Some time back I was listening to a prominent Reformed speaker. He contended that while our confessions and catechisms were right and useful, yet we tend to freeze-dry them and rigidly force them into cultural contexts where they are not always immediately relevant. He suggested that we need to be sensitive to the questions that the culture is asking in which we minister. Those questions may not be the same as those that have historically been asked.
Now, I don’t deny for a moment that each culture will come with its own set of questions, some of which we might consider ‘honest’ (cf. Acts 17:32). As stewards of the mysteries of God, we should wisely parcel out God’s truth to them, given their own particular histories, needs, and temptations. Further, the Reformed confessions and catechisms were certainly birthed in a context distinct in many ways from our own. Particular issues of the day pressed on our forebearers, conditioning their confessions and catechisms accordingly. Like the men of Isachaar, they “understood the times” (1 Chron. 12:32) and spoke winsomely to their generation.
Yet it must be stressed that the Reformation confessions and catechisms enshrined more than the Christian thought of one or two generations. They contain the collected and mature judgment of the universal Church throughout the ages. Much content and even the very language of our Reformed symbols were simply borrowed from earlier documents, especially the ecumenical creeds. Further, they aimed to articulate that form of sound words – or what Irenaeus called ‘the rule of faith’ – embodied in the Scriptures. That truth is timeless.
But perhaps even more to the point about our catechisms’ questions. Not all questions we ask are right, as the thick-headed disciples bare witness. “Lord, and what shall this man do?” “Lord, wilt thou at this time again restore the kingdom to Israel?” And some are just downright nasty, or worse, blasphemous. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” “Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will?” What did our forebears do in their catechisms? They didn’t just give the right answers – they also told us the right questions to ask! They didn’t just listen to their generation’s questions in each instance, though they certainly did that. But they told them the right doors to knock on. Reformed catechism is biblical pedagogy. God has given us the deposit of truth, a timeless truth for each generation. Our catechisms furnish us with the right questions. True, they are not the only right questions that can be asked. But they are the main ones. Our culture may at times honest questions of the Bible. But our culture on its best day is yet a world at enmity with God and hardly the best judge of relevance. The blind should trust only the true Guide implicitly. The ignorant should take a seat in Christ’s school, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
Let’s give our culture answers. If they are honest, let us answer them. But the teacher knows what is best. And so let’s give them right answers – but let’s give them the right questions too.
Originally published by Michael Ives at West Port Experiment.