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In the previous post on building multi-generational churches, I focused mainly on the duties of parents and especially fathers.  On their shoulders, in large part, rests the future of the Church.  But of course, as we observed, the church ‘fathers’ must cultivate them, and so really it does come back to the teaching and ruling ministry of the Church at the end of the day.

The following extract from Samuel Miller (1769-1850) comes from his masterly work, The Christian Education of Children and Youth. In this passage, he urges one particular duty of church officers in raising up and retaining a godly seed for the Church.  It is the time-honored Reformed practice of pastoral catechizing of the youth:

It follows, of course, that the pastor who does not diligently attend to the religious instruction of the young people of his charge, is blind to the comfort, the acceptance, and the popularity of his own ministry. Why is it that so many ministers, before reaching an infirm old age, grow out of date with their people, and lose their influence with them? Especially, why is it that the younger part of their flocks feel so little attraction to them, dislike their preaching, and sigh for a change of pastors? There is reason to believe that this has seldom occurred, except in cases in which pastors have been eminently negligent of the religious training of their young people; in which, however respectable they may have been for their talents, their learning, and their worth, in other respects, they have utterly failed to bind the affections of the children to their persons; to make every one of them revere and love them as affectionate fathers; and, by faithful attentions, to inspire them with the strongest sentiments of veneration and filial attachment. Those whose range of observation has been considerable, have, no doubt, seen examples of ministers, whose preaching was by no means very striking or attractive, yet retaining to the latest period of their lives, the affections of all committed to their care, and especially being the favourites of the young people, who have rallied round them in their old age, and contributed not a little to render their last days both useful and happy. It may be doubted whether such a case ever occurred excepting where the pastor had bestowed much attention on the young people of his charge.

Such are some of the evils which flow from neglect on the part of the Church to train up her children in the knowledge of her doctrines and order. She may expect to see a majority of those children—even children of professors of religion—growing up in ignorance and profligacy; of course forsaking the church of their fathers; leaving her either to sink, or to be filled up by converts from without; turning away from those pastors who neglected them; and causing such pastors to experience in their old age, the merited reward of unfaithful servants (22-23).

Here is one big reason why churches, even Reformed ones, lose their youth.  The ministry has neglected catechizing.  Church catechizing, that is.  Much of the evangelical ministry today, sadly, has farmed out its duty here to ‘youth pastors’ – most of whom are often little better than glorified baby-sitters.  At best, it has delegated church education to pious, but unordained lay people.  But as Miller shrewdly observes, this passing on duty is also passing on a major opportunity.  An opportunity for the ministry to win young people’s minds to the principles of the church of their baptism, as well as an opportunity to win their hearts by sustained care and attention.  A profound insight indeed.

My mind here is taken to a beautiful mental image I have of the good Dr. Luther.   I can’t recall if it was a painting or something I read at some point – but forever irretrievable, I fear.  The master has gathered his pupils around him, and he is imparting a sacred lesson.  The little peasant catechumens are listening with rapt attention, and on occasion one is put on the spot to give an answer.   Here we see the embodiment of duty, of love, and of shrewd church policy, aimed at winning and at retaining the young.

We in the Reformed ministry must imitate our Saviour.  “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.”  And when we are done baptizing them, let us yet hold on to them.  Let us retain them in our hearts, in our prayers, in our attentions – and in our devoted, focused instruction of them.  And combining this discipline with godly parenting in the home, by the blessing of the Spirit, shouldn’t we hope to mend the breaches in Zion’s walls?

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The following comes from President Edwards’ The Life and Diary of the Rev. David Brainerd (1743).  It in an insightful snapshot of the old Reformed discipline of catechesis and demonstrates how integral it is to evangelism itself. 

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THE method I am taking to instruct the Indians in the principles of our holy religion, are, to preach, or open and improve some particular points of doctrine; to expound particular paragraphs, or sometimes whole chapters, of God’s word to them; to give historical relations from Scripture of the most material and remarkable occurrences relating to the church of God from the beginning; and frequency to catechise them upon the principles of Christianity. The latter of these methods of instructing I manage in a twofold manner. I sometimes catechise systematically, proposing questions agreeable to the Reverend Assembly’s Shorter Catechism.  This I have carried to a considerable length. At other times I catechise upon any important subject that I think difficult to them. Sometimes when I have discoursed upon some particular point, and made it as plain and familiar to them as I can, I then catechise them upon the most material branches of my discourse, to see whether they had a thorough understanding of it. But as I have catechised chiefly in a systematical form, I shall here give some specimen of the method I make use of in it, as well as of the propriety and justness of my people’s answers to the questions proposed to them.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at death.

Q. I have shown you, that the children of God receive a great many good things from Christ while they live, now have they any more to receive when they come to die?–A. Yes.

Q. Are the children of God then made perfectly free from sin?–Yes.

Q. Do you think they will never more be troubled with vain, foolish, and wicked thoughts?–A. No, never at all.

Q. Will not they then be like the good angels I have so often told you of?–A. Yes.

Q. And do you call this a great mercy to be freed from all sin?–A. Yes.

Q. Do all God’s children count it so?–A. Yes, all of them.

Q. Do you think this is what they would ask for above all things, if God should say to them, Ask what you will, and it shall be done for you?–A. O yes, be sure, this is what they want.

Q. You say the souls of God’s people at death are made perfectly free from sin, where do they go then?–A. They go and live with Jesus Christ.

Q. Does Christ show them more respect and honour, and make them more happy* than we can possibly think of in this world?-A. Yes.

Q. Do they go immediately to live with Christ in heaven, as soon as their bodies are dead? or do they tarry somewhere else a while?–A. They go immediately to Christ.

Q. Does Christ take any care of the bodies of his people when they are dead, and their souls gone to heaven, or does he forget them?–A. He takes care of them.

These questions were all answered with surprising readiness, and without once missing, as I remember. And in answering several of them which respected deliverance from sin, they were much affected, and melted with the hopes of that happy state.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at the resurrection.

Q. You see I have already shown you what good things Christ gives his good people while they live, and when they come to die; now, will he raise their bodies, and the bodies of others, to life again at the last day?–A. Yes, they shall all be raised.

Q. Shall they then have the same bodies they now have?-A. Yes.

Q. Will their bodies then be weak, will they feel cold, hunger, thirst, and weariness, as they now do?–A. No, none of these things.

Q. Will their bodies ever die any more after they are raised to life?–A. No.

Q. Will their souls and bodies be joined together again?–A. Yes.

Q. Will God’s people be more happy then, than they were while their bodies were asleep?–A. Yes.

Q. Will Christ then own these to be his people before all the world?–A. Yes.

Q. But God’s people find so much sin in themselves, that they are often ashamed of themselves, and will not Christ be ashamed to own such for his friends at that day?–A. No, he never will be ashamed of them.

Q. Will Christ then show all the world, that he has put away these people’s sins,† and that he looks upon them as if they had never sinned at all?–A. Yes.

Q. Will he look upon them as if they had never sinned, for the sake of any good things they have done themselves, or for the sake of his righteousness accounted to them as if it was theirs?–A. For the sake of his righteousness counted to them, not for their own goodness.

Q. Will God’s children then be as happy as they can desire to be?–Yes.

Q. The children of God while in this world, can but now and then draw near to him, and they are ready to think they can never have enough of God and Christ, but will they have enough there, as much as they can desire?–A. O yes, enough, enough.

Q. Will the children of God love him then as much as they desire, will they find nothing to hinder their love from going to him?–A. Nothing at all, they shall love him as much as they desire.

Q. Will they never be weary of God and Christ, and the pleasures of heaven, so as we are weary of our friends and enjoyments here, after we have been pleased with them awhile?–A. No, never.

Q. Could God’s people be happy if they knew God loved them, and yet felt at the same time that they could not love and honour him?–A. No, no.

Q. Will this then make God’s people perfectly happy, to love God above all, to honour him continually, and to feel his love to them?–A. Yes.

Q. And will this happiness last for ever?–A. Yes, for ever, for ever.

These questions, like the former, were answered without hesitation or missing, as I remember, in any one instance.

Questions upon the duty which God requires of men.

Q. Has God let us know any thing of his will, or what he would have us to do to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. And does he require us to do his will, and to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. Is it right that God should require this of us, has he any business to command us as a father does his children?–A. Yes.

Q. Why is it right that God should command us to do what he pleases?–A. Because he made us, and gives us all our good things.

Q. Does God require us to do any thing that will hurt us, and take away our comfort and happiness?–A. No.

Q. But God requires sinners to repent and be sorry for their sins, and to have their hearts broken; now, does not this hurt them, and take away their comfort, to be made sorry, and to have their hearts broken?–A. No, it does them good.

Q. Did God teach man his will at first by writing it down in a book, or did he put it into his heart, and teach him without a book what was right?–A. He put it into his heart, and made him know what he should do.

Q. Has God since that time writ down his will in a book?–A. Yes.

Q. Has God written his whole will in his book; has he there told us all that he would have us believe and do?–A. Yes.

Q. What need was there of this book, if God at first put his will into the heart of man, and made him feel what he should do?–A. There was need of it, because we have sinned, and made our hearts blind.

Q. And has God writ down the same things in his book, that he at first put into the heart of man?–A. Yes.

In this manner I endeavour to adapt my instructions to the capacities of my people; although they may perhaps seem strange to others who have never experienced the difficulty of the work. And these I have given an account of, are the methods I am from time to time pursuing, in order to instruct them in the principles of Christianity. And I think I may say, it is my great concern that these instructions be given them in such a manner, that they may not only be doctrinally taught, but duly affected thereby, that divine truths may come to them, “not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost,” and be received “not as the word of man.”

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The following is a review of Ashbel Green’s Lectures on the Shorter Catechism by Archibald Alexander in 1830.  Alexander (1772-1851) was the  first President of Princeton Seminary and a venerable patriarch of American Presbyterianism.  The following presents the bulk of this review, which treats the warrant and nature of the good old plan of Presbyterian catechizing.

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[If] we do not entirely misinterpret the temper and taste of the times in which we live, doctrinal catechisms, and lectures explanatory of such catechisms, are not the books which will be sought after and read with avidity. The religious taste of most readers is, we fear, greatly vitiated by works of fiction and other kinds of light reading. Nothing will now please, unless it be characterized by novelty and variety; and while many new means of instruction have been afforded to our youth, in which we sincerely rejoice, we are so old fashioned in our notions, as to feel regret that in our own church those excellent little summaries of Christian doctrine, the Westminster Catechisms, are falling with many into disuse. Our numerous (more…)

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