Catechesis for living

Daily Reading for June 18 • Bernard Mizeki, Catechist and Marytr in Mashonaland, 1896

Despite disincentives and persecution, people [in the early church] were drawn to churches in which there was spiritual power, question-posing behavior and a combination of catholicity with community. But what was it that formed Christians and Christian communities so that they would embody these qualities that attracted outsiders? Two community-forming realities stand out: catechesis and worship. . . .

At least from the second century believers were not baptized until they had gone through a lengthy process of catechesis. . . . Teachers and sponsors taught the candidates a new way of living and of viewing the world. The teachers imparted new narratives—the stories of the Bible, which replaced the traditional narratives of the culture, and gave the candidates biblical texts to memorize—key passages that expressed Christianity’s beliefs and that reinforced its values of economic sharing and nonviolence. . . . The teachers taught the candidates how Christians live. They taught by their own example; their catechumens were their apprentices in the faith. But they taught also by overseeing the candidates’ progress in forms of behavior that were characteristic of the Christian community—care of the poor, works of mercy, nonviolence. . . .

Why, we may wonder, all this emphasis upon catechesis? . . . The reason goes to the heart of the early Christian approach to mission. The Christians did not offer the world intellectual formulas; they offered a way of life rooted in Christ. The Christians were not mute—they were “talkative in corners,” workplaces and face-to-face relationships. But in general their verbal witness grew out of the attractive, distinctive qualities of their lifestyle. The Christians commented on this. “Beauty of life,” Minucius Felix wrote around 200, “causes strangers to join the ranks. . . . We do not preach great things; we live them.”

From “ ‘They Alone Know the Right Way to Live’: The Early Church and Evangelism” by Alan Kreider, in Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future, edited by Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2008).

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