Rev. Kamps is pastor of the Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.

Catechism preaching has a long and blessed history in the Reformed community of churches. For nearly five hundred years Reformed preachers have fulfilled their ecclesiastical responsibility to preach the Word of God as set forth in the rich confession of these churches throughout the world. It is without a doubt true that these churches have remained faithful to the truth of God’s Word in the measure that they have also been faithful to her task to preach faithfully the catechism each Lord’s Day. Centuries ago the great church fathers, assembled as delegates of the Dutch Reformed Churches, decreed that the blessed confession of these churches based on God’s Word should form the subject material for the preaching of the Word once each Sabbath day This, truly Reformed men have thankfully done in their desire to build up the church of Jesus Christ in the truth of the gospel of sovereign grace over against the errors of individualism, Pelagianism, and Arminianism. The Protestant Reformed Churches through her ministries of the Word have been committed to this same task for some sixty-six years.

This most significant practice must continue, if we are going to continue in the Reformed tradition. Catechism preaching has not been our weakness but our strength as churches. Our people have been taught and know the Reformed faith and their calling in God’s covenant of grace by means of the faithful exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism in the light of God’s most Holy Word.

However, there are those who are, to put it mildly, uncomfortable with Catechism preaching. From time to time complaints are heard from the pew about this style or form of preaching. Pressure is brought to bear on the preacher. His preaching is often criticized as boring. His Catechism sermons are too doctrinal. The individual complains that when the Catechism is preached they are not hearing God’s Word. The faithful Reformed preacher is informed that the neighboring, more popular, preacher does not preach on the Catechism. This more popular preacher exegetes a particular passage of God’s Word and only once in a while during the course of his sermon refers to the Catechism. This is the way the Catechism should be preached, it is claimed. Some Reformed preachers have caved in to all this criticism and, in a desire to appease men, have abandoned Catechism preaching entirely Dr. James Daane, writing in his church’s periodical, The Banner, made the following observation:

During the last fifteen years many significant changes have occurred in the Christian Reformed Church. While some minor changes—because forced upon the attention of the churches—have received considerable attention, major changes have occurred by trends that quietly and unnoticed worked their transformation.

One such trend-working change has been the increasing discontinuance of preaching on the Heidelberg Catechism. No one is conducting a crusade, of course, or overturing Synod to eliminate it. It is being effectively eliminated by attrition from the pulpit with the consent of the pew. Slowly but surely catechism preaching is silently stealing its way out of Christian Reformed pulpit practise (Banner, Nov. 2, 1973).

I have a question: Is that where the complainers about Catechism preaching wish to have our beloved churches in the future? If we wish to have people who perish, as the great prophet Hosea said, “for lack of knowledge,” then hasten the day when the Heidelberg Catechism will no longer be heard as the church’s confession of the great truths of sacred Scripture.

Many, if not all, the objections to Catechism preaching are rooted in a fundamentalistic conception of the church. Fundamentalism is anti-creedal. The shrill cry of fundamentalism is “no creed but Christ.” They only want to hear the Word, they say. We must not preach anything but the Word of Jesus Christ. We may never substitute “the words of men” for the Word of God. To do so, the fundamentalist claims, is presumptuousness and disobedience to our Lord. On and on the fundamentalist goes in his harangue against Catechism preaching.

Now really, were our Reformed fathers so foolish and ignorant that they violated willfully the obvious when they decreed: “The ministers shall on Sunday explain briefly the sum of Christian Doctrine comprehended in the Heidelberg Catechism…” (Church Order, Art. 68)? Do those who remind us that the Word must be preached imagine that the great divines of old were ignorant of this fact—that maybe they were over-zealous and lost sight of their high calling? That too is not true.

No church on the face of the earth has had a higher view of preaching than the Reformed church. She has always been insistent that the Word must be preached, and that it be preached in the service of the exalted Christ Jesus, our Lord and King. Exposition of God’s Word has always been for the Reformed church the foundation of God-honoring proclamation. Here is the point: Heidelberg Catechism preaching does not violate that most sacred calling. Catechism preaching is the preaching of God’s Word.

The fundamentalist critic of Catechism preaching demands to hear the Word directly. This is impossible—unless one would consider the mere reading of God’s Word to be preaching. Yet the fundamentalist critic of Catechism preaching fails to recognize that when the sermon material is presented as derived by the preacher from Scripture, he is then already one step from the Word itself. This cannot be helped, for it lies in the very nature of preaching. But when the church is responsible for the sermon material, we are then but one step removed from the text of Scripture. Whether the individual interprets Scripture, or the church interprets Scripture, we never have in the sermon just the naked text of the Bible itself. In the preaching, the Word is always mediated to the people of God, either by the individual or by the church. Non-Reformed preaching is individualistic; Reformed preaching is church proclamation!

Catechism preaching is the proclamation of the Word by the church of Christ. The Reformed church studied, exegeted, and drew from the Scriptures the Word of truth. Reformed preaching is proclamation by the Church of Christ. All her preaching is that. But above all is that true of Catechism preaching. In our day individualism is exalted. People rush to hear what this or that preacher has to say. They want to hear the man. But the Reformed conception of preaching is not individualistic but organic. Believers as a body, the body of Christ Jesus in the world, preach the Word of God. The church preaches. Surely this is accomplished through a particular man, but he is one who is under the supervision and direction of the officebearers of the church.

Further, the Reformed church is a confessional church. Her pulpit therefore represents creedal preaching. We believe and therefore have we spoken. The many believers, yet one body, preach the Word in the service of Christ Jesus through the instrumentality of one called and ordained by the church. No individualism is there, no free-lance preachers interpreting the Word in isolation and to the exclusion of the church as a whole. The church has an authoritative interpretation of the Word of God that it has decreed shall be preached to all assembled to hear the Word.

We must not grudgingly acknowledge that this is indeed the Reformed church’s conception of the catechism preaching. Rather we must be thankful for this conception and position. Is there any one ministerwho can give better answers to the questions which are presented in the Catechism, than has the church itself in that Catechism? How would unity of faith be preserved in the churches if each minister would present these doctrines as he saw fit? We would soon have a babel of conflicting voices. All unity in the faith would soon be lost forever.

In addition, how is it possible that believers complain that Catechism preaching is boring, and that because it is doctrinal? Is not the church’s confession in harmony with the doctrine of Scripture? Is it not true that to receive in faith the truth as it is in Christ Jesus is to confess the Reformed doctrines? The Christian faith is the Reformed faith. If one does not believe that, then I can readily understand his objection to Catechism preaching as too doctrinal. Non-Reformed people will ever be irritated by Catechism preaching. But then, they are not one in faith with us.

How can catechism preaching be boring? It is possible that the preacher does not carefully prepare his sermons? Maybe he treats the catechism as abstract dogma. Maybe the minister in his preaching busies himself with proving that what the catechism says is biblical and does this by proof-texting week after week. That would be boring. But that is not preaching either. And why should we feel obligated to prove repeatedly what we have “confessed”? But if the preacher proceeds from the viewpoint that the Catechism expresses the church’s understanding of God’s Word and preaches it as the church’s proclamation, then his sermons will ring with power and conviction.

The people will know that they heard God speak to them His Most Holy Word through the means of the church’s confession and proclamation. Then the church is given its rightful place in the work of the preaching of the Word. Then too individual believers will understand their personal responsibility thankfully to receive the Word when proclaimed. And they will raise their voices in protest when the Word of God is unfaithfully proclaimed because it contradicts the church’s prior and authoritative proclamation in her creeds.

Let us make it our prayer to the great Lord of the church that we may be preserved in the blessed tradition of Catechism preaching, that His Name may be exalted, the covenant children instructed in the gospel, and all the saints edified and strengthened for their task in the world.