A well-tested medium of Christian instruction
A review of Martin Davie's book, 'Instruction in the Way of the Lord: A Guide to the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer'
In the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), a Catechism is located between the ministration of Baptism of both infants and people of riper years and Confirmation. It is clearly linked, therefore, to both ordinances. Indeed, it is designated as 'an Instruction' intended to be learnt as a necessary means of preparation before Confirmation, when those that are baptised as children and “come to years of discretion” receive the laying on of hands by the bishop in recognition that they have “openly before the Church ratified and confirmed the promises made on their behalf in Baptism”. The bishop prays for each candidate that the Lord will “defend this thy child (or servant) with his heavenly grace” that each one may continue to belong to God and “daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more until they come to God's everlasting kingdom.”
Martin Davie's short monograph offers a concise introduction to and running commentary upon the Catechism. It appears as one of the booklets published by the Latimer Trust in its Anglican Foundation Series whose aim is “to highlight what the services in the BCP teach about the Christian faith and to demonstrate how they are also designed to offer practical guidance on how such services may be used in Christian ministry nowadays.”
The booklet is divided into five parts: how the Catechism fits into the BCP, its history, structure, teaching and continued value. The booklet completes the survey with three Appendices: The Catechism of 1549; Alternative Anglican catechetical material, and the social significance of the catechism's teaching about our duty towards our neighbour.
This publication does an admirable job in short compass of placing the significance of the Catechism within the formularies of the Church of England. The historical overview displays its background connected to the development of the meaning of baptism within the Western church and its relationship to the Protestant Reformation. The section on the teaching of the Catechism gives an explanation of its content, divided into its main emphases: its covenantal nature displayed in the Christian identity of the baptised person; the basic Christian confession summed up in the Apostle's Creed; God's promulgation of a basic theological and moral code, given in the Ten Commandments; the importance of prayer in a life led by God's gracious gift of salvation through Christ, and the two sacraments of the Gospel. Davie gives the biblical provenance of each section and dwells on the way in which the Catechism elaborates on the meaning of each of the Articles of Faith by its subsequent questions to those being prepared for confirmation.
Martin Davie concludes his guide to the Catechism by arguing for its continuing use (probably in a linguistically revised form) “as a basis for teaching the fundamentals of the Christian faith in basic groups and confirmation classes...It remains an invaluable way of imprinting basic Christian truth in our hearts and minds”. He believes that the original Catechism of the BCP needs to take note of the changes made in the Baptism service of Common Worship to the promises required of parents and godparents. He also believes that other elements of the Christian faith might be incorporated into a new version of the Catechism, as long as it is not stretched too far beyond its present compact nature. However, he thinks that the Revised Catechism, published in 1962, can be improved, especially in some of its theological nuances.
The booklet offers a clear exposition of the history, contents and usefulness of the BCP Catechism as a means of learning about basic Christian teaching. With some adaptation and the inclusion of some additional material, and no doubt imparted using contemporary teaching methods, it will continue to offer a well-tested medium of Christian instruction.