Friday, May 1, 2015

Early Church, Catechisms and Dads

If we think of the systematic teaching of doctrine within the home as a practice originating during the Reformation period, we've missed about 1,500 years.  I've been doing some research in the early church writings, (the Apostolic Fathers  (1st/2nd Century) to be exact), for my current doctoral research and I came across the following:
"...and let us first teach ourselves to follow the commandment of the Lord.  Then instruct your wives to continue in the faith delivered to them and in love and purity, cherishing their own husbands in all fidelity and loving all others equally in all chastity, and to teach their children with instruction that leads to the fear of God."-The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, 4.1-2, Mid 2nd Century (Trans. Michael Holmes).

This epistle, while not canonical, gives us insights into the Christian practice and pastoral thought of the time.  Beginning with the head of the household (paterfamilias- in Roman culture), the instruction in the things of God, and instruction that "leads to the fear of the Lord", was to be commonplace in the Christian home.  Fathers, nurturing their wives in the Word (Eph 5) and in turn, mothers (and fathers) teaching their children.  Elsewhere, this same principle is given:
"Let us fear the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us.  Let us respect our leaders; let us honor the older men; let us instruct the young with instruction that leads to the fear of God.  Let us guide our women toward that which is good." -1st Clement, 21.6, Late 1st Century (Tran. Michael Holmes).

Must we turn to these passages to find warrant for family catechesis?  Certainly not.  We have Colossians 3 and Ephesians 6 and Titus 2,  which all give Divinely inspired warrant for the need to teach and instruct within the home.  Paul writes for example, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4, ESV).   The word translated "discipline" is the same word used in the Polycarp passage for instruction (paideia). These later Patristic writings show that 50 years, and 100 years (respectively) after Paul, the call within the Christian church was for the households, led by the fathers, to be instructed in teaching that led to the fear, and ultimately, the worship of God.  This instruction would undoubtedly have been conducted utilizing apostolic teaching/Scripture, some of which may have been regularly read and sung (Colossians 1:15-20 for example) or perhaps early creeds. 

We live in a day where the idea that fathers should lead their families spiritually is usually a). rejected as ultimately misogynistic  b). assented to in churches, but lackadaisically avoided, or c). desired, but met with uncertainty over how to embark upon it.  Not sure how to start?  Pick up a catechism and read it yourself...share it together with your wife, and use it with you kids, both formally and informally (my kids and I have invented a "Catechism Game").  What was the thinking of the early church after the Apostles had died?  In part, fathers, lead out in catechizing your kids...