Did God teach man his will at first by writing it down in a book, or did he put it into his heart, and teach him without a book what was right?–A. He put it into his heart, and made him know what he should do.

Q. Has God since that time writ down his will in a book?–A. Yes.

Q. Has God written his whole will in his book; has he there told us all that he would have us believe and do?–A. Yes.

Q. What need was there of this book, if God at first put his will into the heart of man, and made him feel what he should do?–A. There was need of it, because we have sinned, and made our hearts blind.

Q. And has God writ down the same things in his book, that he at first put into the heart of man?–A. Yes.

In this manner I endeavour to adapt my instructions to the capacities of my people; although they may perhaps seem strange to others who have never experienced the difficulty of the work. And these I have given an account of, are the methods I am from time to time pursuing, in order to instruct them in the principles of Christianity. And I think I may say, it is my great concern that these instructions be given them in such a manner, that they may not only be doctrinally taught, but duly affected thereby, that divine truths may come to them, “not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost,” and be received “not as the word of man.”

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Below is an exceprt from Hints on the Art of Catechising by Edward Bather, a 19th century clergyman in the Church of England.  Quite helpful material from an obviously seasoned catechist.  Enjoy!

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I shall understand catechising, then, as it is commonly defined—namely, as signifying—instruction in the first rudiments of any art or science, communicated by asking questions and hearing and correcting the answers. And if I may be allowed to put my meaning into very familiar phrase, and to state plainly what I would recommend, it is this —That the catechist, having taken for his basis, or the subject matter to be unfolded, either some portion of the Church Catechism itself, or some text which illustrates it, or both, should then first “instruct” his pupils by questioning the meaning into them, and then “examine” them by questioning it out of them. The first process, it is obvious, may most conveniently be attended to in the school, and the second in the church: or, in other words, in the school, where he has most time, and is in least fear of being tedious, he will naturally most apply himself to put those questions by which he means to conduct his pupils into knowledge of the subject; and in the church, those by which he would give them opportunity to produce their knowledge; but in neither situation will he confine himself to either mode exclusively. And then I say, when the meaning of any general head of faith or practice, as proved and illustrated by Scripture, shall have been got out of the children in its particulars, or piece by piece, in answer to the questions put to them—those children themselves and the by-standers together will be a congregation, just in a fit condition to profit, under God, by exhortation or preaching: and there are two ways in which the minister may address them with great advantage. He has the opportunity, whilst the catechetical instruction is proceeding, of interspersing, as he gets his replies, many brief remarks and practical observations in a natural and lively, and therefore attractive and affecting manner; or he may sum up the particulars afterwards in a short discourse, and ground upon them, with good effect, the admonitions which they obviously suggest.

But of this I shall have more to say presently. The practice recommended has, of course, its difficulties, and the method cannot be fully shown without more minute examples than can well be given in an address of this nature. I may possibly, however, explain myself in some degree. The thing to be done is to possess the minds of a number of ignorant and heedless children with the sense and meaning—we will say—of one of our Lord’s parables, and to bring them to perceive and consider the practical lesson which it is intended to convey. In order to this, their attention must in the first place be gained and fixed, and then there will probably be words and phrases to be explained, perhaps old customs also—the literal story or similitude to be compared with the religious truth or doctrine which it is employed to illustrate, and other portions of Scripture to be cited, and brought to bear on the point in hand, in a way of confirmation or further exposition. Then there are two ways of proceeding: you may preach or lecture upon the subject, and in so doing, you tell your hearers what you have acquired and ascertained yourselves: or else you may communicate instruction as I advise, by asking questions, and correcting the answers; or I should rather say, by bringing the children themselves to correct them, by means of further questioning on your part. And in that case they tell you every thing. The truth and meaning comes out of their mouths to you, not out of yours to them, though it is certain you guide them to it, and put it into them. Everybody knows what in the language of the bar is meant by asking leading questions, and that a witness must not be led—because there the object is not to instruct or tell him what he should say, but to examine him or inquire what he really knows and has to say; but the case of which we are now speaking being exactly the reverse, the catechist’s aim being, at least in the first instance, to instil, and not to extract, his proceedings must be just what the advocate’s ought not to be. And then the whole “skill,” to use the words of Herbert in the Country Parson, “consists but in these three points; first an aim and mark of the whole discourse whither to drive the answerer, which the questionist must have in his mind before any question be propounded, upon which and to which the questions are to be chained. Secondly, a most plain and easy framing of the question, even containing in virtue the answer also, especially to the more ignorant. Thirdly, when the answerer sticks, an illustrating of the thing by something else which he knows, making what he knows serve him in what he knows not” (pp. 18-21).



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If you’re Reformed, passionate about evangelism, and not such a ‘frozen chosen’ that you can indulge in a good laugh, then you really need to read about Aeneas Sage.  Sage was a Presbyterian minister in the 18th century Scottish Highlands, then a very rough and Roman Catholic region.  Sage was a Samsonesque figure, somewhat larger than life.  The following is a delightful vignette from his heroic ministry, taken from The Scot of the eighteenth century: his religion and his life, by John Watson (1907).  I’m not sure if it is apocryphal – but it sure is enjoyable!

What is more, I think it is also highly illustrative of the Reformed cure of souls tradition.  First, it reveals the highly evangelistic nature of the ministry in the Church of Scotland.  The minister’s ‘charge’ was not just congregational, but parochial.  Today, the typical Reformed minister doesn’t feel quite the same call of duty to labor habitually and aggressively beyond his communicant membership.  If he does, perhaps he is to be commended.  But in the old Kirk, the Presbytery gave a man charge over all the souls in a given territory.  Aeneas Sage felt the call of Christ – and of his Presbytery! – to bring the Gospel to all under his assigned charge, “whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.”

Second, it exemplifies what I want to call the ‘muscle’ of the Church, nowadays so atrophied by effeminate underuse.  The old Kirk believed its mandate was to do nothing less than subdue the pagans by the authority of the Truth entrusted to it.  The Church is not in the world to learn, or to create “safe places” for the exchange of ideas.  The Church is sent to convert and catechize.  Aeneas Sage obviously believed that with all his heart (and brawn)!  Certainly he would not be the kind of chap inclined to ‘dialogue’ over a latte at Starbuck’s.

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The minister Aeneas Sage [was] a mighty man, with the blood of the Sutherlands and the MacKays in his veins, and connected with the fighting chiefs who went out in ’45. Fortunately he was a man of his hands with a stout heart, for his life was in danger in those troubled times, and plans were made to bur n the Whig minister in his bed. Sometimes he met his adversaries with guile, but he was

quite prepared to take a high hand also with unsatisfactory parishioners. He announced his intention one Sabbath of holding a diet of catechizing in the house of a certain small laird who was distinguished for his ferocity and evil living. When he arrived at the door the owner asked him what he came for. “I come,” said Sage, “to discharge my duty to God, to your conscience and to my own.”

“I care nothing for any of the three ; out of my house, or I’ll turn you out.”

“If you can,” said the minister, and then the minister had what may be called a preliminary “diet” with the laird, who was a very powerful man. When the diet was over the landlord had all he wanted to eat, for he was lying on the floor with a rope round his hands and feet.  As the minister pleasantly remarked, “he was now bound over to keep the peace,” and then with his captive before him, the minister called in the people of the district and taught them the “Shorter Catechism,” from the oldest to the youngest, no man refusing. It is encouraging to know that the laird became a decided Christian, but it is difficult to see what alternative he had under the preaching of his parish minister.

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