Sunday, October 21, 2012

The New City Catechism: Analysis Part 1

Heidelberg Catechism (HC):

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?

Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC):

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC):

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God,and fully to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. How doth it appear that there is a God?

A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?

A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Q. 4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are of the Word of God?

A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.

Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

And now, from the New City Catechism:

Q 1: What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

I have placed the beginning section of the major Reformed catechisms together with that of the New City Catechism for comparison above. In the WSC, WLC, and the New City Catechism, the section on God follows after this, while after the HC, the explication on Law and Gospel follows the first two questions. The HC focuses more on the pastoral element of Man in his misery, while the WSC and WLC focuses on what is to be believed.

So how does the New City Catechism fare in comparison with the older catechisms? We can see the New City Catechism is much shorter, and question one is merely a almost verbatim copying from the HC. That by itself is fine. However, it is what is missing that I find troublesome.

The HC goes on from there into an explication of the Gospel. The WSC and WLC focuses on the basis for the Christian's confidence; his authority. For example, the WSC Q2 ask of us what rule does God give that we may glorify and enjoy Him forever. As the early modern period progresses, the whole idea of authority became important for the life of the Church. Whereas the HC could assume to some extent the authority of the Word, the rise of Socinianism and Rationalism in general slowly makes the issue of authority an important one to address. The Westminster standards therefore put in the beginning questions (or in the WCF a chapter) on the Word of God, addressing the issue of authority at the beginning. For how is it possible to talk about God when people cannot even settle on the question of the authority by which to discuss about God?

It is at this point that I think is a glaring fault of the New City Catechism. First of all, in light of the post-modern climate, the issue of authority is even more pertinent than when the Westminster standards were first written in the 17th century. If one does not address the ground of faith, does this catechism merely allows a person to have some form of the Gospel without the full-orbed Christian faith? In other words, does it continue the New Evangelical Calvinist focus on embracing the material principle of the Gospel while ignoring the formal principle of the Scriptures? Or is this ignoring the authority of Scriptures meant to allow those who believe in the insufficiency of Scripture Charismatics to jump on board while continuing to have their modern day revelations from "the Spirit" (not that all Charismatics are necessarily leeky canoneers)?

The form of a catechism is important. If one wants to go about it from a more pastoral point of view, go with the route the HC takes. If however one wants a structure like the Westminster catechisms, which focuses on instruction in sound doctrine, then one should do so accordingly. One cannot follow the style of the Westminster standards and then not address the important issues of Christian doctrines! The questions and answers do not have to be technical, but difficult truths can be expressed in simple terms as the Westminster catechisms have shown. At this section therefore, the New City Catechism is inferior to the older catechisms.

In the next installment, we will look at the next section of questions from the New City Catechism.

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