Ecumenical Catechism, What Do Christians Believe? (Part 1)

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Part 1 of our new Ecumenical Catechism has the Foreward, three famous hymns with backstories, and links to two classic sermons.

 

Part 1

Foreward – Why are we writing this?

 

As you begin reading this series of articles, you might wonder “Why was this written?” or possibly “What relevance does this have today?”  Life brings much joy and sorrow, noticeably exacerbated by the heartbreaking division among Christians.  God has put the ecumenical movement on our hearts, and we get upset when someone bashes believers from other backgrounds. We hope this stirs the souls of its readers and provokes the body of believers in Jesus Christ to pursue solidarity, to work together where there is common ground, and to reject further fractures.  We believe Christ is most glorified when this happens.

 

As 2017 unfolded, our world seemed to be more polarized than it has been in a long time. Many magazine articles have been written about the divided opinions following the last Presidential election and people’s reluctance to discuss politics at all in family gatherings. So why risk reopening old wounds on another taboo topic: religion?

 

If we don’t discuss controversial topics, we will be stuck with our preconceived ideas about what other people think. Often we will be wrong. Because in any kind of dispute, be it marital, religious or political, understanding the other person’s point of view requires a lot of work. Sincere work.

 

We have attempted to write from a neutral point of view, hoping that it spurs dialogue using the Covey principles, which are admired by people of all different faith traditions and no particular faith. Ask questions for clarification and seek greater understanding rather than promote further distortions and misrepresentations. Perhaps this approach can be applied in other areas such as politics as well, to increase the civility of dialogue.

 

We hope this series of articles adds unity rather than causing further division and controversy among Christians. This project started in 2005 and has grown in scope as time went on. Recently we separated it into ten sections for small group study and added hymns to open and close the sessions. Music has a way of unifying people, so if there is any controversy from the discussions, hopefully it will be defused by the singing and prayers of the fellowship group. We have chosen a variety of hymns, some well-known and others less so, from a variety of faith traditions over the centuries.

 

Everyone should learn something, either about music or a faith tradition that is different from their own. We have structured it so it can be a brief overview for those with little time and included links, proof texts and references for those who want to use it a study guide or small group resource.

 

Our objective is to move atheists, Deists and agnostics towards theism, and theists towards Christianity as the most reasonable of the theistic religions. We resonate with this sermon from William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.  Booth describes a raging ocean with a few people working to rescue those who are struggling in the water. It is worth re-reading, even if you have read it before.

 

We would add that many of those in the water insist they are not in the water or say they are enjoying snorkeling and looking at the tropical fish. And perhaps the water is really warm and calm. Some of them hurl insults at those who would dare tell them they need to trust in Christ. When we encounter these types of people, we need creative ways to show them what they are missing.

 

In 1899, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army as it once was, made a prediction concerning what would happen in the 20th century. Booth said, “The chief dangers that confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God and heaven without hell.” Booth was right, in our opinion. We pray these trends would be reversed in the 21st century.

 

May the words and Scripture references we have added to the great work of fellow Christians who have gone before us (hymn-writers and theologians) be pleasing to our Lord Jesus and promote better understanding and unity among His people.

 

 

Amazing Grace         John Newton, 1779 / Traditional American melody, arranged by Edwin O. Excell, 1900                      

 

This famous hymn, written by former slave trader turned pastor John Newton, is familiar to most people. This article tells the story of William Wilberforce, main subject of the movie Amazing Grace, who was influenced by John Newton and others to serve in Parliament during the fight to end the slave trade in Great Britain. This popular version by Chris Tomlin adds a modern chorus to the classic verses.

 

                                                                                 

Discussion questions for opening session:

  1. What do you hope to get from this study?
  2. If your study group is just forming, take time to introduce yourselves and try an ice breaking activity.
  3. Do you ever discuss religion or politics at your workplace lunch table? Why or why not?
  4. Do you think there is benefit in adopting secular ideas like those of Stephen Covey? For example, his fifth habit “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Can you agree to disagree without being disagreeable?
  5. How much do you know about the theological views of other Christians in your group? Are doctrinal issues ever discussed?
  6. 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?
  7. 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.

 

It is Well With My Soul                               Horatio Spafford, 1873 / Philip p. Bliss, 1876

 

Presbyterian layman Horatio Spafford lost his fortune in the Great Chicago fire of 1871. Here is the story of how the hymn came to be written.

 

Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck: “Desiring a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join and assist Dwight Moody and [his musician Ira] Sankey in one of their campaigns in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre. He expected to follow in a few days.
 
“On November 22 the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, ‘Saved alone.’” 

Spafford left immediately to join his wife. This hymn is said to have been penned as he approached the area of the ocean thought to be where the ship carrying his daughters had sunk. It is a popular hymn even today with new versions being sung by various artists and traditional choir versions, but not many people know the story behind it.

           

 

How Great Thou Art                        Stuart Hine, 1949 / Swedish folk melody, Arr. by Hine, 1949

 

This familiar hymn was written as a poem in Swedish by Carl Boberg, later sung to a Swedish folk melody. It has been translated from Swedish into German, Spanish and Hawaiian among other languages.

 

In the 1920s, English missionary to Poland Stuart Hine heard the Russian version of the hymn, later translating it into English. This link to an article in the St. Augustine Record by Lindsay Perry. author of 36 books, tells more of the story.

 

For biographies of the authors of the Ecumenical Catechism, click here.

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.

 

Sincerely,
Dale Murrish
Troy, Michigan
dale@USAMeltingpot.org
http://usameltingpot.org/author/dale/
Copyright 2005, 2017 by Dale Murrish. All rights reserved except as noted above.
Version 3.97, August, 2017

 

Past Articles in the Ecumenical Catechism Series

 

For a hymn that goes with the Introduction to the Ecumenical Catechism (and questions 1-4) and the history behind the hymn, click on Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.

 

 

A second hymn with its history and a great picture of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse can be found at This is My Father’s World.

 

A third hymn (He Hideth My Soul in the Cleft of the Rock) is by America’s Hymn Queen, Fanny Crosby.

 

Part 3 of the Ecumenical Catechism has questions 5-12Part 4 of the Ecumenical Catechism discusses the Apostle’s Creed, which is believed by Christians of all denominations.

 

Part 5 of the Ecumenical Catechism lists the books included in the Bible and Sacraments recognized by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians. Part 6 of our new Ecumenical Catechism explores the differences in views of the two main Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

 

Part 7 of our new Ecumenical Catechism discusses how Christians live in grateful obedience to God and fight an ongoing battle against the sin that remains in their lives.

 

October 31 marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Many biographies of Luther and his influence on church history have recently been written. Here is an article reviewing 25 of them.

 

Part 8 discusses different views of praying to Saints and the Lord’s Prayer, which all Christians agree on. Part 9 discusses two interpretations of Peter’s Confession of Christ, Mary and the brothers of Jesus, Pentecostalism, Science and the Bible, and has links to the catechisms of various churches.

 

Part 10 has the Conclusion and Epilogue, three famous hymns and links to previous articles in the Ecumenical Catechism series.

 

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.