On the Need for Catechisms

Originally drafted August 31, 2022 and last tended May 16, 2023 by Matt McElwee.
(See Revision History).

  • Accuracy:

    This has a few factual errors, especially around the Didache. It could also use some additional work to fill in the history.

  • Certainty:


  • Completeness:


  • Mental Effort:

    This is a copy and paste from the introduction to a catechism I wrote for Flatland Church. In it's initial iteration here is is largely unchanged, but needs a lot of work.

Jesus commanded his followers to disciple the nations. This command has followed each generation of the Church in an unbroken succession since Christ’s Resurrection. A necessary component of this discipling is naturally, first, the conversion of people through the power of the Holy Spirit, repentance, and acceptance of Christ’s kingship.

However, it has become common to spend the bulk of our energy in merely the conversion of people, rather than to the direct discipleship of those converted.1 This is a natural inclination for Christ-followers, as indeed we wish to see all people saved. Yet it seems that over the past half-century, greater emphasis has been spent on bringing sheep into the fold to the neglect of creating resilient disciples. This is certainly why we see a serious decline in Church attendance with a continual downward trend in the West of young people.

If then, the models of Bill Hybels2 and the Beatles have failed us, we ought to look back to the earliest days of the Church. The early centuries of the Church recognized that there is crucial importance to the instruction of new believers. Of course, head knowledge is not adequate to the creation of resilient disciples. Rather, practices and instruction that capture mind, body, heart, soul, and daily practice are the only things sufficient to properly discipling life-long Jesus apprentices.


In the early days of the Church, the Apostles crafted a short encyclical for Gentile believers entitled The Didache,3 which served as one of the earliest examples we have of structured teaching of Church doctrine. Within a century or two we would see the rise of several structured instruction manuals for teaching new converts on their way to Baptism. We know from Augustine’s sermons (late 4th century) that by the time he was in ministry, the Church had a year-long process in which new converts would be taught the beliefs and practices of the Christian faith prior to their baptism.

This practice was known as catechism, from a Greek word that meant, “to teach orally.” This practice was used throughout Church history to varying degrees. During the Reformation, many reformers sought to develop new catechisms for their flocks to help impart the important truths of the faith, no longer mediated through the Magisterium.


  1. It is worth noting here that if we believe that it is the Holy Spirit who draws all people to Christ, then we must accept to some extent that the Holy Spirit, not the individual, is the primary agent of salvation. To believe otherwise is to venture into a form of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism. This is not to say that man has no freewill nor that he has no agency in the choice to become allegiant and repent. Yet if the Spirit is the primary agent, perhaps we ought to have at all times been more focused on the discipleship of the converted than the conversion of the unconverted, not to the exclusion of the latter but certainly recognizing the decades long neglect of the former.

  2. With the recent work I've been doing on megavangelicalism, I think that while this point alliterates and packs a punch, it would be better to expound on the shift into the model which Hybels adopted (but didn't create).

  3. Note: This footnote is incorrect. It is worth noting that at no point during the history of the Church was The Didache ever considered part of the Biblical canon, nor was its inclusion considered as far as we are aware. However, we do see references by some fathers as early as the Third Century, and more and more have come to believe that The Didache was either written directly by the Apostles or was a compilation by the successors/disciples of the Apostles of the commonly shared teachings of the Apostles.