Why learn a catechism? What is the point of memorizing a bunch of questions and answers? Aren’t there better ways to spend our time, effort, and energy? Here’s 9 reasons why you should learn the New City Catechism (NCC).
1. It will teach you the basics of Christianity. What do you believe and why do you believe it? NCC will help you understand the fundamentals of the Christian faith (God, the Trinity, sin, salvation, prayer); you will also learn the 10 commandments, the Lord’s prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed by heart.
2. Your heart and mind will be shaped. As you learn and recite the reasons for why you believe the things that you do, you will find yourself develop a Christian worldview (how a person views and understands the world around him/her). This is vital, since the world around us (movies, music, media) constantly presents us a conception of reality far removed from the biblical witness in nearly every area of our life (morality, sexuality, God, religion). As you learn the catechism, you will likely find yourself subconsciously using the expressions and terminology in your explanations of theological truths. I noticed this recently in my pastor Joe Thorn, who used several expressions in his sermons drawn from the Heidelberg and Baptist catechisms (he explained to me how had learned the catechisms in the past and the language drawn from them subconsciously sometimes comes out in his preaching and teaching).
3. Learning NCC is good for your soul. If you are like me, you are often shocked by how bored and cold your heart is toward God. When you speak the rich theological truths expressed in the NCC, your heart will be strengthened and lifted up afresh to worship God. (I have certainly found this to be true).
4. You will be equipped to tell others the message of the gospel. The NCC provides you with a vocabulary to share the gospel with your non-Christian friends. Basic questions like, “Who is God?” “What is sin?” “How can we be saved?” “What is prayer?” “What is the church?” are answered biblically and succinctly.
5. Your prayers will be enriched. When the NCC is learned by heart, the language and truths can be used to enrich and guide your prayers. For instance, as you learn that God is “the Creator and Sustainer of everyone and everything,” you can praise Him for it: “I praise you God for your power, that you made everything;” you can confess your unbelief: “I am sorry Lord that I have disbelieved the fact that you are my Creator, that I am made in your image, that my neighbors and everyone has been made by you;” you can request God to help and lead today: “God help me to believe that you are the Creator and Sustainer of everyone and everything, and sustain me O Lord.”
6. You will have the tools necessary to help younger believers in the faith. As your children or new Christians around you seek to understand what it means to be a Christian, you will be able to assist them. Catechisms are great tools for youth, who–when challenged–are usually able to memorize information far more easily than older adults. Why not use NCC for your youth group? They will be greatly enriched and their young minds will learn how to think grand and biblical thoughts about God.
7. Learning a catechism has been a vital part of the church life for the past 2,000 years. There is nothing novel or trendy about learning a catechism, this practice has historical precedent, and Christians have used catechisms and creeds since the time of the Early Church.
8. It takes less time and effort than you think. At first glance, memorizing 52 questions and answers can seem impossible. However, I don’t think this is really the case. I believe that a person with nearly zero experience at memorizing can learn all 52 questions of NCC by heart, if they will simply devote 5-10 minutes a day. The approach that Rachel and I have been using is to take one question each week. First, we will spend 5 minutes or so memorizing the precise wording of the question and answer. Depending on the question and answer, this may take a bit more or less time. Throughout the week we recite this question to each other, with the goal of saying the question of the week once everyday. (When learning a new question it is also helpful to make yourself mini-flashcards so that you can recite the question at various points of your day [before a meal, during your morning/afternoon commute, before you go to sleep, etc. ]) In addition to this, we also try to recite the previous weeks’ questions every other day. This allows us to retain the questions, and it is through this repetition that the NCC becomes part of long-term memory and thinking patterns. One final way that helped me was to put the first seven questions to music.
9. The individuals behind NCC have created a great website and ipad app that you can use to aid you in understanding the catechism. Every question has a scriptural reference, a commentary from a historical theologian (Calvin, Luther, others), a short video (2-5 min usually) explaining the question, and a prayer to go along with the question. Thus, you have all the help you need to understand the material you are learning.
What has been your experience of learning the New City Catechism? Do you have any additional reasons to add to this list?