Catechism in a World of Chatter
What is catechism?
Catechism simply means instruction. The church uses this term to speak of a formal process of teaching the faith that has been handed out to new converts, to youth, and to others who want to learn afresh the fundamentals of the Christian faith. In one sense, we spend our lives in catechism. For we are all being instructed in our faith, our work, our culture, and even our family. Part of living is learning.
It is worth pausing a few minutes over the word catechism and this process of continuous learning as we think about our life in Christ. When Luke introduces his Gospel to Theophilus, he tells him that he has written down this account so that his friend “may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught (Luke 1:4). The word Luke uses for taught is the root word of catechism (katēcheō).
Catechism has an echo
If you look at the Greek word katēcheō, you can see an echo. Two words work together to form catechism, kata (according to, after, against, in, down) and echo (sound, reverberation, waves). At one time, the word was used in the theatre, and it referred to the actors speaking down from the stage to the audience. Visualize the actor and audience for a moment.
The actor stands above the audience and speaks or sings. The sound waves echo down upon the ears of the audience. Think of the voice, the sound traveling down. Where does this image appear in Scripture? Multiple places, but one obvious place is when the Lord speaks to Israel from the mountain. The Word sounds down upon the people. This image of the Word sounding down appears again and again in Scripture.
Consider Ezra the scribe. He teaches the Torah of the Lord to the exiles who have returned Palestine. According the Nehemiah 8, the people gather in the public square and Ezra climbs atop a wooden platform and proceeds to read the Book of the Law and the teach the people. Once again the Word is literally sounding down upon the people.
Much like a wave of the ocean (the root idea behind the word echo), the Word reverberates in the minds and hearts of people. In others instruction comes like wave after wave, and the people eventually are caught up in the wave and echo back the Word. The Word of God is sounded into the people and they formed by the hearing and the doing of the Word.
Patents Catechize Children
Children learn how to speak, how to walk, how to eat, and how to live through this ongoing process of sounding down in word and act. While a child cannot point to a moment when she suddenly learned language, she can speak. She has literally been caught up in the echo. To understand a life of catechism, we look to the formation of children.
Like infants and young children, we are all learning our Father’s ways as His Spirit sounds down the Word into our hearts and minds. He is speaking, teaching, training us in formal gathering and in informal conversations.
He is not the only one catechizing. We live in a world where alien values and alien words are sounded all around us, all the time. We live in a world of never-ending chatter. In the midst of the noise of advertising and politics and entertainment, let us learn afresh to turn and return to the voice of the Lord sounding in His Word, through His people, and in the worship of the communion of saints.
Image by Mark Sardella (used by permission via Creative Commons).