Dear Church Family,
Today, the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) is 366 years old! You may read more about the history and development of the WSC here: http://www.thisday.pcahistory.org/2013/11/november-25/ (At this website, you may also sign up for daily emails from “This Day in Presbyterian History”). As we gather with family and friends this week, celebrating and giving thanks to the Lord for His wonderful blessings – it is good to also remember and give thanks for the rich heritage that we have as a Church, as the people of God.
One of those things for which we should give thanks (among many) is the doctrinal developments of the ancient Church manifested in formal creed (e.g. the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds), as well as the doctrinal development and formalization of systematic theology in the confessions and catechisms that came out of the Reformation. In our corporate worship, we confess the Christian faith by means of these historic documents. They are documents that teach us the truths of Scripture and unite us with Christians throughout the world.
Beginning in January of this year, we have been reciting two questions a week from the Westminster Shorter Catechism in our corporate worship on Sunday mornings. This deliberate familiarization with one of the catechisms of our church is intentionally designed to help us better understand the summary of the doctrines taught in the Scriptures. Our children memorize and learn what the catechism teaches in our church and in our families, as they come to embrace the Christian faith for themselves.
Outline of the Westminster Shorter Catechism
In order for us to see what we learn in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, it is helpful to take note of the outline and structure of these 107 questions. So, here is a brief outline of the form and flow of the doctrines of the Christian faith as summarized in the Shorter Catechism.
(Q 1-3) Introduction
The first three questions (especially question 3) give us the outline and structure of the entire Shorter Catechism:
WSC 1 What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
WSC 2 What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
WSC 3 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.
The rest of the catechism may be divided into two parts as outlined in questions #3: (1) what man is to believe concerning God and (2) what duty god requires of man):
(Q 4-38) What man is to believe concerning God
Q 4-12 - God’s Tri-unity, nature, decrees, and work
Q 13-19 - Man’s fall into sin and the consequences thereof
Q 20-28 - Redemption accomplished by God the Son (Jesus Christ)
Q 29-38 - Redemption applied by God the Holy Spirit
(Q 39-107) What duty God requires of man
Q 39-84 - The Ten Commandments
Q 85-87 - Faith and Repentance
Q 88-90 - The Word of God as a means of grace
Q 91-97 - The Sacraments (Baptism & the Lord’s Supper) as means of grace
Q 98-107 - Prayer as a means of grace (explanation of the Lord’s Prayer)
You may read the entirety of the Westminster Shorter Catechism with Scripture proofs online here: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC_frames.html.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism in America
The Westminster Shorter Catechism was originally intended by the Westminster Divines as an aid for teaching children. In many churches and families it still functions as such today. In fact, as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week – a holiday which harkens back to the first Pilgrims’ celebration in 1621, as well as the formal establishment of the holiday in 1863 – it would probably surprise many Americans to learn that the Westminster Shorter Catechism was a part of most people’s early childhood education in this country.
The New England Primer was one the primary books – if not the primary book – in use for early childhood education in the new world from the late 1600s and well into the 1800s. It was a book that was intended to aid in teaching children the basics of math, reading, writing, theology, morality, and other things (various prayers, songs, poems, proverbs, creeds, etc.). And, this primer contained the Westminster Shorter Catechism which was memorized and taught from an early age. Here is a link to the contents of the 1777 edition of the New England Primer: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/nep/1777/index.htm.
At Thanksgiving let us celebrate and give thanks for the Lord’s many blessings in our earthly sustenance – food, shelter, family, and friends. Let us also celebrate and give thanks for the Lord’s many blessings in our spiritual sustenance – His revelation of Himself to us in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. And, let us give thanks for the Confession and Catechisms of our church which give us a summary of those doctrines which are taught in the Scriptures.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch