Should Potential Members of a Church be Catechized?

There is in the Roman Catholic Church something called the “Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults” (RCIA). This is the process whereby an adult becomes a member of the Catholic Church. During this time the catechumen (those who are in RCIA) are taught the basics of church doctrine, her practices and morality. The class can go for a year or longer and usually culminates in the catechumen being received into the church on Easter Sunday. I’ve been a member or regular attendee of a number of Protestant denominations (Presbyterian, Baptist, Charismatic, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Free, and Independent) with the majority of my time spent with the Baptists. I’ve rarely seen a similar program in any of these denominations with regard to people who are joining their church. I think D.H. Williams hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

Evangelicals can learn much from the ancient church’s focus on catechesis, that is, on carefully instructing converts or those preparing to join the church in the biblical and doctrinal fundamentals of the Christian faith. In the preface to his manual of Christian instruction, Gregory of Nyssa declared:

Religious catechism is an essential duty of the leaders ‘of the mystery of our religion (1 Tim. 3:16). By it the Church is enlarged through the addition of those who are saved, while the ‘sure word which accords with the teaching (Titus 1:9) comes within the hearing of believers.

We are in accord with Gregory’s remarks when we insist that the teaching of new Christians or new members must go well beyond cursory explanations about the church’s leadership, the congregational structure, and issues of stewardship as well as getting acquainted with the church’s mission statement or a denominational summary. Too often we assume potential church members already know the fundamentals of the faith, whereas in reality they are often incapable of explaining even the basics of ‘the pattern of sound teaching’ (2 Tim. 1:13). This need for equipping cannot be displaced in favor of simply giving one’s own testimony anymore than a personal experience of faith can be substituted for a reasonable grasp of that faith. If the church as the apostle phrased it, is ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (1 Tim. 3:15), then the church’s leadership must not shirk from the critical and time-consuming job of imparting Christian truth or catechizing those who profess to be Christian.” (Evangelicals and Tradition, pp. 154-55)

For similar concerns and a much more robust treatment of this topic see Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett.

Like anything I’m sure there are good RCIA programs and not-so-good ones. My point is simply I think the Catholic church and others like her are on the right track with a catechetical program.

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to Should Potential Members of a Church be Catechized?

  1. craighurst says:

    I read Grounded in the Gospel about 2 1/2 yrs ago and it changed my whole perspective on the educational role of the church.

    Like

  2. Rev. Bryant J. Williams III says:

    Dear Louis,

    In one sense there is definitely a need to teach or cathechize new believers, but that should be after they have believed, not before. I based this on Acts 2:41-42 where it clearly indicates that those who “gladly received the word were baptized…and continued in the apostles doctrine…”

    The problem as I see it is that the Pastor of church is too often the one who has to teach new believers alongside his other duties. This is the failure of the Pastor (not knowing when to say, “No!”); failure of the deacons (and elders of elder-led churches); and failure of the congregation of believers. Ephesians 4:11-13 is quite clear about the role of the leadership of the church especially the “pastors and teachers” (pastors-teachers) which is to “edify the church, for the work of the ministry.” Too often the burden of the work of the ministry is left to the Pastor.

    Acts 6 and the choosing of the Deacons by the Jerusalem congregation was because the Apostles (later the Pastors after the Apostles died) were to be preaching the Word, while the Deacons were taking care of tables, i.e. ministering to the saints. This does not preclude the Pastor from ministering to the saints, but his role is similar not the same.

    Furthermore, I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5 clearly indicate the proper roles of the Pastor and Deacons.

    Finally, the Apostolic Fathers took their lead from the Early Church when a document, The Didache, was produced. True, it did not become part of the NT Canon, but it does show teaching (pun intended) was considered important; cf. also Hebrews 5:11-14: II Timothy 3:16-17.

    I could go on, but I think you get the point.

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