If the evangelical church were a boat, then it would have some leaks. And everyone seems to have an opinion as to the problem. If I could put the two most common critiques in buckets, they would be 1) the preaching, 2) the appetite of church members. In my years of ministry, I have often found it quite ironic that many evangelicals complain about preaching not being “biblical” while pastors often complain about “evangelicals today who don’t want biblical preaching.”
Somebody cue the Alanis Morissette.
I can’t attempt to bridge the gap nor fix the problem in a short blog post. However, I can offer a suggestion that I think would help: Make use of the old confessions and catechisms.
“Wait a minute, this does not seem innovative at all.”
Actually, it’s so unimaginative that it’s actually innovative.
Here’s the deal: In the past, people were really disciplined, read a ton and worked out the details. What’s more, they really loved God and his word while endeavoring to serve their generation and the ones that would come after. As a result, they codified key doctrines, crafted confessions and created catechisms to train people in the faith. And if you haven’t noticed: They did a pretty good job.
If people (including pastors) are familiar with a solid confession or catechism, then they have a framework for doctrine. Think of it like a large filing cabinet. There are categories for you to put the doctrine. As they study the confessions and their Bibles, they build those drawers with theological truth. Then when they read the Bible, they continue to dig their well deeper. Further, when preachers preach, they fill them up even more. It is an ongoing growth in the knowledge, understanding and application of the Bible.
Here are some examples of my personal favorites (link to free versions online):
a. Heidelberg catechism: The framework of guilt, grace, gratitude is exceedingly helpful for establishing a gospel-shaped paradigm. I love this. I am using it with my family now and regularly deploy it in my preaching.
b. Westminster Confession of Faith & Catechism: the gold standard. Read, study, learn.
c. 1689 London Baptist Confession: the Baptist version of the WCF. Great stuff as well.
Here are some ideas for introducing some of the solid confessions into the life of the church:
1. Use it as a preaching resource. Preachers read commentaries, lexicons, sermons and other resources every week. They would be greatly aided if they added a confession or catechism reference in their preparation.
2. Quote from them. These guys had a way of being concise, clear and faithful. Quoting from these resources can often prove to be helpful.
3. Introduce them into the Liturgy. Historically, Protestant churches have used some time during the Sunday gathering to reinforce truth through the reading of a portion of a creed or confession. This aids in the education process.
4. Make them available in the church.
Obstacles to overcome: biblicism.
Sometimes as evangelicals, we can be our own worst enemy. Here we have all of these very helpful resources and we won’t use them because we only use the Bible. We have to understand that using a confession, creed or catechism to help teach biblical truth does not undermine biblical truth. It reinforces it. God gives the church teachers (Eph. 4.11) in every age to promote the maturity of the church.
Some of our teachers are actually not living here on earth, they have gone to heaven. However, they still teach us through their writing. We are not the first generation of Christians, therefore we should willingly embrace the helpful materials from previous generations. The Bible is our soul authority, but this does not mean that other resources cannot be helpful.
We can’t even identify all of the leaks in the boat, much less fix them. However, pastors could greatly aid their congregation in growth and maturity by introducing some of the older works. Imagine what would happen if your church family started reading and meditating upon the Heidelberg Catechism during the week?