Tag Archives: catechism preaching

Pastoral Q & A: Is Catechism Preaching Biblical?

Reformed churches have historically practiced catechism preaching, typically in the afternoon or evening service.  This practice dates back to the Reformation.  However, in today’s milieu the practice is under threat.  Some Reformed churches have long abandoned catechism preaching while others are heading in that direction.  Sadly, even in churches that maintain it (like the Canadian Reformed and Free Reformed of Australia), there are members who not only question it, but actively repudiate it.

One of the chief objections often raised against catechism preaching is that it isn’t preaching on the Word of God.  Instead, churches doing this are preaching on a human document.  In so doing they’re actually repudiating the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura.  The infallible Bible alone should be our “text,” and yet Reformed churches are preaching on a fallible Catechism.

Such an objection arises either from a caricature of catechism preaching or a misunderstanding of it.  The caricature portrays a Reformed pastor who dryly exegetes the Catechism, perhaps even referring at length to the original German vocabulary and grammar, but who fails to open the Bible or even mention the Bible.  In this caricature, the Catechism has indeed replaced the Bible.  I say this is a caricature because I’ve never once encountered this type of “catechism preaching,” nor have I heard of it anecdotally.  I doubt it exists.  If it does, may it soon become extinct.

The common misunderstanding relates to the notion of what biblical preaching is.  Nowhere does the Bible indicate that preaching must be on one isolated text, a verse or perhaps a series of verses.  There’s no reason to conclude that preaching can’t exposit or explain the doctrine found in a number of Bible passages.  In expository preaching, the preacher focusses on one isolated passage (naturally taking context into account as well) of Scripture.  In catechism preaching, the preacher teaches the “whole counsel of God” on a doctrine while taking the whole Bible into account.  If there ever is such a thing, catechism preaching that doesn’t work with the Scriptures is not worthy of the name “preaching,” and it isn’t biblical.   However, done properly it too is the preaching of the Word of God.

In a lecture several years ago at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, I heard Dr. Jason Van Vliet suggest we think of the relationship between regular Bible-text preaching and catechism preaching 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.

When things are put in this manner, no one should have a difficulty in agreeing that catechism preaching can and should be biblical preaching.

Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”  Lack of knowledge, including knowledge of the doctrines of Scripture, is destructive.  Catechism preaching aims to build up God’s people in their knowledge of what his Word teaches.  Catechism preaching is constructive — and so why wouldn’t any Reformed believer cherish it?

(Adapted from chapter 13 of my forthcoming book Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship)


Heidelberg Catechism Themes and Divisions Version 2.0

One of the most popular pages on Yinkahdinay is this resource with themes and divisions for preaching on the Heidelberg Catechism.  I’m beginning to roll out version 2.0 of this resource.  You can see an example here with Lord’s Day 4.  I’ve added some new themes, but also added the Bible readings where I can.  The update to the new version is going to take some time.  I will generally work on this project as I work my way through the Catechism in my own preaching, so please be patient.  I hope this resource can continue to be helpful for my colleagues and others who are called to teach or preach the Catechism.


Catechism Preaching

I recently had the privilege of attending a series of seminars at Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary on preaching.  There was lots of thought-provoking stuff thrown our way.  But I wanted to especially share this little tidbit from Dr. Jason Van Vliet.  He presented a lecture on “Catechism Preaching: Keeping It Fresh and Relevant.”  Under the heading of “Why preach from the Catechism?” he suggested that we think of the relationship between regular Bible-text preaching and catechism preaching 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 explain it, especially for those who still struggle with the idea of catechism preaching.  Still I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is unhelpful to describe the Catechism as our TEXT for the afternoon/evening sermon.  That terminology can and often does give the impression that the Catechism has replaced the Bible in the second service.  In the service I typically announce it something like this:  “This afternoon we’re considering the teachings of the Word of God as summarized and confessed by the church in Lord’s Day x.”   But I’m still trying to think of a better, yet still succinct, way of mentioning it in the order of worship in the bulletin.  Right now we still have “TEXT:”  I know some URCs have “Confessional Reading,” but that’s not really accurate either.  If anyone has a good suggestion, I’ll leave the comments open just for this one post.


New Heidelberg Catechism Page Added

One of the great blessings of being in a Reformed church is the steady diet of catechism preaching.  Year in and year out the essentials of the Christian faith are covered in a systematic fashion.  It’s good for congregations and it also helps in preventing preachers from riding hobby horses.  Yet…from a preacher’s perspective it can be difficult to cover the same material in a fresh way.  For example, you’ve preached on Lord’s Day 42 twice already (in my case), how do you preach on it a third time?  That’s where I often find it helpful to review what others have done.  Sometimes I’ll get a good idea from somebody else’s approach — sometimes I’ll even take over the broad outline (while working out the details on my own, of course).  I’m sure I’m not the only one faced with this challenge.  For that reason, I’ve provided a resource on this site with a collection of themes and divisions for the Lord’s Days of the Heidelberg Catechism.  It’s not quite complete (39/52), but it’s steadily growing.  Today I just added Lord’s Day 42.


New Heidelberg Catechism Resources Added

Over the last few weeks, I’ve added more Lord’s Days to my collection of themes and divisions for Heidelberg Catechism preaching.  I recently added Lord’s Days 9-11.  There are now 27 Lord’s Days completed.

I use a number of print and online resources to compile these.  One of them is an old two-v0lume set by J. Kok, Schetsen over den Heidelbergschen Catechismus: een handboek voor predikanten (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1903).  As the title indicates, this is a handbook designed for Reformed ministers which provides sermon outlines for every Lord’s Day of the Catechism.  In the introduction, he surveys past attempts to provide such resources.  He mentions Ursinus and his lectures.  Festus Hommius had translated these into Dutch and they became very influential.  Jeremias Bastingius also expounded on the Catechism.  His work was first published in Latin and then later translated into Dutch.  E. van den Hoogt, a preacher in Nieuwendam, published some of his expositions of the Catechism — however, this does not seem to be a very well-known work; I can’t find any trace of it online.  Others who lectured or preached on the Catechism and published sketches or outlines on it included Samuel Maresius, Joh. Rod. Rodolph, Knibbe, Gargon, Molenaar, Groenewegen, and Felingius.  After the time of Kok, there was a collection of catechism sermon sketches by K. Dijk (De catechismuspreek in haar verscheidenhied) — also very useful.  So, there is a long tradition of publishing sketches or outlines of sermons dealing with the Heidelberg Catechism.  It is lamentable that this tradition is basically lost.  The cause can likely be attributed to the hegemony (except in a few backwaters in NAPARC-dom) of the idea that preaching that follows the Heidelberg Catechism is not the preaching of the Word of God.