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Friday, September 27, 2013

My Work on Catechesis as Discipleship (Conclusion)

It has been demonstrated that discipleship in the Christian tradition began as the literal walking with Jesus Christ during his itinerant ministry. It was then shown that in the absence of Jesus’ physical presence with his followers, discipleship developed into imitation, first of the Lord’s work and then of the apostles and saints, too. In the Patristic era the mode of discipleship was shown to be catechesis, that is, the program of intense preparation for baptism and the Christian life that was seen as an on-going journey.
            Baptist discipleship was also shown to have inherited the modes of Revivialism, which offered little formative discipleship to converts other than to encourage the evangelistic outreach of every believer. There is a movement among Baptists toward more contemplative, catholic, traditional methods of making life-long disciples who are capable not only of evangelism but also of progressive maturity in their faith.
What is needed among these Baptists is a starting point for this new discipleship. J. I. Packer, Gary Parrett, and Steve Kang have recommended that the educational ministries of the church be transformed into catechetical ministries that prepare both old and young alike for life-long discipleship though an intense, personal study of specific Scriptures, creeds, and extra-biblical documents.[1] Glassford insists that the local congregation should demand a close relationship between those being taught the traditions of Christianity and the ones teaching, implying a mentor-style catechesis that is reminiscent of the ancient Church.[2] Westerhoff also recommends a mentor-disciple relationship within the framework of catechesis in the local congregation that is reminiscent of the Didache.[3]
Baptists are not the only Christians instituting catechesis as the model for discipleship. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has instituted adult catechesis throughout its congregations.[4] The United Methodist Church has similarly published a revised catechumenal resource.[5] Miesel surmises that this trend in catechetical thinking among Protestants is due at least in part to, “the presence of the church in various mission settings, including cultures in which support for Christianity is diminishing, the continuing energy of the liturgical renewal movement as it brings to bear insights from the study of the early church’s liturgy as well as studies in human ritual, and increasing numbers of adults inquiring into the Christian faith who have little or no background in the teaching or life of the church.”[6]
In order for the discipleship habits of most Baptists in the American South to change, local congregations must adopt new catechetical frameworks. It may be the case that catechesis will work best among the children of the congregation at first.[7] The local Baptist congregation must not be so quick to abandon the adult generations of the church to discipleship types that leave them, in Marshall’s words, without a model for the journey of faith.
A potentially fruitful method of implementation would be to emphasize the mentor-disciple model of catechesis. If a group of relatively mature adults could be catechized so that they are familiar with the modes and vocabulary of a modernized version of the ancient church’s catechetical practices, they could then in turn serve as mentors to other adults who are less mature in their faith. Therefore the catechetical model, once instituted in the local congregation, could serve to generate mature disciples who, in turn, nurture others to be mature disciples. Thus could Baptists re-appropriate ancient catechetical forms of discipleship, the spiritual practices that are often lacking in Baptist ecclesiology, and maintain the evangelistic fervor that is essential to the Baptist way of life.

[1] See Packer and Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010; Parrett and Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful, Downers Grove: IVP, 2009.
[2] See Glassford, Darwin K., “The Future is Behind Us: Catechesis and Educational Ministries,” Christian Education Journal, Series 3 Vol. 9, Supplement, S-172 – 179.
[3] Westerhoff, 161.
[4] Division of Parish Life of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Living Witnesses: The Adult Catechumenate – A Manual for the Catechumenal Process (Canada: ECIC undated).
[5] Daniel T. Benedict, Come to the Waters: Our Ministry of Welcoming Seekers and Making Disciples, Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1996.
[6] Miesel, Richard L., “The Adult Catechumenate: Divine Courtship and Tryst,” Worship, 79 no. 3 (2005), 237-257.
[7] An excellent example of this type of children’s discipleship is “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd,” which is being implemented by the Rev. Lesley Ratcliff at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, MS among 3-12 year olds.  

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