Catechetical Preaching

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by greenbaggins, Feb 9, 2018.

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  1. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I was reading Dennis Johnson's excellent book on preaching, Him We Proclaim, and I came across a footnote (page 44, fn 38) that indicated that the URC requires catechetical preaching. So I looked up article 40 of the URC pamphlet of church order (a URC minister gave me that one!), and I found this:

    At one of the services each Lord's Day, the minister shall ordinarily preach the Word as summarized in the Three Forms of Unity, with special attention given to the Heidelberg Catechism by treating its Lord's Days in sequence.
    I know that catechetical preaching has a very long history in the church as a whole, let alone the Reformed tradition. However, I have never been very comfortable with it. While I firmly believe that the Reformed confessions summarize Scripture's teaching, and constitute the church's agreed-upon understanding of Scripture, and that therefore inasmuch as the confessions are accurate to God's Word, they are God's Word (much like preaching, as the Second Helvetic would say: no wedge-driving between confession and Scripture is allowed), nevertheless the confessions of the church are still one step removed from Scripture in being the normed norm rather than the norming norm. They are still fallible. Now, many pastors I know do catechetical preaching in an expository way, taking the Lord's Day of the Heidelberg, for instance, and preaching on the underlying Scripture texts, and using the Heidelberg as a sort of outline for the sermon. So, I have a couple of questions for practitioners of catechetical preaching. Firstly, is the more expository route normal among the practitioners? Or, do some preachers actually use the text of the Heidelberg itself as the sermon text?
  2. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    I always assumed catechetical preaching was more like an inspiring lecture or talk rather than literal preaching.
  3. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I grew up in the CRC in the seventies. When we visited other CRC churches and I heard a catechism-based sermon (always at an evening service), it tended to be what one might call a "topical sermon." The catechism itself might or might not be quoted. And the catechism's Scripture proofs might or might not be used. The best preachers used the catechism more as a framework to guide the pastor through a series of topics. This seemed to make for better sermons than when the preacher used the catechism heavily as if it were his preaching text.

    Oddly, sometimes those catechism-based sermons were more biblical than the morning sermons based on a Scripture text. A preacher who is essentially doing systematics, trying to thoroughly cover a particular topic, has to bring up a lot of Scripture.

    At my home church pastored by my dad, we did not have catechism-based sermons. My dad didn't like them. He said he felt he should preach straight from the Word. The Church Order's direction that the second sermon should "ordinarily" come from the catechism was all the loophole he needed.
  4. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I've attended 2nd (catechetical) services at multiple CanRC churches and a few URCNA churches. All of them used the selection from the HC as an occasion to preach a sermon where the doctrine contained was expounded from a particular biblical text (or texts). I'm not aware of any that preach directly from the HC.
  5. Guido's Brother

    Guido's Brother Puritan Board Junior

    I have very seldom encountered Reformed ministers expositing the words of the Heidelberg Catechism as a text along the same lines as they would a Scripture text. For instance, it's not like we learn German so we can understand the Catechism in its original language. I certainly don't treat the Catechism like that -- anyone wants to see samples of my approach can find them here (and samples from others too).
  6. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I am very much in favour of it, as it enables a minister to preach "the whole counsel of God" every year. Moreover, endless expository preaching all too often tends just to become a running commentary. A congregation also needs sermons that draw together the teaching of scripture of specific topics.
  7. PaulCLawton

    PaulCLawton Puritan Board Freshman

    This article from The Outlook written by a retired URCNA minister looks at the "two ways to write a catechism sermon".

    Interestingly, in a lecture on the HC from a few years ago, Carl Trueman gave a (qualified) endorsement of the practice as a way to ensure congregations are exposed to the whole counsel of God regularly.
  8. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    We have weekly instruction in the HC before the sermon. The text is never viewed as inspired, which is why the scripture texts are also read and explained. I find this practice helpful.
  9. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    I led a bible study for 2 years through the WCF. At first I kept to the catechism, but later on I realised that it will often end up with me trying to prove the catechism and sometimes wringing texts from their contexts in order that the catechism might stand up under scrutiny. The Bible became subservient to the catechism. I then decided to rather use the catechism as a framework described above and I (and I hope the small group) had a blessed time.:2cents:
  10. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    Wouldn't it be in line with say, topical preaching'?
  11. Guido's Brother

    Guido's Brother Puritan Board Junior

    In some respects, yes. But in some respects, catechism preaching can also be like preaching a text of Scripture. I'm thinking of the fact that large swathes of the Heidelberg Catechism are actually based on specific texts of Scripture. Particularly, there are 11 Lord's Days on the Ten Commandments and 8 on the Lord's Prayer. So if I'm preaching on Lord's Day 35, I'm preaching on the second commandment. Is that a topical sermon or a textual sermon? Maybe a bit of both.
  12. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Preaching from the Heidelberg Catechism is usually described as being mostly a Dutch Reformed thing. As far as I know, no one has divided up, say, the Westminster Shorter Catechism into 52 portions for the purpose of preaching from it.

    Am I a hypocrite if I disapprove of catechetical preaching and, yet, enjoy reading volumes of sermons based on the Heildelberger? I'm currently reading two: the volume by G. H. Kersten and the two-volume set by Theodorus Vandergroe - and finding them to be very enjoyable and edifying.
  13. RBachman

    RBachman Puritan Board Freshman

    My Prof at Seminary always emphasized that a sermon should be from the Scripture, exegeted as appropriate, original language understood, and then the relevant portions of the Confession consulted. I have always liked it when a sermon exposited the scripture, but then ties it back to the relevant confessional portions (WCF, WSC, WLC) by reference.

    I am wary of any sermon that draws heavily or is based on non-inspired sources (including commentaries, confessions and creeds), not because they are wrong, but because the danger for error in my understanding is higher.

    I would rather walk away from Worship with the scripture in my head, with confidence in my confession, than the other way around.
  14. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I would think most who follow the practice would concur, in the main. Catechetical preaching generally governs the choice of the text but the sermon is still from the text, not the catechism.

    I know it's heresy for an old school Presbyterian, but I appreciate the practice (what will I do next, plant tulips and start talking about sphere sovereignty?). In my opinion it works best when there are two services with the other service being lectio continua, but it's another way of ensuring that the whole counsel of God's word is expounded from the pulpit rather than risk a minister sticking to his comfort zone or hobby horses. It's amazing to me how some preachers can turn every passage in an entire book of the Bible into a sermon on evangelism, for instance. If we allow for topical preaching in any respect, then it seems difficult to beat the catechisms of the church as a as a basis for selecting topics.
  15. Guido's Brother

    Guido's Brother Puritan Board Junior

    That's exactly right. Dr. Jason VanVliet explained that we should think of it in terms of nouns, verbs, and adverbs:

    The nouns are the same — if done properly, in both instances our subject material is the Word of God.

    The verbs are the same — if done properly, in both instances we are preaching the Word of God.

    The adverbs are different — in the first instance we are preaching from a single text of Scripture (in what I would call an expository manner); in the second instance we are preaching catechetically from a broader range of God’s revelation in Scripture.

    I think that's a helpful way to frame the discussion. It's not the Catechism versus the Word of God. It's just different ways of preaching the one Word of God.
  16. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    I agree. See Boston's works Vol 1 and 2 for a great example of this.

    A preacher who is immersed in the Reformed Standards is going to naturally sound catechetical. The language of the standards and their proof texts just flow off of his tongue. That doesn't mean that he preaching from the catechism.
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