In the Philippines, the Catholic tradition has been so inculcated by the Spanish conquistadors in the Filipino culture that majority of Filipinos profess the Catholic faith as soon as they are able to speak. Catholicism then has become synonymous to being Filipino, just as Thais are to Buddhism, and Indians to Hinduism.
A majority of the congregants in local Christian churches are converts from the Roman Catholic tradition, and so the practice of catechism is not foreign to them. Because of this notion, covenant communities who desire to use catechesis in instructing their members in the faith have faced opposition because these converts are prone to believe that it is Roman Catholic in practice, and should not be part of the ministry of the Protestant church.
However, that should not be the case. For as it is, Roman Catholics do not have the exclusive right of usage of the word “catechism.” Zacharias Ursinus, the author of the Heidelberg Catechism writes in his article “What is Catechism?“:
The Greek word kataecaesis is derived from kataeceoh, as kataecismos is from kataecidzoh. Both words, according to their common signification, mean to sound, to resound, to instruct by word of mouth, and to repeat the sayings of another. Kataeceoh more properly, however, means to teach the first principles and rudiments of some particular doctrine. As applied to the doctrine of the church and as understood when thus used, it means to teach the first principles of the Christian religion, in which sense it occurs in Luke 1. 4, Acts 18. 25, Gal. 6. 6, etc. Hence, catechisation in its most general and comprehensive sense, means the first brief and elementary instruction which is given by word of mouth in relation to the rudiments of any particular doctrine; but, as used by the church, it signifies a system of instruction relating to the first principles of the Christian religion, designed for the ignorant and unlearned.
Ursinus also writes that catechism has always been practiced in the church, beginning in the Old Testament:
[T]he origin of catechisation which is said of the whole economy or service of the church… was instituted by God himself, and has always been practiced in the church. For, since from the very beginning of the world God has been the God, not only of those of adult age, but also of those of young and tender years, according to the covenant which he made with Abraham, saying, “I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee;” (Gen. 17. 7.) he has also ordained that both classes should be instructed in the doctrine of salvation according to their capacity…
In the 12th and 13th chapters of Exodus, God commands the Jews to give particular instruction to their children and families in relation to the institution and benefits of the Passover. In the fourth chapter of the book of Deut., he enjoins it upon parents to repeat to their children the entire history of the law which he had given them. In the sixth chapter of the same book, he requires that the doctrine of the unity of God, and of perfect love to him should be inculcated and impressed upon the minds of their children; and in the eleventh he commands them to explain the Decalogue to their children. Hence, under the Old Testament dispensation, children were taught in the family by their parents, and in the schools by the teachers of religion, the principal things contained in the prophets…
In the New Testament we are, told that Christ laid his hands upon little children and blessed them, and commanded that they should be brought unto him. Hence he says, in Mark 10. 14, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” That the catechisation of children was diligently attended to in the times of the apostles, is evident from the example of Timothy, of whom it is said that he knew the holy Scriptures from infancy…
So likewise the Fathers wrote short summaries of doctrine, some fragments of which may still be seen in the Papal church. Eusebius writes of Origen, that he restored the custom of catechising in Alexandria, which had been suffered to grow out of use during the times of persecution… After this period the doctrine of the church, through the negligence of the bishops and the subtlety of the Romish priests, became gradually more and more corrupt, and the custom of catechising grew more and more into disuse, until at length it was changed into the ridiculous ceremony which to this day they call confirmation.
Even so, the Reformers like Martin Luther wrote his Larger Catechism for adults in 1529, along with the Small Catechism for children. In his preface to his Small Catechism, Luther correctly notes:
The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the [common] holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.
John Calvin also produced his catechism in 1541, which underwent two revisions in 1545 and 1560. Catechesis only came to Rome in 1556 when the Council of Trent published the Roman Catechism, which was intended for the use of their clergy.
This is what J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett had to say in an article in Christianity Today about the very same concern:
Historically, the church’s ministry of grounding new believers in the rudiments of Christianity has been known as catechesis—the growing of God’s people in the gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight. It is a ministry that has waxed and waned through the centuries…
Today, however, things are quite different, and that for a host of reasons. The church in the West has largely abandoned serious catechesis as a normative practice. Among the more surprising of the factors that have contributed to this decline are the unintended consequences of the great Sunday school movement. This lay-driven phenomenon swept across North America in the 1800s and came to dominate educational efforts in most evangelical churches through the 20th century. It effectively replaced pastor-catechists with relatively untrained lay workers, and substituted an instilling of familiarity (or shall we say, perhaps, over-familiarity) with Bible stories for any form of grounding in the basic beliefs, practices, and ethics of the faith.
Thus, for most contemporary evangelicals the entire idea of catechesis is largely an alien concept. The very word itself—catechesis, or any of its associated terms, including catechism—is greeted with suspicion by most evangelicals today. (“Wait, isn’t that a Roman Catholic thing?”)
Surely, catechism has always been practiced in the Christian church and it did not originate from the Roman Catholics, but from God Himself. RCC converts in our churches need to know this truth and we have the responsibility to carefully instruct them in love. Thus, I echo Packer and Parrett’s words:
We are persuaded that Calvin had it right and that we are already seeing the sad, even tragic, consequences of allowing the church to continue uncatechized in any significant sense. We are persuaded, further, that something can and must be done to help the Protestant churches steer a wiser course. What we are after, to put it otherwise, is to encourage our fellow evangelicals to seriously consider the wisdom of building believers the old-fashioned way.