Early Church Catechesis and New Christians’ Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism -- By: Clinton E. Arnold

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 47:1 (Mar 2004)
Article: Early Church Catechesis and New Christians’ Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism
Author: Clinton E. Arnold

Early Church Catechesis and New Christians’ Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism

Clinton E. Arnold

[Clinton E. Arnold is professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639.]

1 Introduction

For twelve years my wife and I were deeply involved in a ministry to new believers at our local church.1 When we began developing this “assimilation” ministry, we started with an eight-week course that covered many of the basics of the Christian life. We offered the hour-and-fifteen-minute course during the Sunday morning Sunday School time for mixed ages, marrieds, and singles.

The initial idea was for new believers to take the eight-week course as a primer in some of the basics of Christian doctrine and practice and then help them blend into the regular age-graded Sunday School program of the church. A number of constraints prevented this from working well. There was the practical social difficulty of being a newcomer in a Sunday School group that has been together for years, but there was also the fact that these new believers strongly felt the need for more of the same kind of teaching and discussions centered on the basics that they had just experienced.

I had also been doing some reading in the Church fathers about how new Christians’ classes were conducted in the early church and came away deeply convicted about the superficiality of what we were doing. There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, especially the development of a ministry plan and curriculum that would keep them for two to three years.

I have now been away from this ministry for a couple of years, but have continued to reflect critically on what we did in light of Scripture and early church practice. It has become increasingly clear to me that the evangelical church as a whole could benefit from re-examining the testimony of the Church fathers and gleaning insights from how they ministered to new believers.

It may challenge many churches to consider implementing some modifications in philosophy and structure of ministry as they entertain questions such as:

  • Is a four-week (six-week, or eight-week) new Christians’ class really enough?
  • Are we getting new believers adequately immersed into the Scripture?
  • Have we downplayed the importance of creed?
  • Are we helping new believers repent completely of sinful life-styles an...
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