What do you think of when you hear the word ‘catechism’?
Some evangelical churches today still use catechisms to teach the faith, but other believers view catechisms as just ‘a Catholic thing’, or as outdated relics from the Protestant Reformation. When you mention the word ‘catechism’, words like ‘fresh’ and ‘innovative’ don’t often spring to mind. But sometimes the best way forward is by looking backwards.
For the past couple of years, I have been working together with Dr. Natee Tanchanpongs (pastor, Grace City Bangkok Church) and Mr. Chaiyasit Suebthayat (elder, New City Fellowship Church in eastern Bangkok) to write a new catechism in the Thai language. The three of us have written the new Thai Christian Catechism from the ground up, borrowing from the Westminster Shorter Catechism at times, but organising the catechism differently and covering slightly different ground in terms of what is included and how it is expressed. Although catechisms have waned in popularity, it is our conviction that the question-and-answer format of the catechism is fundamentally sound and can still be used effectively today, even in non-Western contexts.
Reformation-era catechisms like Westminster and Heidelberg can be superb for English (or German) speakers who don’t mind the older language, but translations of these catechisms end up sounding clunky and unnatural in Thai. The truth in them is sound, but it is difficult to maintain accuracy to the original without sacrificing readability. Also, the questions and issues of Europeans hundreds of years ago are not always the same as contemporary Thai believers. Sure, there is a vast amount of overlap because the duty of all Christians is to preserve ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude 1:3). However, we wanted a biblically faithful catechism that is readable and accessible for modern Thai Christians, addressing issues of faith that are both essential and current for Thai churches.
After a short introduction and suggestions for use, the Thai Christian Catechism is divided into twelve short chapters, containing about five questions and answers each, for a total of 72 question and answer pairs. Each pair is followed by several Bible verse references to facilitate personal and group study. It is 47 pages long – easy for carrying around and not intimidating for people who are not big readers.
We aimed to write a catechism that includes turns of phrase, vocabulary, and points of reference that Thai readers would understand. The catechism is a constructive presentation of the Christian faith, but written in such a way that common misunderstandings and objections arising from Thai Buddhism, animism, and popular false aberrant teaching are answered. Questions and controversies about worship and the work of the Holy Spirit are common today, so we included a chapter each to address those topics. The other chapters included are the Bible, God, Humanity, Sin, Jesus Christ, Salvation, the Church, Prayer, the Laws (namely the creation mandate, the Greatest Commandment, and the Great Commission), and the End Times.
There are no chapters addressing Buddhism or animism directly, but interaction with those beliefs appear throughout. A few examples will help illustrate this.
Q: How is God the Creator?
A: God created the heavens and the earth. God is eternal and no one created God. God created from nothing all things that are seen and unseen through the Word and the Spirit. Everything that God created is good.
Buddhism has no creation story and it is important to establish God as the creator of all things, including the spirit world that many folk Buddhists/animists believe in. This answer helps establish that God is over any and every spiritual power.
One of the major themes of Buddhism is suffering and how to escape from it. The true source of suffering and the only way of real escape are addressed in questions #22 and #23:
Q: What are the results of sin?
A: Sin is the source of suffering that is experienced by individuals, in society, and in the environment.
Q: What plan does God have to fix the sin problems of this world?
A: God the Father sent Jesus Christ, his only Son, into this world to help humanity to escape from sin, suffering, and death because one cannot depend on oneself.
This question and answer pair includes suffering, sin and death as something that Christ frees us from. The Thai phrase translated here as ‘escape’ is borrowed from a common Thai phrase about not being able to escape from karma. The Thai phrase translated as ‘one cannot depend on oneself’ is easily recognised by Thai speakers for its similarity to the common Thai Buddhist phrase ‘One can only depend on oneself.’
The Thai Christian Catechism was published with assistance in layout, design, and printing from Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand). Initial sales have been encouraging and feedback from Thai believers has been positive. People are finding it clear and easy to understand.