Catechesis: A Definition
Based on the principles taught in Scripture it is our intention to provide our own description and objective of catechesis, or catechism instruction.
It deals with instruction in the covenant community of God, in the Church of Jesus Christ. It is instruction to the younger members of the covenant. In obedience to the commission of the God of the covenant, we must pass on to them God’s covenant acts to save his people through all ages, and especially in the work of the Messiah, his Son, Jesus Christ. The aim is that a new generation learns to know and trust their God and Lord in faith and full submission, and to serve him in all the breadth, length, and depth of our life.
Catechesis is covenantal instruction in the church of the Lord God, according to his command, to its younger members, to bring them – under the blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit – to the knowledge of their God and Saviour of their entire life!
Let us explore some aspects of this description:
Catechesis is covenantal instruction, which means it has a federal character. This indicates not only that it is directed to the youth of the covenant but also that it takes place in the framework of the covenant. The youth of the church is included in the covenant, together with the adults in the congregation of the Lord God. The promises of the gospel are fully meant for them as well. With a view to them especially did our covenant God give his command to guide them into his revelation (see Deut. 6:7; 11:19; Ps. 78:1ff.). God uses instruction in both the Old and the New Covenant as the means to know him and his work of salvation. He wants to build, to prosper, and to preserve his covenant church through the generations. That is the reason why the youth of the church need to be instructed and established on the God-given relationship, through the promises sealed and given by him. The basis for instruction and education lies in the fact of having been baptized in the covenant.
Catechesis is instruction in the church of Jesus Christ, which means it has an ecclesiological character. For the continuation of his work, his covenant and kingdom, God engages his congregation. Catechesis is woven through the life of the church. This not only implies that catechesis is a basic function of the congregation or that it simply indicates the place of instruction. It equally implies that there is a direct correlation between the formation of the younger members and the level upon which the congregation lives out of the salvation and the power of its risen Lord. A congregation with a hollow, introverted life of faith will have an effect on the formation of the next generation. On the other side, congregations where the members express a joyful and assured faith life and where they witness faithfully and effectively to the world around them will also affect the formation of its youth. When we view it this way, catechesis does not happen in a neutral or isolated environment, but within the confines of the congregation.
Catechesis occurs under the blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit, which emphasizes the pneumatological orientation. This means that catechesis is within the operational sphere of the Spirit. He aims to use catechesis in his work of glorifying Christ in the midst of the congregation, in the lives of sinners. This he has promised. The catechesis stands firm in the power of this promise, and the catechete (student) is encouraged by it. This pneumatological aspect comes to the fore especially when we consider that based on the Scriptures we may believe that the Spirit himself is present in the catechesis room. It is then also important to realize that the catechist(s) can grieve or counter the work of the Spirit, and that they need to be on guard not to cause this to happen.
Catechesis intends to learn to know God for all of one’s life, which means it is has an existential character. The purpose is not that the young people will know much about the Bible and that they can recite all sorts of facts about the Bible, the church, and faith. Knowing God is quite a bit different and so much more than knowing about him. Catechesis intends to bring the youth to exercise their daily walk of faith with God, and to live before his face. It encompasses their entire existence and their whole personality. It touches upon their position in the congregation and in this world, in all the relationships they currently have or will have. From the start, this totalitarian, existential aspect of the catechesis must determine the entire learning process.
Catechesis is instruction and a leading to the knowledge of God, which means it has a didactical character. It is truly a learning process, a formation and guiding to live a life with God and Jesus Christ. This learning and guiding need to be worked out responsibly. The insights and practices of the field of didactics, connected with those of psychology and pedagogy, can be instructive in this regard. We need to assimilate such insights into the area of learning the catechesis. The intrinsic nature of the catechesis, the biblical goals and the covenantal framework, will determine which insights and results are suitable for the teaching processes of the church. Such teaching cannot occur unless it is didactically sound.
This article was translated by Wim Kanis