Ecumenical Catechism: What Do Christians Believe?

Part 2, Introduction

This catechism (question and answer format that is easily memorized) includes the basics that all Christians agree on. Explanation of concepts and theological words are in italics; so is discussion of remaining controversy. All Christians can learn and accept this, including children. It may also be helpful to those who want to learn about Christianity.

Except for the Thomas Christians in India, there was only one Christian church until A.D. 1054, when the East-West Schism divided the Western church into two branches, later known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church. In 1517, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation with the posting of 95 issues on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. In America and worldwide, the Roman Catholic Church continues intact, the Orthodox Church has many branches of ethnic and national churches, and the Protestant branch has divided into numerous branches and several offshoots with unorthodox teachings that are not technically Christian. The largest of these are the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

While there are differences in beliefs and practice among Christians, much more is common ground. We hope this catechism gives greater understanding and respect where there is lack of knowledge. Perhaps this understanding will cause further dialogue among churches that are now divided. We hope it will cause a revitalization of the ecumenical movement for the challenges facing the church in the 21st century.

We recognize there are many different flavors of Christians, just like ice cream. Each flavor has a strength that makes it unique, and all are part of what God is doing in the world. Even after full discussion and understanding, there may still be differences that cannot be reconciled, but at least we should recognize who our brothers and sisters are.

There are also many non-Christian people who follow good principles. We respect their beliefs and ask that they respect ours. We have much in common, but do not think the tendency of some to paper over our differences is helpful. Removal of crosses from Christian churches may be deferential to other religions, but it also silences the one thing that makes Christianity unique among world religions: the Creator of the universe paying the price for people’s rebellion against Him.

All of us have the tendency to pick and choose what we believe. It goes back to our original sin of wanting to be like God. Many Christians do not accept the Bible as God’s Word; this is especially confusing to non-Christians because these Christians use the same words and recite the same creeds but mean completely different things when they same them. In comments in this catechism, for the sake of brevity, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox refer to those who believe the Bible is true and try to conform their beliefs to its teaching.

We hope this catechism leads to greater understanding, better doctrine (which divides truth from error and doesn’t have to divide people from each other unless we let it), and love, the greatest of these three: faith, hope and love.  (1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”)

This Ecumenical Catechism is adapted from The A, B, C or a Catechism for Young Children, 1641. It is excerpted from School of Faith (The Catechism of the Reformed Church) by Thomas F. Torrance, published by James Clark & Co., 1959.

Catechisms have come back into style lately in Protestant circles, with the New City Catechism recently published by the Gospel Coalition.

This new Ecumenical Catechism adds modern commentary (in italics) to the historic 1641 children’s catechism that is not as well known as the Heidelberg or Westminster Catechisms or the London ConfessionCatechism of the Roman Catholic Church  is available from the Vatican’s website.

Orthodox Church Catechism is also known as the 1830 Catechism of St. Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow.

Here is the start of the Ecumenical Catechism:

Q1. Who made man?

  1. God.

Many will stumble on the very first question! Man means human beings and is not sexist. We can learn to adapt to the Bible’s language rather than change it to fit our modern sensibilities. The first four questions are a summary of Genesis chapters 1-3.

Q2. In what state did He make him?

  1. Perfectly holy in body and soul.

Q3. How did he fall from the good state?

  1. By breaking the commandment of God. (not to eat from the forbidden tree in the Garden – Genesis 2:16-17)

Q4. What punishment followed?

  1. Death and condemnation to him and his descendants.

This is imputed guilt for original sin. Because Adam sinned, all of his descendants are declared guilty. This doesn’t seem fair, but Jesus Christ is the second Adam. By His sinless life and sacrifice on the cross, we are declared not guilty and are clothed in His righteousness. If we don’t like imputed guilt, we can’t have imputed righteousness either!


Discussion questions for second session:

  1. What did you think of the introduction?
  2. If you are in a workplace study group, how do you interact with those who hold differing views? How does a person’s theology impact your particular line of work?
  3. Do you have to believe in a literal account of Genesis 1-3 to accept the Fall of man?
  4. How does this reconcile with theistic evolution, or is it incompatible?
  5. Do you accept original sin from your observations of people and their behavior from early childhood? If not, do you accept that you are a sinner?
  6. As you take prayer requests for members of your study group, remember to pray for leaders in your workplace, other churches, and government leaders of all nations.


About the authors

Raised in the United Methodist Church, Dale Murrish helped plant Troy, Michigan’s Kensington Community Church in 1990. He was ordained an Orthodox Presbyterian Church deacon in 2001 after a year’s training in the Westminster Catechism and church history. Dale and his wife have two grown children and are members of a Gospel Coalition affiliated church in southeast Michigan.

A lifelong Roman Catholic, Reggie Bollich was ordained a Deacon in 2006. His interests include archaeology (has been on several digs in the Holy Land) and mission work in Thailand, the Middle East and Latin America. He and his wife Dottie lived in the Middle East while he worked for Exxon and now live in Lafayette, LA.

Raised in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, Philip Vorgias returned to his ethnic roots and joined the Greek Orthodox Church in 1994. He has a passion for archaeology and history as well as advancing the cause of religious freedom for the indigenous Christian communities in the near and middle east. In this last, Phil is active in Political Action Committees promoting human and religious rights for Christians in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and assuring the US Government raises Religious Rights in foreign policy discussions with those nations.

All three authors have engineering as their first vocation, and a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ecumenical movement.


Thanks go to Deacon Reggie Bollich of Lafayette, Louisiana who wrote on the Roman Catholic perspective and Phil Vorgias of Troy, Michigan who wrote on the Orthodox view. I also appreciate Theodore Karakostas, author of two books on the Orthodox Church, and many other Christians who read the manuscript and offered suggestions.

Permission is granted to copy this catechism and italicized comments in its entirety for non-commercial purposes. The copyright on the original 1641 catechism has obviously long since expired. Some minor rewording of the 1959 edition cited above was done.


Dale Murrish

Troy, Michigan

Copyright 2005, 2017 by Dale Murrish. All rights reserved except as noted above.

Version 3.97, August, 2017

Other articles

Please check out The Michigan Declaration and consider signing it.


In previous blog posts, I began telling the story of my brain tumor and the depression which followed it. The second article in the series described my faith in God which sustained me through both trials.

Having recently started a word-by-word translation of Martin Luther’s Bible from German to English, I introduced the project and published Matthew Chapter 1 . Later I wrote commentary on it; my church background and theological training is in my USA Melting Pot bio.

Dale Murrish writes on historytraveltechnologyreligion and politics for the USA Melting Pot club. LinkedIn, and Troy Patch. You can help this non-profit club by making your Amazon purchases through the link on the left side of their website. You can also see over a dozen ethnic presentations from people with firsthand knowledge under Culture & Country (right hand side), and outdoor presentations (Hobby & Fun), including posts on bicycling, skiing and camping.

Other interesting articles on the USA Melting Pot website have been written by Bilal Rathur on his hajj to Saudi Arabia (Part 6) and by Carl Petersen. Thanks to both of them for their contributions.


Dave Volek Added Aug 24, 2017 - 8:38pm
1. Pretty standard basic Christian teaching. Nothing special.
2. I am quite accepting of working with people of different theological beliefs than mine. I haven't yet met anyone who is of the extreme side of religion.
3. No, I don't have to believe the literal interpretation of Genesis. Sounds too fairy tale to me. But it has symbolic meanings that are actually quite useful today.
4. I don't know what you mean by "theistic evolution", so I shall refrain from commenting.
5. I do not accept original sin in any capacity. I do not accept that I still have to pay for a sin committed by some ancestor thousands of years ago.
Dale Murrish Added Aug 24, 2017 - 8:47pm
Thanks for your comments, Dave. That's the idea of the document - we will discuss differences between Catholic teaching and Protestant in later articles. 
Question 3. has to do with fallen, sinful human beings, taught in Genesis. That's where the idea of original sin comes from. For me, I sin plenty every day, even as a Christian, so I don't think you have to accept the idea of original sin to become a Christian. It does help to explain why people are the way they are, though.
Theistic evolution is the idea that God used the process of macroevolution to create life on earth. It runs contrary to the Genesis account, whether you believe in an old or young earth.
Autumn Cote Added Aug 25, 2017 - 11:26am
Please note, it's against the rules to post more than one article within a 48-hour period.
Dale Murrish Added Aug 25, 2017 - 12:20pm
Thanks for taking the article down, Autumn. Forgot that I had already posted it. You will notice that I have commented on several articles.
Normally I only write one article a week or fewer. Had a hiatus from Writerbeat for a while. The Michigan Declaration and the first article of the Ecumenical Catechism are the best ones I have written lately.
Doug Plumb Added Aug 25, 2017 - 4:09pm
Christianity forgets its eternal value above all else: Christianity brings reason into law, common law into law - law common to all men. All else is details. Christianity has a solid metaphysical foundation that you will not learn in church. See my Dialectic See my Law, The Light Of Reason and Conscience Main Playlist to see how Christianity forms the basis for the Western nation state.
  The churches and Christian groups are so off the mark its scary. If you want to seriously understand Christianity, look only to Immanual Kant.
  Christianity has the disadvantage that it is not cognitively available to everyone, most simply adopt the faith and have no idea what the difference is between Christianity and the older religions such as Judaism and Islam that permit slavery and every kind of human sickness and cruelty that one can imagine and much much more.
John Minehan Added Aug 25, 2017 - 10:47pm
Historically, there was an existing schism between the Oriental Orthodox (including, not just the Thomists in India, but the Copts/Tewahedo Church in Egypt and Ethiopia/Eretria, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Nestorian Church of the East, located in the Sassanid Empire) and the Sees of Constantinople and Rome.  That dated from the time of the Council of Nicea.
Oddly, parts of The Church of the East and some of the Thomists became reconciled with Rome in the early Modern Era as Churches of the eastern Rite in Communion with Rome, while others have remained Oriental Orthodox.