Ligon Duncan on Evangelizing through Catechesis


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Ligon Duncan: It is my joy to speak with you in this preconference on the study of catechetical evangelism, probably not a phrase that you’re familiar with. So let me stop and just say, catechesis is the ancient Christian practice of passing on the faith to the next generation.

In the early church, when people were being prepared as converts for baptism, the early Christian pastors would teach them a course of Christian doctrine, so that they understood what it was that they were affirming as believers in Christ.

We still have copies of some of the early texts that were used by Christian pastors to teach converts to the Christian religion. So, for instance, in the early 20th century, we discovered in Syriac, a book that had been written about 1800 years before by Irenaeus who was the pastor of a group of Christians in the city of Lyon in Gaul, now southern France, called The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching.

And it basically is a biblical theological survey of the Christian religion. And it was taught to people as they prepared for baptism. So, for many, many centuries Christians have used catechesis. That is, this program of teaching the Christian faith, for those who are being initiated into Christianity, and for the children of believers.

And, catechisms have been a standard way of passing on the Christian faith, usually question-and-answer format programs to explain the basics of Christian belief. I want to suggest to you today, that catechisms, in so far as they give us a summary of Bible teaching, are wonderful tools for equipping young people to understand the Gospel, and to understand the Christian faith, and to understand the Christian life.

And in fact, catechisms can give you the language of Zion before you even understand the truth of the Gospel and the truth of the Scripture, and give you the words that provide the anchors for you to receive the truth. Very often in my own Christian life, I have only later realized something that faithful pastors, and Sunday School teachers, and my parents had been teaching me since I was very, very young.

And, that’s one of the blessings of the Christian life to suddenly realize, “Oh, that’s what that means.” “Oh, that’s the truth that they were trying to explain to me all those years ago.” And, that very process drives the truth deeper into our hearts, and we certainly need that in the world in which we live today.

So, I want to talk with you today about catechetical evangelism. Why biblical doctrine is good news. And, help us as parents to think about what a blessing it is for us to pass along good, deep, biblical doctrine to our children.

And how that actually helps them understand and then embrace the Gospel. Scripture shows that truth, doctrine, and theology are necessary and important for the Christian life. In fact, the Gospel is irreducibly doctrinal. You cannot even share the Gospel without sharing doctrine.

You can’t share the Gospel if you don’t believe that Jesus is Lord. That’s doctrine. You cannot share the Gospel if you don’t believe that Jesus lived, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. That’s doctrine. So, the Gospel is irreducibly doctrinal.

And, in catechizing the children of the next generation with biblical doctrine, we’re helping prepare them to receive and believe biblical doctrine. Now, let me say just a few things before we dive into these biblical passages. It is true that doctrine can go wrong on people.

It is true that doctrine can go wrong on people. And when it does, that’s not because doctrine is bad. It’s either because bad doctrine is bad, or because good doctrine has been used badly.

And so, it’s very important when we convey truth, theology, doctrine, to the next generation, that we understand what it is for because, doctrine is meant to produce certain things in the Christian life. And if it’s not producing those things, then we need to quickly check our doctrine and make sure that our doctrine is biblical.

Or we need to make sure that we understand what doctrine is for. So, one of the things that we’ll find out in this passage is that doctrine is meant to lead to love in the Christian life. And we often hear people talk about people who are lovelessly doctrinal.

That ought to be a contradiction in terms, since we’re going to see, the apostle Paul says, teaching in the Christian life is meant to lead to love, and is meant to produce love. So, if we see lovelessness in the Christian life, the fault is not true doctrine.

The fault is not caring too much about doctrine. The fault is either bad doctrine or doctrine being used badly. And so, we need to make sure that we know how theology is working out in our lives, in the lives of our congregations, and in the lives of the people that we’re catechizing.

The second thing I would say for parents is this. Mr. William Still, a long-time pastor in Aberdeen, Scotland, a single man, gave some of the best advice I’ve ever heard given to parents. If we want to pass on the faith to the next generation, these are your three priorities: prayer, example, and teaching, in that order.

Prayer, example, and teaching, in that order. I’m going to spend all the rest of my time focusing on teaching. But before we get there, I want to say, prayer, example, and teaching in that order is how we pass on the faith to the next generation. Pray for your children.

You pray for what you care about. I cannot tell you how many testimonies I have heard of the impact of children realizing that their parents pray for them. My wife had cousins who would sneak next to their parents’ bedroom doors and listen while their father prayed for them by name. And the impact, at his funeral, these two adult women testified to the power of hearing their father pray for them, on his knees by his bed at night, and wanting to hear him. So, they would put their ear to the door. The power of praying parents is unbelievable. And so, praying for your children.

Your example. In your life, you live out doctrine one way or the other. You either live out true doctrine or you live out false doctrine in your life. And living out the truth shows young people that the truth is true. And, that you embrace it. And, that God is important.

Think of it. By going to church on Sunday and taking your children with them, you teach them that God is more important than anything else in the world. Why else would you take a day aside to devote to Him if He’s not the most important thing in the world? And so, in a world where there are a thousand other choices and competing options, simply to go to church and sit together as a family, sends the message, God is more important than anything else in this world.So, your example as parents put flesh on the doctrine, and show young people what it looks like for somebody to believe the truth.

And, then after that comes the teaching. People who pray for their children and example the truth before their children, are in the best position to positively impact children with the truth of the Bible.

So, here’s my exhortation to you, catechize your children. Teach them the truth, teach them doctrine, teach them theology, and use catechisms to do that. We have many, many options for us today. A lot of material that’s been produced for us today.

Let me briefly mention a few of those catechisms that are available to you today. You can use what is known as The Children’s Catechism, which was a Protestant catechism made in the 19th century. Great Commission Publications keeps it in print and keeps in print resources for parents and Sunday School teachers to use in teaching the catechism, The Children’s Catechism to children.

It starts off, by the way, with the question, “Who made you? God.What else did God make?All things. Why did God make you and all things else?For his own glory.” What a wonderful way to start a catechism. That’s The Children’s Catechism.

Or, you could use The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which was written over 350 years ago in England, and has been used by Presbyterians and Congregationalists and Baptists, Anglicans, and others over the last 350 years or so, to teach the Christian faith. Or, The New City Catechism that was produced by Redeemer and by The Gospel Coalition, and was deliberately designed to have a form for parents and for children, in order to teach the truth.

Or you could use Sinclair Ferguson’s “Big Book of Questions & Answers,” and “Big Book of Questions &Answers About Jesus.” Both of which are published by Christian Focus Publications. All of these are catechisms meant to help us convey Bible truth to the next generation.

Doctrine is absolutely essential to Christianity. We live in a day and age where story is preferred to doctrine. But doctrine and story in the Bible are not competitors or enemies, they are complements and friends. It’s not either doctrine or story, it’s doctrine and story.

And, very often in the Bible, the doctrine is conveyed through story, and the story enfleshes the doctrine. Jesus does this all the time. In his parables, he tells stories to drive home a doctrinal or ethical truth.

So, remember that, it’s not doctrine versus story, it’s doctrine and story, and learning doctrine will help you appreciate the story. Now, why is doctrine so important? Because the Bible says it is. Where does it say that? Let’s look together at six passages very briefly this morning.

First in John 17, if you would allow your eyes to look at verses 13 to 17, you know that this is what we call the High Priestly Prayer. Jesus is in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed. And he begins interceding for his disciples and for you and me, to his Heavenly Father in the upper room, in the presence of his gathered disciples.

And he says this to God, beginning in verse 13, “Now, I come to you. And these things I speak in the world that they may have my joy made full in themselves.” Let me just pause right there. He has been teaching them ever since at least John 13. In the upper room, we have this long expanse of teaching.

He said things to them like, “In the world, you will have tribulation, but take courage. I have overcome the world.” He has taught them about election. He has taught them about the Holy Spirit.

He has taught them about the purposes of God in His death. He has taught them about the New Commandment to love one another as he has loved them. He’s been teaching, teaching, teaching, teaching. And in John 17:13 in the prayer, he tells them why. He says, in prayer to God, “These things I speak, that they may have my joy made full in themselves.”

In other words, doctrine is for joy. Doctrine teaching is joy-producing truth. If you run into someone who doesn’t like doctrine, you tell them, “You’re a killjoy,” because doctrine is for joy.

And denial of doctrine kills joy. Jesus says, “The reason I’ve been teaching them these things, Father, is that their joy might be full.” Knowing the truth of God is joy-producing. And, if you want children that are characterized by joy, anchor them in joy-producing biblical truth, and that means teaching them good doctrine.

And then of course, he says, verse 17, “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy Word is truth.” Where does this joy-producing doctrine come from? The Bible, the scriptures, the word of God, Sanctify them. How? In the truth. Your word is true. So right in the middle of the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus makes it clear that God’s truth is for our joy and our growth in holiness.

And in this context, notice, sometimes you’ll hear people say, truth is not a proposition, it’s a person. Wrong. Truth is a proposition and a person. Right? In this passage, truth is not faithfulness or a person, it is explicitly the teaching of God’s word that is truth. Anchor them in that truth. it produces joy.

Now, turn back with me to the Great Commission. I know that you can quote it from heart, but turn with me to Matthew Chapter 28 and look at verses 18 to 20. And notice that in the Great Commission when Jesus says, “Go make disciples of all the nations,” He says how to do that.

And in verse 20, in particular, he says, here’s how you do that. How do you make a disciple? “Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Now, notice that. In the Great Commission he says, Now, disciples, keep it simple. Don’t drop a whole lot of Bible and theology on them, keep it to, like, maybe a four- point outline of the Gospel. No, He says, “This is how you make a disciple, teach them to observe everything I ever taught you.”

That’s how you create a disciple. You teach them everything Jesus ever taught. And by the way, notice, not only, “Teach them to believe everything I ever taught, but teach them to observe everything.” This is embodied truth. In other words, they don’t just mentally assent to Jesus’ teaching, they live out Jesus’ teaching.

They believe it down to their bones, and they live it out in their lives. In the Great Commission, Jesus tells the disciples to teach the church not simply to believe his instruction, and to teach all of it, but to teach it with a view to his people living out the truth.

Teach them to live my truth, in other words. Doctrine is for that. They’re to be taught so that they might live the truth. That’s why we need to teach our children doctrine. Now turn forward with me to 1 Timothy 1. The apostle Paul instructs Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3 to 5, not to allow the congregation to listen to false teachers.

And then he explains why, especially in verse 5. He says, “The aim of our charge…” The reason that I’m giving you this instruction, Timothy, not to let them listen to false teachers, and to listen instead to good teaching. “The aim of our charge, the goal of our instruction is love that issues from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”

Did you get that? Paul is telling Timothy negatively, not to allow people to teach or listen to bad theology and positively, that good theology aims for true, heart-rooted, lived-out Gospel love. In other words, truth is meant by the work of the Holy Spirit, by grace, to produce what, in the Christian life?

Love. And not a superficial love but a love that comes from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Right? Because that’s heart work, that’s inside-out work, so that you love from the heart. You’re not just copying somebody.

This isn’t merely external. It comes from the heart, from the desires. But, the Holy Spirit uses what, to do that? The truth. He uses doctrine. He uses theology in order to produce that kind of heart-rooted love. Then turn with me, just a few verses down to 1 Timothy 1:8 to11.

He says that he wants Timothy to make sure that the law is used how it is meant to be used, in the Christian life. And he basically runs through the Ten Commandments.

And then he says, here’s his catch-all phrase, end of verse 10, “And whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” Now, isn’t that fascinating? He lists the Ten Commandments and the things that it forbids, and he says, “Those things are contrary to sound doctrine.” Now, you might have thought they’re contrary to sound ethics.

But he says, “No, these things, disobeying the Ten Commandments is contrary to sound doctrine, to sound teaching.” And he says that he wants Timothy to use the law, “in accordance with the glorious Gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” In other words, Paul makes it clear that doctrine and ethics are inseparable.

That the truth is meant to inform how we live. That’s one reason why we teach children the truth. It’s meant to inform how we live. Now turn forward a few pages, to 1 Timothy 6:2 to 4. And Paul says this to Timothy in verse 3, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,” it’s that phrase that I want you to camp on for a second, “The teaching that accords with godliness.”

Paul is concerned here, not only with good, faithful, orthodox Bible doctrine, but he even cares about retaining the words that Jesus uses in his teaching. And by the way, whereas many scholars will pit Jesus versus Paul, if you look at Paul’s teaching, I’m not sure Paul ever had an original thought.

He wholesale plagiarizes Jesus’ teaching. His famous phrase, “All Scripture is given by inspiration. All Scripture is God breathed.” Where does that come from? I think it comes right out of the temptation narratives in Matthew and in Luke. Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by…”

What? “Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” All, every. Word, scripture that proceeds from the mouth of God, God breathed.”Now, of course, Jesus is quoting Moses. So Paul gets his doctrine of scripture from Jesus and Moses. See, never had an original idea.

And Paul is concerned not only that we would retain sound doctrine, but we would even use Jesus’ words as we explain it. Why? Because doctrine is unto godliness. The reason that God wants us to believe rightly, is so that godliness flourishes in our lives.

And now turn with me to Titus 1:1, where Paul says in his greetings, “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.”

Notice again, Paul connects truth and godliness. Why? Because truth is vital to godliness. The Holy Spirit who inspires the word of truth, uses the truth that he inspires by grace in the hearts of people, to create people again in the image of God.

To restore the image of God in them. And therefore, teaching our children doctrine is vital to their godliness, it’s vital to their joy, it’s vital to production of love in the Christian life. And, let me end with this one thing. What opens their hearts up, to the truth from your lips, is your love for them.

Love opens the heart to receive the truth. That’s why Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s whole ministry was about getting people to see Jesus’ love for them, so that they would return that love to Jesus. And, when you show your children love, you genuinely care about them, you open their hearts up to receive the truth from your lips, so that they return Jesus’ love to Jesus.

Thank you. Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we would be people that believe the truth of your scripture and pass along that truth, that doctrine, that theology, to the next generation that they might believe and live according to the truth.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen


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