I’ll never forget the man who thought that the Canons of Dordt were implements of war, manufactured in Dordt. Evidently mistaking Canons for cannons, and thereby revealing how totally ignorant he was of the Canons.
Our people by and large are not that ignorant.
But I wonder what percentage of our people are actually well acquainted with the Canons for instance, 01 the Belgic Confession. The Heidelberg Catechism fares a bit better because it is systematically preached every year in our churches. But suppose once that the Catechism was not preached, I wonder how many of our people would know much about it?
And the question arises: how many of our young people have a working conception of the Canons by the time they make confession of their faith. I don’t mean whether they had a few weeks of intensive drilling in what is sometimes called a preparatory class for making confession, but whether they have had a quiet, systematic study of the Canons before they were twenty-one.
And how many of our young people became well acquainted with the Belgic Confession before they became communicant members of the church?
Or even do they have a living conception of the Heidelberg Catechism? Have they actually memorized the Lord’s Days, or its equivalent?
In short, do their catechism years give them a course of study which covers the Three Forms of Unity? I sincerely believe that this should be the case, and for it there is no substitute.
Now if any of us think such a course is not desirable nor necessary, there isn’t much to be said. . . . except that such people stand in danger of bringing our Confessions under the dust. The American way of life is very unsympathetic toward definite creeds. Let us never be swallowed up by this antipathy. That we are Protestant Reformed is all the more reason why we and our young people should know and appreciate them.
But if we think it is highly desirable and even necessary that our youth know their creeds, at the time they make confession of their faith, we ought to consider carefully how this can be realized.
The Issue As Such.
We repeat, we do not know how many of our young people, by the time they make public confession of faith, have covered the material contained in our creeds. We have no way of finding out, neither is that our business. That is the business of the parents and no less of the church. Our consistories surely know how far the young people come in their study of the Reformed Religion, that is, in how far they have acquainted themselves with the Three Forms of Unity.
But from observation and investigation I believe the number of them who cover the Three Creeds, before they come to the age of confession, is very small. Many of them have studied a synopsis of the catechism, often in very abbreviated form, but of the other two creeds they know very little, at least they have made little or no study of them.
This cannot be due, I hope, to disregard for our Foundation. It cannot be due to the fact that men consider the Creeds old fashioned or highly incomplete, nor to the fact that they are vague and indefinite.
But why then?
Certainly our Protestant Reformed Churches are not making new creeds, nor are they adding (three or six points) to the creeds. What we glory in is that God has placed us on the line of Protestant. We stem from the Protestant Reformation, and along with the reformed fathers, aim to champion and confess and defend the scriptural truth as expounded in the Three forms.
Our Creeds are therefore basic.
But how come we work so little with these literal bases?
Certainly we borrow from them, lean upon them and look up passages in them once in a while, but why not study them directly in catechism?
I believe that the Church in this modern American world must cling more tenaciously than ever to the definite lines of the Protestant truth as summed up in the Three Forms of Unity. If it was necessary in 1900 it is three times more necessary yet in 1948—because of the age in which we live.
We all know this.
I have not discovered anything new. I cannot “eureka!”
But if we all know this, just why, I wonder, do we have the situation that many of our young people, when they make public confession, have never studied all the creeds? Most of them, all of them I would say, have faithfully covered the Heidelberg Catechism, and that is wonderful. But this is only one of the Three. It is the center of the Three, but it is not all three.
All of us will admit that we in this country are always in grips with Arminianism (grandfather of Modernism), and where would we ever find the lines of distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism more clearly drawn than in our Canons? The answer is: nowhere.
But it is totally unnecessary to emphasize how important is a knowledge of the Canons, we all know that.
And how precious are the Belgic Confessions. How doctrinally simple yet profound, how warm, how soul stirring, how edifying, how they lead us to stand in the midst of this world and confess the faith of the
But why write about this, you all know how excellent they are.
If then so far I have said nothing new, we are still confronted with the actual situation that so few of our young people have made a study of the Three Forms prior to their public confession.
We could perhaps debate a little while about whether this is necessary before confession is made.
They should have had study of the Creeds by the time they make confession, because their communicant membership in the church requires exactly that they confess the Reformed religion. (Cf. Art. 61 of the D.K.O.) Moreover, at about that time they reach marriageable age, and little comes of catechism once they are married. This perhaps should not be the case, but isn’t it? And above that all, many young people discontinue catechism once they have made public confession. They should continue longer, and many of them do, but many don’t. The ideal time is therefore plainly indicated.
The great hindrance seems to be that there is no time.
This is incorrect.
There is time enough.
The question is much more whether we want to arrange the catechism years in such a way that the Creeds have been covered. If we utilize our time, there is time enough. If we waste it, we run time short. If only we make wise and diligent use of our time there is time a plenty.
A Matter Of System.
It becomes therefore a matter of system in our catechism work.
In a following article we hope to indicate a general course of Catechism Over The Years. Before we do that it might be well to point our various present usages and methods which ought to be reviewed or, I think, removed if we shall attain a complete instruction in the creeds.
First of all there is the habit of studying a certain book when they come to, say the age of seventeen, and then repeat that book year after year until they finally drop from the class. Every year new members are added to the class. The class as class never advances. If they go to catechism no matter how many years, they always stay in the same book. This is not only unpedagogical, it is tiresome. It is contrary to the ambition of youth. Youth wants to develop, to advance. It is much better to follow the methods used in all schools, that is, class advancement. They pass through the various grades. Why not let our young people advance from grade to grade until they have covered the Creeds completely?
In the second place we are of the opinion that privately made catechism books can never take the place of a study direct from the Creeds. Such books can be used as compendiums and guides to the material contained in the Creeds, indeed, but then the Creeds themselves should be studied before, or along with that. It is necessary, as we hope to show later, that in the early years they must have certain primary books in doctrine (and we have some of them already, thanks to the efforts of Rev. A. Cammenga), but I doubt whether we are giving our youth a full instruction if we use catechism books instead of the Creeds. Hence we would suggest that we ought not to spend our catechism years on private books at the expense of a study of the Three Forms.
Neither should the catechumens be put into grades which are beneath or beyond their years. A pity I think when fifteen to twenty-one years olds are crowded into one class. There can never be an excuse for such a thing.
If our young people shall attain to a living conception of our Precious Heritage therefore, we shall have to use the time which God allows us wisely, efficiently, and systematically. If we do I am sure every youth who reaches the age of public confession will have had a study in the Three Forms.
Concerning this Course of Catechism Over the Years we hope to write more fully the next time.