Feathers for Worms

Once upon a time there was a robin who didn’t like to work for his daily rations. The story says that he made a bargain in which he promised to swap a feather for each worm he would receive. Day after day he got his living the easy way, until he had no feathers left. Thereupon he got no worms, and without feathers he was unable to fly in search of food. Thus the poor bird died.

R. F. Gribble, professor of Old Testament at Austin Theological Seminary, calls attention to this fable in his article on “The Shorter Catechism” (So. Pres. Journal, March 30, 1960). He is convinced that many Presbyterians have like the robin bartered the i r spiritual birthright. Here he makes several sharp and striking statements.

“The day was lamentable, when the Presbyterian Church allowed lethargy, or liberalism, or psychology, or a combination of them, to persuade it to discard the Catechism…We have become earthbound, money-mad, pleasure-bent, intoxicated, literally and spiritually, by the spirit(s) of the times.

“Of course. all this sad situation is not chargeable to our jettison of the Shorter Catechism, but the present state is in no small measure due to the removal of the Shorter Catechism from the church’s life, from our homes, from our pulpits, and from our Sunday Schools…It is of more than passing interest to note that the debacle in morals is concomitant with, if not directly consequent of, our diminishing doctrinal interest…In a number of instances the remark has been heard that the officers simply do not know the doctrines of our Church.”

He pleads for a reintroduction of this venerable instrument into the life of his church. Only this, he argues, will bring intellectual progress and practical advancement in spiritual life. It would help to “regain our lost momentum in evangelism, as also our historical position in evangelicalism.” He closes with the remark:

“Folk who dwell in mountainous lands develop strong physiques. So also, people who dwell in the sublime heights of Scriptural doctrine develop and maintain ample spiritual proportions, tall mentality, hardy stamina, godly character. Truth is in order to godliness—so our forefathers held; so we hold.”

As a Reformed church we would echo a hearty “amen” to these words which give unstinted praise to catechetical training. Our synods have repeatedly urged consistories to continue the classes for longer periods of time. Never has there been hesitation in judging them superior to the Sunday School and far more necessary. Judged by what we profess, our ledger as church looks good.

But what about our practice? Precisely how long is the catechetical season in your church? How faith· fully do children and young people attend? What provisions has consistory made for a pleasant and well-furnished room in which to work? How much interest and cooperation do the parents display? How often during the past year have programs or parties, whether by home or church or school, been allowed to interfere? Sunday School is usually held for nine and in some churches at least ten months each year. Catechetical work, we fear, is often restricted to seven months of work, and even less when vacations arc given at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Possibly we in the Christian Reformed Church are more like the foolish robin than we dare admit even to ourselves.