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This paper by the Catechesis Task Force provides a basic vision and outline for the process and content of catechesis in the Anglican Church of North America. The Task Force was formed to advise the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) regarding the work of making and forming of disciples of Jesus Christ—catechesis. The Task Force also supports other recent work in the Anglican Communion concerning catechesis, such as the Anglican Catechism in Outline (ACIO).
Jesus instructed the Church to disciple the nations. Conversion is at the core of this mission and involves repentance, a turning away from and a leaving behind of the old life, the “old man,” the old heart. Of course, it also involves a turning to; a turning to the life of Christ in us; a transformed life where we are, indeed, new creatures in Jesus. This is both an immediate reality in Christ, but also a process—a growing into Christ. Catechesis is the discipling process of growing up God’s people into Christ.
More formally, catechesis is the education and formation of Christians from before baptism through the end of life, and it concerns specific, scripturally based content, and also follows a definable process in the context of an intentional community. At each stage in the process, the same general content may be addressed in varying depth. This work addresses the content more broadly, but the stages/process more specifically. Future work will address content in more detail.
Let us note at the outset that catechesis is and always has been rooted in Scripture. From Gospel narrative as introduction to the faith, to Creeds as summaries of Biblical theology, to traditional teaching on moral living, the Church instructs her children out of Scripture.
Because the Anglican Church has had an excellent synthesis of Word and Sacrament over its history, both before and after the Reformation, the task of catechesis can best be viewed through that classical Anglican lens. It is a catholic lens using the Church’s best examples of that synthesis throughout the centuries, and a reformed lens as manifested by the English Church in her reformation.
The three traditional subject areas of catechesis are the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. These areas provide the content for instruction. Distinct but not separate in the life of the individual being formed in the life of the Church and into the image of Christ, is the sacramental pathway of God’s grace. God’s grace is made manifest in the Word read and taught, and it is likewise made manifest in the sacramental life of His Church. It is worth noting that the three subject areas and the sacraments are all a part of the corporate worship of the Church.
An individual needs the didactic teaching and repetition of the Creeds: to be constantly rehearsing the doctrines of salvation. He needs, too, the experience of the Creeds in worship and grace: the sacramental pathway one “lives into” as one grows in Christ. Baptism and confirmation bring the individual into the life of the Church, incorporate him into the body of Christ, and regenerate him to new life. The grace of God in baptism is necessary, but it is not enough. Teaching and understanding are also necessary. The grace of God works through the sacraments and also through the teaching of the Word.
The Holy Communion feeds God’s people “in an heavenly manner” with the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ is really given to the faithful in the Holy Communion. This is the continued grace of God in the believer’s life which, co-working with the work of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the Word, continues to sanctify and grow the believer, with the Church of Jesus as a whole, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Catechesis, being the nurturing and formation of Christians over the course of their whole lives, always has been and must be done in the context of both Word and Sacrament. The classical Anglican way provides an excellent context for this formation.
Why this focus on catechesis? Simply put, the contemporary Church has failed to train up her children in the admonition of the Lord. Children raised in the Church from the font of baptism often abandon the faith when they graduate high school and move away from home. This consistent problem in late 20th/early 21st century Anglicanism, and North American Christianity in general, tells us that the typical educational program—including the curriculum, youth ministry, Sunday school program for all ages and Bible Studies—of the average parish is deficient in raising up a godly generation to build, lead, and serve the kingdom of God. Rather than displaying a life transformed by Christ in the Church, the Church’s children often show that they’ve been discipled effectively by the surrounding culture.
Moreover, the Church has done a very poor job of teaching, training, and forming disciples of adult converts. Many people live for years in the Church without noticeable growth in their doctrinal understanding and the implications of that doctrine lived out—and so with little victory over the sin and brokenness of their lives. A consistent and focused path has not been provided for them to learn, grow and mature as Christians, so that the contemporary Church is often filled with believers more formed by the culture of the world than by the Church and the Holy Scriptures she treasures and teaches. This is a fundamental lack of the Gospel transformation everyone needs.
Thus, whether one looks at the lives of the children who have come from the font as young ones or at those who’ve come through the front porch of the Church in adulthood, it is clear that the Church is failing in this essential task of catechesis.
The solution is not, however, to be found in starting over and ignoring what the Church has done. Our age certainly suffers no lack of available materials, programs and ministry models—much of it creative and inventive. The programs and Sunday Schools and curricula of the last 100 years, however, have not formed the robust Church that many dream of. We are convinced it is time, as Jeremiah records, to look to the old paths.
The ancient Church, indeed, had a model for raising up believers and helping them to mature in their faith. Though actual practice may have varied through the centuries, catechesis always included training in the three areas of Believing, Praying, and Living (another way to put it: Doctrine, Worship, and Holy Living).
What is needed today in the life of the Anglican Church in North America is sound and effectual catechesis. The calling of mother Church is to disciple and nourish her children their whole lives through, from cradle to grave, so that they may continue to grow in the faith, to mature and be sanctified, and to increase in understanding and wisdom.
What follows, therefore, is an outline of this process and general content of catechesis. Each parish is unique, but for the ACNA to flourish as a unified Church, the parishes, with their clergy and laity, must all share the same vision of catechesis.
The general content of catechesis over the course of the centuries has been, as noted in the introduction, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue (or as stated above, Believing, Praying, and Living). All catechetical content can be seen to fit these three basic areas.
Teaching on the Sacraments naturally falls within each of these three areas. The most obvious place of sacraments is in corporate worship, so teaching on sacraments would take place under the heading of Praying. There is also, however, much to be learned and believed about the sacraments; this would fall under the heading of Believing. And the sacraments equip us for practical, everyday holy Living.
We have, then, under the ministry of the Word, the following breakdown of the catechetical content (see chart in appendix A): Believing, Praying, and Living.
Obviously, each of these three areas informs the believer’s total faith encounter with God and how he lives out that encounter.
Sacraments (see fourth column of chart in appendix A) are by their nature physical and spiritual, and thus they touch on the other three areas of catechetical content. The sacramental life as a whole is the intersection of Believing, Praying, and Living: we believe truths about the sacraments, we celebrate the sacraments in context of worship and prayer, and we ought to live out the grace of sacraments in a manner worthy of that grace.
The foundation of the Holy Scriptures in all areas of study, learning and formation has been mentioned and may be reiterated. Continual building upon the Scriptural foundation and constant reference to the Scriptures are the norm for catechetical formation. When the Church is healthy and forming healthy disciples, from the ancient Church to the contemporary Church, her teaching is scripturally sound.
Catechesis takes place through the whole Christian life, in stages appropriate to the individual’s development in the faith. Broadly speaking, the early Church developed the following stages: proto-catechesis, involving instruction for inquirers; the catechumen stage; the stage of the elect  (those who have had their name added to the list of candidates for baptism); the neophyte stage for the newly baptized; and, of course, there were mature believers, called in this document, “the faithful.”
The Catechesis Task Force has delineated five stages in Catechesis:
An Inquirer simply wants to know about the faith, and has made no commitment to it yet. He is, we might say, still on the front porch of the church, watching, questioning, listening. The content for this stage is simply the Gospel narrative, the story of Jesus: His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and the call these events make on our lives. Someone in this stage may also be part of a program or course such as the Alpha Course or Christianity Explored.
Catechumens have made a commitment to become members of the Church either through baptism and confirmation, or through confirmation alone. They have moved from simply inquirers to those ready to commit to learning and growing. As in the ancient Church, a rite of initiation accompanies this step, and the learning commences in a structured and formal way, usually lasting about a year.
Historically called Competentes, those Catechumens who are ready for baptism are called Baptismal or Confirmation Candidates. This group undergoes an intensive Lenten study to finish off their preparation for the rite of baptism and/or confirmation. Then, traditionally, the rite takes place at Easter, and the Catechumen enters the next stage of growth in Christ, becoming the Newly Initiated.
Neophytes, as they were called in the early Church, are taught extensively and are formed in a life of prayer and spiritual disciplines. This important time after baptism lays the foundation for a future life of growth and learning in Christ. The new Christian can now put together his earlier learning with the sacramental living into which he may now enter fully.
After this foundation time in the new Christian’s life, he moves into the stage of the faithful, where he pursues the joys and mysteries of lifelong discipleship in the faith.
In an age of hyper-individualism, where the self is the exalted god of the age, we must state certain things which would have been taken for granted in centuries past. We therefore have to emphasize that catechesis takes place within the community of the local church; it is not primarily an intellectual pursuit to be gone about in private with a stack of books. Catechesis is formation and education of the heart, head, body, emotions, and will—in short, the whole person. Furthermore, a student becomes like his teacher—not his curriculum—and iron sharpens iron. A new believer cannot grow into maturity without teachers and friends in the body of the Christ.
“The church of God will never be preserved without catechesis.”So said John Calvin. True of the church at large, it is also true of our branch of it, the Anglican Church of North America. The ACNA must formulate and implement a plan for successful catechesis if she wants to see her desire for many faithful children come to fruition. The plan outlined here, albeit briefly, can be seen to have several merits:
Let us go boldly forward, then, in the hope that God will use the work of men to the strengthening of His Church, as He has done so often before.