Three Reasons Why I Love the Westminster Catechisms
The Westminster Standards are among the most well-written theological documents in church history, I am convinced. Of course, that shouldn't surprise you considering this is a reformed theology blog and a photo of Westminster Abbey is on the home page of this website. There are many things that I could say about why I find the Westminster Standards so captivating but I would like to share three reasons why the two Westminster Catechisms (Shorter and Larger) are so wonderful.
They Start Existentially
The Westminster Catechisms are not the only reformed catechisms. Alongside these also exists the famous Heidelberg catechism which is another influential Calvinist catechism. Both of these have relatively existential first questions but the Westminster answers perhaps the most basic question right out of the gate: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Everyone at some point must ask this question and the Westminster takes that instinct into the structure of the catechism. WSC Q1 asks, "What is the chief end of man?" and answers, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever". It cuts right to the chase. Why am I here... to glorify and enjoy God.
The Footnotes Are Thorough
In a previous post, I looked at WLC Q150-152 and their insight into the differing levels of heinousness in sin. The gold that truly lies in these three questions is with their footnotes. Scripture is painstakingly referenced with these three questions alone garnering over 130 Scripture citations. These catechisms are steeped in the Word of God and for that, I am incredibly thankful.
They Are Helpful Discipleship Resources
It seems odd to many people that there are two Westminster catechisms, a shorter and a larger. Why not just one catechism to rule them all? This gets to the purpose of catechisms themselves. They are distinct from confessions in their very structure in that they are formatted as questions and answers. Technically, you could just have the Westminster Confession and call it a day but there is a decent amount of theological prior knowledge required to get all there is to get from it. That is not the case with the catechisms.
The catechisms are designed to instruct people in the faith. The term catechism itself stems from the Greek word κατήχησις (katakesis) which means instruction. When people were sharing their faith as they were instructed to (Josh 4:21-24) they were engaging in katakesis. Thus, the Westminster Catechisms are intended to be discipleship tools first and foremost. This brings us back to the fact that there are two catechisms. The Shorter Catechism is, in essence, an abridged and simplified version of the Larger and was intended for the catechizing of children as well as those who were less educated. The introduction to the Shorter even reads, "Approved Anno 1648, by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, to be a Directory for Catechizing such as are of weaker capacity". These are meant to be discipleship tools for the good of the local church.