Preaching the Catechism(?)

The Church's Book of Comfort In the confessional German and Dutch Reformed traditions ministers typically preach what is called a catechetical sermon for one of the two Lord’s Day services.  This is a helpful way to keep God’s people rooted in the main truths of the Christian faith as outlined by Romans and echoed in the Heidelberg Catechism: 1) Guilt/Sin, 2) Grace/Salvation, and 3) Gratitude/Service.  As many of our readers probably know, the Heidelberg Catechism is divided up into 52 parts – one for each Sunday of the year.

I realize this has been and is being debated, but I believe that the Scripture should be preached and the catechism used only to explain and summarize Scripture’s truths.  In other words, I appreciate and have “done” catechetical preaching (and will do it again), but I don’t believe a minister should preach from and exegete the words of the catechism.  Jacobus Koelman (in 1678) said it nicely while quoting William Ames and Gisbertus Voetius:

“In accordance with synodical decrees, the Catechism is preached throughout the year, and in their Sunday afternoon sermons ministers are not at liberty to discuss other material in line with the situation and condition of the church and God’s providence, so that those catechism sermons turn into worn-out form sermons, thus making preachers lazy.  The Catechism is explained in such a way that the corresponding Bible text is barely mentioned.  Indeed, in some places the Catechism is preached without a text from Scripture.  First the Ten Commandments are read, and then the text of the Catechism, as it is done in Middleburg.  They might as well preach from the Apocrypha.”

“Ames put it well when he said: ‘Although the Catechism must be impressed upon the people with all due diligence, nevertheless a distinction should always be made between such a human form and Holy Scripture.  It is therefore not appropriate for the Catechism to be presented in church as though it were equivalent to Scripture, when Scripture itself ought to be read.  It is therefore most advisable, in deference to Scripture, in recognition of the efficacy of the proclaimed truth and in view of the risk of provocation, that selected Scripture passages be presented as the foundation of catechetical instruction, and that the teaching of the Catechism be drawn from these as the teaching of Scripture.’  In defending this view of Ames, Voetius indicates in his writings that this approach is more profitable, more appropriate, more secure, and more edifying.”

Jacobus Koelman, “De Pointedn Van Nodige Reformatie” – quoted in The Church’s Book of Comfort, edited by W. Van’t Spijker, p.195,

shane lems
hammond, wi

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