Old-School Discipleship

Topic: Discipleship

“I just accepted Jesus! Now what?”

If you were given the charge of teaching a brand-new, baby Christian the elementary foundations of the faith, where would you start? What would you use to prepare them for right thinking and right living for their new life in Jesus Christ?

Some would suggest reading through a book of the Bible, like the Gospel of John or Romans. Others would recommend a classic that articulates the logic and reasoning for the faith, like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. And others, if completely honest, would have no idea where to start.

In considering the task of educating and discipling a new convert, perhaps it would be helpful to consider how, for hundreds of years, the saints who came before us catechized those who were new in the faith.

Catech…what?

First, don’t let the word “catechize” scare you. It comes from the Greek word katécheó, which means “to instruct or teach orally.” More specifically, it can mean “to learn by nuanced repetition.” Under this type of instruction and training, new believers and children learned the faith through memorizing a set of questions and answers.

For example, here is the very first question and answer from one of the most widely used catechisms, The Westminster Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Some might question the idea of mere memorization as an effective means of discipleship, believing it won’t truly engage the heart. Sure, memorizing sets of questions and answers doesn’t guarantee a genuine conversion, but those who are born-again will certainly have a right understanding of Christian doctrine and living if they master the catechism.

Over the years, there have been as many catechisms created as there are denominations, but what’s fascinating is that almost all (both Protestant and Catholic) have three as their foundation: The Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. And it’s these three elements that we can leverage to teach the essentials of the faith to a new believer.

Head, Heart and Hands

Effective discipleship (teaching and training someone to be a disciple of Jesus) involves influencing a person’s head, heart and hands—what they think, feel and do. The Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments thankfully address each of these specifically.

The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the apostles’ teachings found in the Scriptures. It was used to establish and protect right thinking, or right theology, about God. It aims at our heads. While it’s not an exhaustive account of Christian belief, we can use the creed to establish a firm theological foundation for new converts and children.

Coming directly from the mouth of Jesus, the Lord’s Prayer models for us how to rightly relate to and commune with God through prayer. It aims at our hearts. Many new believers are intimidated at the idea of talking to God through prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer is a perfect way to introduce them to the practice of building relationship through shared conversation with God.

It’s also important for the believer in Christ to live rightly before both God and man. For thousands of years, the Ten Commandments have been the gold standard for godly, righteous behavior. They aim at our hands, pointing us toward behavior that protects us and pleases God. In looking at all of these elements together, this table summarizes how each one aids in discipleship.

The Apostles’ Creed Head Right thinking about God
The Lord’s Prayer Heart Right communion with God
The Ten Commandments Hands Right living for God

For millennia, The Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments have been the curricula of choice for educating new converts and children in the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

So if you’re discipling a new believer or are a new believer yourself, catechisms are a great place to start the journey. Read, study, memorize and apply them, just as the saints of old did before you.


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