To the functions of the minister of the word belong also the task of instructing the covenant seed catechetically in the word of God according to the faith (belief) of the church. Although this function is not specifically mentioned in Article 16 of the Church Order, it is certainly included in “the ministry of the word.” Catechism instruction is that spiritual labor of the church, bestowed upon the children of the covenant performed through the minister or elders, in which the word of God is officially ministered unto their needs. Its purpose is to bring the seed of the covenant to the conscious joy and confession of their faith and salvation and to further prepare them to understand the preaching of the word. Its basis lies in the fact that God Himself establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. If this were not the case and God did not connect the historical development of His covenant withy the organic continuity of generations, and if, therefore, there were no certainty that God would gather His church from the natural generations of believers, there would be no basis for the institution of catechetical instruction and the incentive for the preacher to engage zealously in this labor would be lost. Now, however, it is quite different. God said to Abraham, the father of all believers, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). And so God also gave to the fathers the command of Deut. 6:7, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” To this the believing fathers respond in the baptism of their children when they promise that “they will instruct their children in the aforesaid doctrine or help or cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of their power.” Or, in the words of Psalm 78:4. 6, “We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath clone . . . that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children.” In the realization of this calling the catechetical labor of the church has a place of greatest importance.
The minister and the church that understands this will not take this work lightly. It is understandable that in the American church world, where the conception of God’s covenant is obsolete, this phase of ministerial labor is lost altogether. Their labor is largely expended upon the adult whom they must win for Christ and bring to conversion. When this is done an attempt is made to repair the damage done through the neglect of previous instruction by supplying an overdose of defective sunday school teaching but this fails to obliterate the great evil. For more than one reason such methodology is ineffective in building the church.
In other circles where remnants of the covenant conception are still found, catechetical labor is still performed although its importance is minimized and it is more and more being supplanted by various organic activities of the church. The trend today is to suppress the institutional work of the church and give prominence to social endeavors. Only where the true concept of the covenant of God running in continued generations is understood and faithfully maintained does catechetical instruction flourish. Parents should realize this and desiring the spiritual welfare of the generations will then give every measure of assistance and cooperation possible to the minister in this important work. And the minister who understand this will relegate this labor to the foremost of his duties.
The minister is a catechete! Catechism instruction is not a sideline activity to keep him busy during the week or a matter he can dispose of in the hour of actual class instruction but it is a work that involves elaborate planning and intensive preparation because it is part of the high calling of God to “feed the lambs of Christ!”
Feed them he must in the green pastures of the word. His is the task of instructing them in the whole counsel of God as revealed in tile Scriptures. Unto that he is called by God and the church. Woe unto him that neglects to bring the gospel unto the little ones and youth. The pastor must unveil the mysteries of the faith and that in such a way that the children of the covenant of different age levels and with different abilities are able to grasp and appropriate the truth. These children must be carefully led from spiritual immaturity into the state of maturity so that they are able to assume their place in the church as living members of the body of Christ. Through this labor they must be outfitted as soldiers in the army of God. To fill such a place in Christ’s church is firstly, of course, a matter of grace. The best instruction, without the sanctifying application of the grace of the Holy Spirit, avails nothing. But, secondly, to fill such a place in the church necessitates strong fortification and thorough training because the enemies of the truth of God are many who front within and without inflict suffering upon the faithful. Furthermore, the winds of false doctrine blow front every corner and are even now becoming more violent than ever and to withstand these the seed of the covenant must be instructed thoroughly in the positive knowledge of the word of God so that they may be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. To thoroughly equip unto every good work in the Lord is the pastor’s objective in instructing the seed of the church.
In order to accomplish this labor well, it is important that the preacher is endowed with certain gifts and talents essential to every teacher. Every minister is not an able catechete. Some lack the essential gifts. Others possess them but fail to develop them and the result is that catechetical instruction becomes a routine matter of one or two hours per week with them. It is no easy matter to be a teacher of children. On the one hand the teacher must remain above those who are instructed. He must win their respect and love. They must be able to look to him with confidence. A certain distance between teacher and pupil should always prevail so that the authority and dignity of the former is felt by the latter at all times and respected. Where this is lacking the word brought will meet inattentive ears and unresponsive hearts.
On the other hand, if the teacher is to succeed in the inculcating knowledge and instruction into the mind of the child, he must be able to stand on the same level as the child in order that he may enter into the very sphere of its experiences. He must understand their problems, assist them in their difficulties, be patient with them and deal with them as much as possible as though he was one of them. To do this he must love them in the spiritual sense as his own children, take a deep interest in and have a serious concern for their spiritual well-being.
The catechete that so approaches his class will not have difficulty in creating and retaining their interest and attention. When he succeeds in getting their interest in what he has to tell them, there will be no great problem of maintaining order in the class. And, should he have those in his class who apparently reveal indifference to the instruction and become unruly, he will handle these with disciplinary measures in order that he may save them with the rod of correction. It must not be forgotten that he brings to them only the word of God and all that are born historically in the sphere of the church are not receptive to that word. Of this, too, the minister is aware. He knows that he must deal with a two-fold seed and although he does not divide his class into elect and reprobate, (which is impossible) he must always be prepared to cope with those that are recalcitrant so that also in the catechism class he may “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” upon the authority of Christ. (II Tim. 4:2)
This is not the place to treat the subject of catechetics at length but it may be pointed out that through the faithful execution of this phase of the pastor’s labor the church of the future is built and made strong. It is true that Christ, not man, builds His church but this fact does not exclude means. And, according to His promise, it is through the faithful labors of the church that Christ continues His church from generation to generation. When these labors are neglected, a generation arises that knows not the Lord with the inevitable result of apostasy and degeneracy. We have only to look about us to see this in effect. It is appalling that so few of the present generation are able to carry on an intelligent conversation in spiritual things. The cause of this may be traced to both a lack of and ineffective instruction in early years. And what then must one expect of the next generation to be reared by parents that are ignorant and churches that are secularized?
With this in mind the present trend of minimizing the importance of the minster’s catechetical labor is understandable but no less deplorable. We do well to take heed. There is room in our midst for a warning. Consistories must see to it that the seed of the covenant receives adequate instruction. Catechism classes are frequently conducted on a six to eight month yearly basis. This is equivalent to about twenty-five hours annually.
Hardly can this be said to be adequate. It is my conviction that catechetical labor should extend no less than the term of the Christian day school which is almost ten months of the year. The importance of the work demands this attention. Think of its pastors, elders, and parents with a view to the profit of the church and the spiritual advantage of the children. Let us lay up a good foundation for the time to come!