In his essay, “Is the Shorter Catechism Worthwhile,” Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield argues for the importance of the Westminster Shorter Catechism by stating that the catechism always leaves an indelible mark, especially, in the lives of young people. Warfield is right. My life testifies to this truth.
In God’s hard providence I did not have the privilege to grow up with my father. However, the Lord provided a fatherly figure in my grand father, Gannet Makhalira. He raised me on a farm in a rural part of Malawi. He was a Presbyterian church elder and one of the godliest men I have ever known. Early in my childhood he read to me the Bible and explained its truths. When I turned eight, he bought me the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He encouraged and helped me to read and memorize its truths.
But later, I moved from the farm to live in a city where my mum and my stepfather lived and worked. Life in the city was better in many ways but, as I would discover, it also had its own challenges. City life exposed me to different life styles and the one that attracted me the most was Rastafarianism.
On the surface Rastafarianism seems to be a life style of listening to Reggae music, growing dreadlocks, and adorning oneself with the bright colors of red, yellow, and green. But there is more to it. Rastafarianism is a religion. So, the more I became attracted to it, the deeper I went into its beliefs and practices. I became so involved that I stopped going to church and began gathering with fellow Rastas to worship Jah Rastafari. The shorter catechism boy was no longer seeking to glorify and enjoy the true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I wandered further from the Lord, the indelible mark of the catechism on my heart and mind never faded away. Its truths kept reverberating back into my memory. But for the time, the grip of sin and rebellion was stronger. I was not interested in returning. My mother invited elders from church to talk with me, but it never worked. Yet, when I was alone, the truths of the Westminster Shorter Catechism kept pricking my heart with conviction. Such wonderful truths like Question and Answer 5 which I had memorized with a zeal of a child would not leave me alone: “Are there more Gods than one?” “There is but one only, the living and true God.”
For four years I continued to run from the Lord, until one day a Christian friend at school invited me to a youth retreat organized by his church. One thing that attracted me was the retreat was being held at the beautiful Lake Malawi. So I went. During the retreat, the preacher preached from Acts 2. He focused on God’s dealing with his people, Israel. The accounts of the Lord being gracious to these stiff-necked people, who kept rebelling against him and eventually rejected and killed Christ, resonated with me. The Lord had been so gracious to me. He gave me a rich Christian heritage, but I was a stiff-necked fool abandoning the riches of God’s grace for things that would not satisfy. The Holy Spirit convicted me by this sermon. Later in the afternoon I went into my room, knelt by my bed, and thanked the Lord for the wonderful heritage he had graciously given me. Then I confessed my sin and rebellion and asked the Lord to forgive me and receive me back.
That was my turning point. About two years thereafter, I enrolled in Bible college to study and become a Bible and theology teacher. I served in that capacity for almost a decade and then I sensed God’s call into pastoral ministry. I flew about 9000 miles from Malawi to study at a seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Last year, I came under care in the Great Lakes Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America and hope to be ordained as a Teaching Elder. My desire is to return home to plant confessional Presbyterian churches, by God’s grace.
Warfield in his essay later asks, “Did any one ever know a devout man who regretted having been taught the Shorter Catechism in his youth? How its forms of sound words come reverberating back into the memory, in moments of trial and suffering, of doubt and temptation, giving direction to religious aspirations, firmness to hesitating thought, and guidance to a stumbling thought?” We all know the answer! It is not because the catechism has intrinsic power to change lives. No! It is the word of God that saturates it, which the Holy Spirit uses to leave an indelible mark in our lives. Thank God for the catechism!