Catechesis is the systematic and intentional training of believers in the core doctrines of the faith and how to apply those doctrines in daily living. And that’s the point of the whole letter of 1 Peter. In other words, this letter is a catechism for how to live as a believer in hostile culture. Richard Jensen writes:
A description of the audience for this letter of I Peter would include the fact that they were relative newcomers to Christianity. They were an immature group of believers who were encountering a hostile environment… They needed guidance on their way. One interpreter of this letter sees, therefore, a two-fold purpose for its writing: 1] It is a call to young Christians to hold fast their faith. “Become who you are,” might summarize Peter’s message on this point. 2] It is a description for how young believers can be Christians in a hostile cultural environment.
Over the last 150 years or so much of the church in the west has lost its emphasis on intentionally and systematically training new believers in core Christian doctrine and practice. The result is the kind of revisionist Christianity that is endemic among the mainline denominations. Their precipitous membership loss is evidence that they have severed the limb of orthodoxy and are bleeding out.
Yet one of the strange benefits of moving into a post-Christian culture is that biblically faithful churches re-discover the need to intentionally catechize their members. Whenever the church is at ease it loses its intentionality about forming disciples, falsely trusting that the natural flow of the culture will be sufficient to make one a Christian. But when the church faces an antagonistic culture as in the first four centuries of the Christian era, or when new missionary outreach is advancing, or during times of reformation, God reminds us of the absolute necessity for intentionally instructing Christians for a lifetime of discipleship.
The reformer Martin Luther reflects this urgency in the introduction to his Small Catechism. Addressing those who resist being catechized, Luther employs his typical rhetorical flair when he says:
“But those who are unwilling to learn it should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians, neither should they be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at baptism, nor exercise any part of Christian liberty…”.
From the beginning at Christ Church we have insisted on emphasizing life-long catechesis. We stress biblical instruction in core Christian doctrine and faithful Christian living. That’s why every person who joins Christ Church goes through the 13 week “Foundations Course”.
That’s why we are instituting the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for all our children this fall. (In this culture if we do not take the time to systematically and intentionally catechize our children we are ultimately making the decision that they will not be followers of Jesus Christ.)
That’s why we stress weekly involvement in a Life Group where we learn to apply biblical teaching.
So the first step in avoiding what I have called “incremental apostasy” in the face of a secularizing society is that we have to follow Peter’s lead and commit ourselves once again to the classical Christian practice of making disciples via systematic catechism. One great new resource that you might want to explore for your family is the new catechism produced by the Anglican Church in North America: To Be a Christian.
In my next blog post we’ll take a look at a defining metaphor for the Christian in a post-Christian culture: sojourner.