The digital world is constantly attempting to seduce us into a lifestyle that is divergent from the gospel. It is an assault on our senses; a barrage of temptation to stimulate us by images and sounds that seek to capture our imaginations and fashion our behaviour.

It wants us to live untethered from God’s word with our thinking, desires, and behaviour moulded by the world. This fusillade of temptation is not unique to our time and culture.

The decadence of ancient Rome matches the indulgence and permissiveness of the present post-modern digital age. And yet, the early Christians stood strong without compromise, not giving in, but engaging the permissive culture around them with truth and grace.

They were able to do this because they excelled in intense Christian discipleship. This inculcation in a thoroughly Christian worldview ensured they did not succumb to the temptations and suggestions of Rome’s paganism.

One very successful tool the early church used to build this resilience was catechising, something the modern church seems to have forgotten.

What is Catechism?

A catechism is a summary of Christian doctrine in question and answer form that aims to educate believers of their faith by memorisation and recitation.

Children and new believers who memorise the catechisms are provided with a robust foundation to build a holy life pleasing to the Lord. Just as memorising the multiplication tables as a child enables one to do complex calculations for a lifetime, so does memorising the catechism.

One very successful tool the early church used to build this resilience was catechising, something the modern church seems to have forgotten.

The word catechesis comes from the New Testament Greek word katécheó meaning “to teach or instruct by word of mouth.” The protestant reformer, Zacharias Ursinus in his original introduction to The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) defined catechism as “a brief and simple orally given summary of the main parts of Christian doctrine in which the youth and beginners are examined and heard on what they have learned.”

Catechisms are doctrinal documents that aid in teaching the Bible in a systematic manner. Thus, catechisms act as a road map detailing the teachings of scripture regarding God, his works of creation and providence, his redemption in Christ, his word, his sacraments, his commandments, and so on.

Catechisms give a holistic theological education so the child of God can comprehend God and his world. It empowers one to think God’s thoughts after him.

In catechetical training, we dip into the wealth of spiritual knowledge gleaned by saints of yesteryears. It brings us into communion with the truth of God confessed by the church through the ages transcending our prevailing zeitgeist.

In this, there is great power to transform our mind, desire, and will according to the word of God. Thus, catechisms provide the corrective condition to the culture’s corruptive influence on the church.

Is Catechising Still Relevant?

Most Indian churches see catechisms as a relic of a bygone era best left alone. Catechising may sound archaic, alien, and of little use today for most modern churchgoers. Yet this spiritual tool which the church has used for centuries to disciple believers in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ is more relevant today than ever before.

When God gave his Law to the children of Israel, he commanded them to diligently teach it to their children (Deut. 4:10, 6:7; Ps. 78:4-5). Thus, Israelite children from an early age were taught the Torah and the ways of God. They were instructed how to live as a holy community. Is it any surprise, therefore, to find Jesus as a young boy in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:46)?

The practice of catechising is integral in the development of a believer to spiritual maturity. In the apostolic church, we see how a Jew named Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus (Acts 18:25).

If we are not catechised by the truth of God, we will be catechised by our decadent culture.

Priscilla and Aquila then taught him further about the faith (Acts 18:26). Likewise, we see Paul encouraging Timothy to continue in faith and ministry by holding to his catechetical training (2 Tim. 3:14-15). The doctrines learned in catechisms are beneficial for a lifetime.

A thorough grounding in catechetical teaching strengthens a believer’s faith to resist the assaults of Satan. We observe that whenever the children of Israel neglected the spiritual practice of learning God’s truth, they behaved like the pagan nations that surrounded them, causing God to complain, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6).

In his article Why Catechesis Now?, Timothy Keller described the crisis in western culture as “a crisis of holiness.” The Indian church faces a similar challenge from the digital world. If we are not catechised by the truth of God, we will be catechised by our decadent culture.

The Need for New Catechisms

The fear among Indian Christians is catechisms produce stale rigidity and fossilisation of the faith. This is why there is an ever-increasing need for new catechisms that are contextualised for the challenges of the modern age and the Indian context.

This is not to say that the old catechisms of the Reformation such as The Heidelberg Catechism, and The Westminster Catechisms are to be discarded. Rather new catechisms are to be produced to restate the timeless truths found in these catechisms for today’s world, today’s people, and today’s concerns.

Mohan Chacko, the principal emeritus of Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Dehradun), in the preface to his Asian Catechism writes, “The church in every age must meet the challenge to restate its biblical faith in the language and setting of the time, lest it lose its relevance and meaning. The truth of the Bible is too precious to be buried under archaic language and irrelevant questions. Failure to update the language of faith cannot but cause serious peril to the cultivation of faith.”

There are two good examples of contemporary catechisms, Mohan Chacko’s I Want to Know God: An Asian Catechism which applies the ancient truths of scripture to the Asian context, and the New City Catechism which portrays Reformation theology in modern language.

Considering India’s incredible cultural and linguistic diversity, there is an ever-increasing need for the translation of classic catechisms of the faith and the production of new catechisms.

Catechetical training is practised only in a few conservative confessional churches in India today. Surely a tool that helped the early church hold firm against decadent Roman culture is worth recovering by churches facing similar challenges today.