Q1. Why are you so excited as you write this post?
A1. I’m so excited as I write this post because after six months of searching along with Pastor Tim we have discovered one of the few extant Wesleyan/Methodist catechisms. And it’s really well done.
Q2. What is it called, and where can it be found?
A2. It’s called The catechism of the Methodist Episcopal church. Numbers 1, 2, and 3, in one volume, designed for consecutive study in Sunday schools and families. Published in 1855, it’s in the public domain and thus available for free or for a few bucks in print form from amazon.com.
Q3. If I am Wesleyan/Methodist, why should I care?
A3. Teddy Ray explains why in his excellent post, Why United Methodists Should Have a Catechism, and his reasoning is equally applicable to all branches of the John Wesley family tree. Ray adds a fascinating note:
John Wesley regarded all members as probationers and called them “catechumens.”According to Frederick Norwood, “He considered that he was following apostolic precedent in separating from the body of ‘hearers’ those who were convinced, and organizing them into a society of ‘catechumens.’”
Q4. Why should I care even if I am neither Wesleyan or Methodist?
A4. Check out the excellent introduction to the New City Catechism, as well as Clinton Arnold’s article on the relevance of early church catechesis to Christians today and Parrett and Packer’s incomparable Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way. From that volume I quote:
Superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living—career-wise, community-wise, family-wise, and church-wise—are all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today…
Q5. Can we just drop the bold text Q/A format and write like normal bloggers now?
A5. Really? No good? Well, if you insist.
Chuck Huckaby at Soul Friend had it exactly right (except for his spelling of “excerpts”) when he wrote on Facebook the other day:
I just learned that those preparing for baptism in Augustine’s congregation were likely required to study if not master (memorize) 800 excerptps [sic] of scripture totaling 60,000 words, some as long as Matthew 5-7. They were arranged as they appeared in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. If quoted start to finish, it would take approximately six hours of consecutive quotation.
Cyprian’s students only had to master 33,000 words arranged topically! They could be quoted in three and one half hour.
A missionary I know who teaches “Bible Storytelling” has his students memorize verbatim @108 narratives each with a symbol unique to it to aid memorization.
My point is that we have come to accept our inability to memorize scripture – thanks to the convenience of digital and printed texts – as “normal” when, compared to ordinary catechumens preparing for baptism, even most “pastors” and “Bible Students” are woefully ignorant!
And the woe extends beyond memorizing scripture into the whole realm of failing to take the work and dedication of the Christian life seriously. We don’t earn our salvation by memorizing scripture or completing a catechesis, but we sure will understand our salvation better. Why would something like learning every nook and cranny of our salvation and the Christian life be of less interest and time involvement on our part than, say, catching up on back episodes of Glee?
I don’t earn my my wife’s love by the works I do for her, but I sure need to invest a lot of time in our marriage in order for it to achieve its sanctifying purpose in my life. The Christian life is no different. As this month of Preparation unfolds in the .W calendar, consider–seriously–becoming a catechumen all over again, or perhaps for the first time.