Teaching Through the Westminster Standards

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bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
Because I think the Dutch churches have the right idea about going through the Heidelberg Catechism in a year (or a little more, really), has anything similar been done with the Westminster Standards? Has the Confession or either (or both) of the Catechisms been divided up into 52 Lord's Days (or 12 monthly lessons, or whatever) for teaching or preaching purposes?

It seems like a good idea to me, as so many Christians (even those who have been so for many years) seem to have such a lousy grasp of basic theology.
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
What motivated me to write the OP is the generally decrepit state of knowledge of basic theology in our churches. Expository preaching is fine but, when a preacher takes months to preach through even a small book and only deals with theological issues if they happen to arise in a text, while the texts of the creeds and confessions are basically ignored, then it shouldn't come as a shock to discover, one day, how theologically illiterate so many Christians are.

There needs to be, in my opinion, (1) a lot more theological preaching in our churches. Expository preaching is fine for what it's good for but, as far as transmitting basic theology to the pews, it's not getting the job done. There are other ways to preach from the Bible, which leads to - (2) I believe we need to have more focus on non-expository ways of preaching, along with a major commitment to teaching the secondary standards (as I said in the OP, the Dutch churches, historically, really have the jump on us here). That's what they're there for.

I'm not saying that everyone in the congregation needs to be trained up to the level of a professional systematic theologian, but your average pew sitter should have at least a basic knowledge of Christian theology.

More theological preaching! More use of the standards!
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
More theological preaching! More use of the standards!
Godly Scottish pastor, Kenneth MacRae taught serious theology at a theological institute in the Scottish Highlands. He made good use of the Westminster Standards.

One weakness in the Westminster tradition In my humble opinion is that many Presbyterians have not made good use of the WLC which is designed to teach theology at a higher level. This is sad because the WLC is an excellent and doctrinally savvy catechism.
 

PaulCLawton

Puritan Board Freshman
Because I think the Dutch churches have the right idea about going through the Heidelberg Catechism in a year (or a little more, really), has anything similar been done with the Westminster Standards? Has the Confession or either (or both) of the Catechisms been divided up into 52 Lord's Days (or 12 monthly lessons, or whatever) for teaching or preaching purposes?

It seems like a good idea to me, as so many Christians (even those who have been so for many years) seem to have such a lousy grasp of basic theology.

Not exactly what you are asking, but Rev. Danny Hyde at Oceanside URC preached a series of 103 sermons on the WLC.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
I remember when I was in the OPC our pastor wanted to preach an evening service series in a Catechism, inspired by the Dutch Reformed, but the Session asked him not to do it because that would not be preaching directly from God's word. I can see both arguments, but I imagine that's why a lot of Presbyterians have been hesitant. That said, my current ARP pastor did do an evening service series on the Westminster Standards.

At my church we have Sunday School which is well enough attended (though not as high of numbers as morning worship) and we frequently have more theological classes. Our middle and high schoolers are going through a series on worship, including the regulative principle and elements of worship. I'm teaching an adult class on apologetics starting in the new year. Other topics have included the Westminster Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Church History.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
There are several ways to remedy this very real deficiency, and churches would be well-served to take one or more of them. Firstly, catechesis in the homes is essential, and must be encouraged. Whether it is Heidelberg, WSC, or some other excellent catechism that teaches the basic doctrines of the faith, catechesis is essential. Secondly, in high school, the students should be taught the more extensive catechisms, like the WLC. Thirdly, the standards of the church should be used in the worship service in some way. I go through them with a small amount of comment before each reading. For this, I read aloud, with explanation, the 3FU in the morning, and we recite in unison something from the WS (we're going through the WCF right now, also with explanation). I believe this is sufficient for the theological training of the congregation.

Our Dutch brothers and sisters insist on catechetical preaching, which can also be very effective, if done in such a way that the text of Scripture is still what is being preached. For example, a very common practice among catechetical preachers is to preach one of the proof texts of the churchly standards, and use the catechism for one's outline. I have never been entirely sold on the idea, although with the qualifications just laid out, I have fewer objections than I might have. We don't want to put the secondary standards of the church on the same level as Scripture, though neither do we want to drive a wedge between them.

A church can obviously also use the Sunday School time to instruct in the standards of the church.
 

Brian T

Puritan Board Freshman
What motivated me to write the OP is the generally decrepit state of knowledge of basic theology in our churches.

Agree 100% that Christians need to be more theologically aware, especially when it comes to the Person, life and death of Jesus Christ.

When I came to Christ, I ended up in the eastern "orthodox" church. Within a year, however, I came to realize how that "church" rejects Penal Substitutionary Atonement, dismissing it as "a western HERESY invented by Anselm." In their view, Christ overcame death on the Cross by perfectly loving all those who were beating and mocking Him, and now, we can do it too! Just imitate Christ's perfect love (by reading fantastic, usually grossly embellished if not made-up tales in various Synaxaria of the lives of the saints) and, maybe, just maybe, if you try hard enough, you can make it to heaven too!

That's the eastern "church's" understanding of the Cross right there...and it's completely wrong, and if you get Christ's life and death wrong, and you will get the Gospel wrong. Which is precisely what has happened in the eastern church, and which explains why Christ is never the focus over there, but instead they focus on Mary, icons, dead body parts, 777 saints-du-jour, and volumes and volumes of fantastic tales from their lives that read like something that is a mixture of J.K. Rowling and Stephen King.

TL;DR: my own theological awareness, specifically about what Christ did for us on the Cross, allowed me to come to the realization that the "church" I joined rejected the Gospel, and I acted accordingly by leaving eastern "orthodoxy" and becoming Reformed.

And, one last thing: when I would bring all this up, the response from the priests and my fellow laity was: "all the theology you ever need is in the liturgy!" Don't be bothering with anything else if you want to know our church's "theology." It was apparent that they DESIRED people to be theologically ignorant, which makes total sense in hindsight.
 

Brian T

Puritan Board Freshman
There are several ways to remedy this very real deficiency, and churches would be well-served to take one or more of them. Firstly, catechesis in the homes is essential, and must be encouraged. Whether it is Heidelberg, WSC, or some other excellent catechism that teaches the basic doctrines of the faith, catechesis is essential. Secondly, in high school, the students should be taught the more extensive catechisms, like the WLC. Thirdly, the standards of the church should be used in the worship service in some way. I go through them with a small amount of comment before each reading. For this, I read aloud, with explanation, the 3FU in the morning, and we recite in unison something from the WS (we're going through the WCF right now, also with explanation). I believe this is sufficient for the theological training of the congregation.

Our Dutch brothers and sisters insist on catechetical preaching, which can also be very effective, if done in such a way that the text of Scripture is still what is being preached. For example, a very common practice among catechetical preachers is to preach one of the proof texts of the churchly standards, and use the catechism for one's outline. I have never been entirely sold on the idea, although with the qualifications just laid out, I have fewer objections than I might have. We don't want to put the secondary standards of the church on the same level as Scripture, though neither do we want to drive a wedge between them.

A church can obviously also use the Sunday School time to instruct in the standards of the church.

Excellent points/suggestions.

During my church's Sunday worship service, the whole congregation recites a question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism before we go on to the Old and New Testament readings. That's worked really well and I think that's a good start. Our head pastor has also given lessons on the WCF and our church encourages being well-grounded in the Westminster Standards.

Seems there needs to be a lot more of this.
 
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