Why Teach Shorter Catechism
Luke begins his Gospel, “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
The phrase “the things you have been taught” is a translation of a single Greek word from which we get our English word for catechize. Luke’s reader, a new Christian, was first taught by others about God and his Word. He was catechized, in other words. He then tested and confirmed his catechism by studying the inspired Scripture that Luke sent to him.
Why is catechizing so effective? Perhaps an illustration will help. The catechism is to the Bible what a map is to the surface of the earth. But why do we bother with maps? Why do we not, rather, just go out and study the surface of the earth for ourselves? The answer, of course, is that one is wise to begin with the study of maps. After all, life is brief and the world is very big. Maps are so valuable because many people, over many years, have made a study of the earth’s surface. And while maps are not perfect, they are much more complete and accurate than would be the case if each of us tried to make our own.
It is like that with our understanding of the Scriptures. The Bible contains a vast wealth of information. It is no easy thing to master it all; in fact, no one besides Jesus ever has mastered it completely. The catechism, like other great creeds of the church, is a spiritual map of the Bible—worked out and proved by others who have gone before us.
And, after all, is this not exactly what the promise of Jesus implied? When he was about to finish his work on the earth, he said to his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Jesus kept this promise. When the day of Pentecost came, he sent his Spirit to dwell in his church, as his own body. The Holy Spirit was poured out—not on individuals by themselves, but on the whole body of believers together (Acts 2).
And from that time to this he has been leading his church into an ever-deepening understanding of the Scriptures. We should not be surprised, then, that since the days of Luke and Theophilus the church has used the catechetical method. —adapted from G. I. Williamson