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The Value of the Westminster Catechism

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Question:  Can you tell me anything about The Westminster Shorter Catechism and is it a good reference tool to use in my scripture studies?

Response:  The Westminster Shorter Catechism is, as the name suggests, a shorter version of the Catechism designed to make learning the catechism (and understanding it) an easier matter than would be the case with the longer original. As far as its utility, I couldn't recommend the WSC, but that's not because there is anything terrible in it. Most of it I would agree with. It's 110 points frame the basic issues of faith in terms that will be familiar to those conversant with Reformed theology. For example:

               Q3: What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.

This is fine as far as it goes but how helpful is it? No scripture is quoted or exegeted or explained. These catechisms of the various protestant faiths were developed in a time when many couldn't read, few had the Bible, let alone Bible study resources, and when confrontation with the R.C. church and its teachings was a daily and often violent occurrence. Seen in this light, for a new convert to have at his/her disposal a large set of pat answers to the questions of basic theology as seen from the vantage point of that day would be valuable. As you can see from the language in Q#3 and its answer above, even this modern version is couched in terms of the way the arguments were framed and seen from the perspective of the Reformation.

But for a contemporary believer who can read and who already knows something about the Bible (and church history), better to read the Bible, better to study the Bible (and avail him/herself of Bible teaching he/she has tested and found solid). There is really very little spiritual "food" in this or any other catechism from which to grow - that is not really the purpose of a catechism; the purpose is rather to cement the dogmatic teachings of the group whose teachings the individual has already learned and digested. In the Reformed world, "communicants" usually learn these catechisms in the context of classes which remind them of what they've been taught in the past and explain to them how the particular language of the catechism relates to those teachings.

In my own view, it is indeed valuable to set oneself to memorizing (even if not word for word) ... but the Bible is a better object for this for spiritual growth, far better than any catechism (including one like this with which I would agree 80-90%).

I would suggest the Psalms.

Here are some links you might perhaps find helpful for pursuing your objective of personal spiritual growth:

Read Your Bible: A Basic Christian Right and Responsibility

Spiritual Growth and Spiritual Gifts

The Process of Spiritual Growth

The Necessity for Spiritual Growth

Believing the Truth: Phase 2 in the Growth Process

Hope this is of some use.

Yours in Him who is the Word of truth, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


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