This year and next we’re celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort. The Synod of Dort 1618-19 is remembered most for the Canons of Dort dealing with the Arminian problem. However, the synod actually discussed and decided on far more matters. One of the topics discussed was catechetical instruction.
Early on at the synod, there was a significant discussion held on the best way to catechize the youth and others in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. Advice was requested from the foreign delegates and many of them obliged. It’s interesting that a number of these foreign delegations wrote about the importance of involving parents in catechesis. For instance, the theologians of Hesse wrote, “We reckon and judge that this work of teaching catechism to the youth belongs to the Ministers of the Word of God, the teachers in the school, and finally the parents.” Parents who were nonchalant about that work were to be admonished by the consistory to diligently and faithfully teach the catechism to their children and families. Similarly, the theologians of Bremen advised the synod that they recognized three sorts of catechesis: scholastic (i.e., in the schools), ecclesiastical, and domestic. Parents, especially fathers, bore responsibility for domestic catechesis.
On Friday November 30, 1618 in its morning session, the Synod of Dort issued its decree on the manner of catechesis. Dort followed Bremen’s division of catechetical duties. The work of parents, however, was put up front. According to Dort, it is the work of parents to instruct their children and the whole family with all diligence in the elements of Christian religion. With an eye to each one’s capacity, parents are to seriously and diligently exhort their families in the fear of God and sincere piety. They are to discuss the sermons and especially the teaching of the Catechism. They are to read the Scriptures and explain them. If parents were not faithful in these duties, they were to be admonished by the pastors, and if necessary reprimanded and censured by the consistory.
It’s unfortunate that parental or domestic catechesis has been lost in so many places. It’s regrettable that many Reformed parents today expect the church to do virtually everything when it comes to the catechesis of covenant youth. The first responsibility lies with parents. Dort was right.
I love Starr Meade’s book of family devotions based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. To catechize our children during family worship, we’ve been using Training Hearts, Teaching Minds for many years. In fact, we’re on our second copy of it — the first one just fell apart after some years of heavy daily use.
Tonight at our church catechism class, I have the joy of teaching Lord’s Day 23 again. Lord’s Day 23 deals with justification, God’s declaration that we are right with him on account of Christ’s righteousness. Included in justification is the crucial notion of imputation. Our sins are imputed or accounted to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed or accounted to us. This goes to the basis of our justification. Starr Meade has an excellent illustration that explains the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, his obedience to the law and his suffering obedience. I plan to use this illustration tonight with my catechism students:
Imagine that you need a great deal of money for something important. However, not only do you not have a great deal of money; you are deeply in debt. Along comes your friend who has worked hard for years to build a big savings account in the bank. He feels sorry for you and offers to pay your bills. Now you are no longer in debt. This is something like Jesus paying for our sin by his death on the cross. Now we no longer owe God anything for all our sins against him.
However, just because your friend paid your debt does not mean that you have solved your problem. You still need a great deal of money and you have absolutely none. So now your friend does something else for you. He has your name added to his bank account so that now you can use all his money. This is something like Jesus living a life of perfect obedience to God in our place. He is the One who is righteous. He is the One who did the obeying, but all his righteousness is credited to us. God counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, 111-112)
To put it another way, through Christ we don’t merely have our slates wiped clean of all our sins. We also have our slates filled with all of his God-pleasing obedience in our place. This, and this alone, makes us acceptable in God’s sight.
I’ve just added a resource entitled “A Basic Christian Vocabulary.” I use this with my pre-confession students to ensure that they’re adequately familiar with the important terms of the Christian faith. I should say that it has been revised and adapted from the work of someone else. However, I don’t know who, so I can’t give the appropriate credit. If someone out there knows, I will leave the comments open on this post. It was originally published as “Appendix II” in a book, if that helps.