Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Catechisms have been used as a means/method of imparting truth and passing on the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). One of the early ones written in the wake of the Reformation was The Heidelberg Catechism.
One of the main authors of this catechism was Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583). At the beginning of his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus included a section, “Special prolegomena with reference to the catechism.”
Ursinus’ prolegomena addresses five key issues:
Ursinus lists nine reasons for the necessity of teaching the catechism in the church, with a summarizing warning.
The summary: “A neglect of the catechism is, therefore, one of the chief causes why there are so many at the present day tossed about by every wind of doctrine, and why so many fall from Christ to Anti-Christ.”
A few questions of application:
John Wiers: "Greg, although the Westminster Standards are the creedal standards of my own denomination– the Orthodox Presbyterian Church– the Heidelberg is actually one of my favorites of all Christian statements of faith. Does this mean that there is a movement to resurrect catechism in the EFCA? I hope so."
Greg Strand: "It is great to hear from you, John. You know the history well enough to know some of the concerns and fears with catechisms. However, I am not sure those who do not use them, or something like them, have considered the implications of not using them, or something like them. At our upcoming Theology Conference, one of the messages will address this issue. Are you able to join us? In our past, we have had a catechism, though I am not sure of its acceptance or use: E. A. Halleen, Lessons in the Bible: A Brief Catechism(1945). I am considering ways we in the Free Church can impart the faith. As I noted, it is not that if we do not do something intentional, or unintentional, in the realm of spiritual formation, or discipleship, that nothing will get passed on. Spiritual formation will happen with or without intention and purpose. We need to consider seriously, purposefully and intentionally, what we are or are not doing to pass on the faith, to impart biblical truth, to model spiritual life in the context of the local church. The use, or not, of a catechism ought to be part of that discussion."
John Wiers: "While I would love to be there for the conference, it’s probably not likely that I can get there. I do plan to listen to the recordings and I’m pleased that TEDS and the EFCA are emphasizing these themes. Yes, I’m aware of the dangers of catechisms. Years ago I was a grad student at the U of Wisconsin–in history, before I went to TEDS– and got to know W. Van Gemeren as he was finishing up his doctorate then. He was a licentiate in the OPC and supplied a Christian Reformed congregation one Sunday in central Wisconsin. There was an older Dutch lady in the congregation who thanked him for his biblical preaching, but added something like this in her Dutch brogue, which Wim– — as he was known to me then–could imitate quite well– “Domine, it was so good to have you preach today, but it will be so good when we have a regular pastor and can hear the Heidelberg Catechsim preached again”. Needless to say, Dr. Van Gemeren was not pleased as this sentiment! Yet, the dangers of neglecting catechesis are greater than the dangers of sentiments such as those of the old Dutch lady in my opinion. I’ll follow this development with interest, especially since EFCA churches like the one my brother is an elder in have dropped both adult and children’s SS. I’m not sure how systematic biblical and theological training gets passed on in those contexts."