“Seeds Of Truth Planted In The Field Of Memory”: How To Utilize The Shorter Catechism -- By: Allen Stanton

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:2 (Jul 2014)
Article: “Seeds Of Truth Planted In The Field Of Memory”: How To Utilize The Shorter Catechism
Author: Allen Stanton


“Seeds Of Truth Planted In The Field Of Memory”: How To Utilize The Shorter Catechism

Allen Stanton

Several works over the years have ably defended the legitimate use of creeds, confessions, and catechisms in the church.1 The attempt of this article is more pastoral in intent. I aim not simply to demonstrate the legitimacy of such documents, which is assumed, but to establish some of the practical and devotional benefits offered to those who use them well.2

As a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, I will use the catechism of my church, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, as a test case for what could truly be affirmed of all the Reformed creeds. If in another tradition, the reader should consider his own catechism as the arguments below will easily apply to most of these evangelical standards. Before we get to the practical benefits, it will be helpful to briefly consider the history of the Shorter Catechism and the historical practice of catechizing.

A Brief History Of The Shorter Catechism

In 1643, in the midst of civil war, English parliament called an assembly for the purpose of establishing religious uniformity and solidifying theological (and thereby political) unity with Scotland and Ireland. The committee consisted of more than one hundred ministers, thirty parliamentarians, and six staunchly committed Presbyterian Scottish delegates who met from 1643 to 1648.3

Desiring to establish Reformed Protestantism and to cast off Catholicism and Anglicanism, this Westminster Assembly had four main objectives. The divines were to write a confession that would supersede the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles; construct a directory for worship to replace the Book of Common Worship; craft a form of government; and compose two catechisms (one for children, or those “of weaker capacity,” and one for the more experienced in religion).4 These objectives led to the creation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Directory of Worship, Form of Government, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, all of which were completed by 1648.5 The catechisms roughly followed the Confession but much more concisely. It is to this Shorter Catechism, specifically, that we now turn our attention.

Why did Parliament create a catechism? John Owen, a contemporary of the Assembly, expressed the need when he wrote in 1645 that “after the ordinan...

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