March 17, 2022 Samuel Lindsay

The Catechism of Worship

The Catechism of Worship

As a kid, I was a bit confused about about sitcoms. It was the way that the show was periodically interrupted by raucous laughter from off screen. It was the studio audience or the "laugh track." I didn't understand why they "ruined" the show with the unnecessary hullaballoo.

But, you try watching a sitcom (modern ones at least) without the laugh track and you will see why they're needed. They're not all that funny! The laugh track is needed to teach the audience what is supposed to be funny.

The laugh track is basically a type of catechism. Teaching by call and response. Over episode after episode we are shown what is funny by the way the "audience" reacts and we are invited to participate (sadly most shows these days teach us a profoundly ungodly perspective on life - but I digress...).

We have repetitious teaching all around us; from the dopamine inducing doom-scrolling of social media, to the child practising their times-tables in a chant - "two times six is twelve, three times six is eighteen, four times..."

To be fair, I'm using the words catechism and catechesis somewhat loosely, but I'm sure you get the drift! A catechesis is the process of teaching beliefs. This process is often accomplished through the use of a catechism that uses a question-and-answer format [1].

When we come before the Lord in worship, many of the things we do are intended to instruct us continually in the way of Christ. We are designed to be worshippers, but left to our own sinful devices we will conform to the world and worship created things (Ro 1:25). We need to be continually encouraged to take hold of Christ and follow the Lord with all of our heart, soul mind and strength with the Holy Spirit at work in us.

God sets the content/elements of our worship, but we have some freedom in the circumstances of worship. Such as the length of worship gatherings, who gets to speak, which songs we sing, what order, etc. The legacy handed down to us in the church is time tested forms of worship as the gathered people continually sought to worship rightly. These are by no means authoritative, but we should carefully consider what we're doing before we throw the baby out with the bathwater. This legacy has catechised generations.

I'm sure you can see it now - week by week we are shown how to respond to God and his Gospel as we continually behold God, then praise Him. We hear the proclaimed word and then seek to live it out. We remember Christ crucified and take hold of him by faith in the Lord's Supper. We greet one another warmly. We pray for leaders and the sick and the advance of the Gospel, just like the New Testament teaches us. We teach everything Jesus commanded us (Mat 28:20).

The regular pattern of Sunday gatherings may feel unimaginative at times, but it is not designed to entertain. It is designed to embed the life of faith into our bones. We do together the things that we (for the most part) should be doing in our own homes and individual devotional lives. It is designed to reinforce and remind and revive us in our faithful walk.

You may not remember next week or next month what was said or sung at a church service, but you will have been part of the bit-by-bit building up of God's church. Over months and years you will have practiced 10s and 100s of times how to approach God, how we are to respond to Him, what the Gospel is and how we enter into faith.

"See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end." Heb 3:12–14.

From the days of Israel God expected the worship practices of his people to be a reminder and teaching tool for the next generation:

“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” (Ex 12:24–27).

"In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today" (Dt 6:20–24).

As we come week by week to hear the word of the Lord proclaimed in our midst, we must teach and enable our children to take up this faith even as we are confirmed and strengthened. We teach them the meaning of the sacraments of the Christian faith and how God lead us out of slavery with His mighty hand. Parents are still actively involved in the discipleship of their children in the Sunday gathering - being an example to them, teaching them and encouraging their own worship of the Living God.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Mt 19:14).

We no longer have the ritual of the temple sacrifices, but we do have laid out in scripture the patterns of worship in Spirit and in Truth. The weekly gathering aims to fulfil those patterns as we worship God together. Week by week we follow a similar pattern to teach us by repetition and practice how we (and our children) are to follow Christ.

"What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us" (2 Ti 1:13–14).

Samuel Lindsay

[1] Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.