You Can Have Your Catechesis

Here is my reply to all those pastors who insist on referring to their catechism class as catechesis, a term familiar virtually to no one outside the seminary, and ought to be avoided because it sounds more like a disease someone gets than a class someone gives.

Here’s what the prominent German Luther scholar, Albrecht Peters, said about the term “catechism,” a term I have used for over 30 years and been reviled the past 10 or so for using: “This fourfold meaning is always to be kept in mind for the term ‘catechism,’ with the last three – catechism service, catechism parts, catechism book – resting on the first and basic one, the elementary instruction in the Christian faith. ‘“Catechism’ is thus instruction in the Christian religion, elementary instruction in Christianity; first conceived of as an activity, then a delimited subject matter, then to denote a book’s content, and finally a book itself.’” (Ten Commandments, 19)

So no longer will I make apologies for using catechism as an activity. Peters says it is “first conceived of as an activity.” No longer will I feel like I’m calling what I do by an improper name.  No longer will I assume the seminaries who catechesis this and catechesis that know more than I do.

What happened is that some professor got a doctorate from some highfalutin divinity school where they spoke in learned terms of catechesis as in early church catechesis, medieval catechesis, and catechesis today. He came to seminary with catechesis attached to everything, and so that became the way theologically in the know people referred to instructing people in the catechism.

In the spirit of Johnny Paycheck, they can take their catechesis; I’m sticking with catechism. I will admit that for 25 or more years I have thought that I should refer to Adult Catechism as something other than Adult Instruction. That term smacks of adult entertainment, adult beverages, adult content.

I know! I will call it Lutheranism 101; wait, that’s what the contemporary church calls catechism for adults. How about Alpha Course? No, that’s what every Tom, Dick, and Mary has been teaching in Protestant denominations – and LINO (Lutheran in Name Only) churches – for the better part of four decades.

Okay then, I’ll call my catechism class – wait for it – “The Purpose Driven Life.” In the words of Kenny Bania “That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!” And both the book and the expression are only about a decade and a half out of date. But no matter how many years go by the expression will always be funny and the book will always reek of the spirit of this age. So catechism it’s going to remain. And the Catechism isn’t gold but priceless.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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