Mention the word “indoctrinate” these days and you’ll probably get varied responses. Those of a more conservative political bent are likely to envision rows of people in drab uniforms being taught to unquestioningly bend to the will of some totalitarian regime. More liberal folks may instead picture adults building and reinforcing racist attitudes in young children. Now, to be sure, both of these images are extremely negative and most likely both groups of people would want to avoid both imagined scenarios. The problem is not in opposing either of these imagined worlds, but in the negative attitude most people carry toward the word “indoctrinate.”
The word “indoctrinate” is obviously tied to the word “doctrine,” which simply means “teaching.” When we indoctrinate people, we are teaching them about our beliefs and convictions in such a way as to convince them that we are right in our thinking. And everyone does it! Every child is indoctrinated by his or her parents and school. This became clear to me one day when I reacted to one of my kids as he rolled down the window in the car and threw a piece of trash onto the side of the road. I couldn’t believe he just littered for no reason at all! Then I remembered all the public service announcements and commercials I had seen as a child about the evil of littering. I had been indoctrinated, and had somehow neglected to teach my children the maxim, “Don’t mess with Texas.”
The reality is that child-rearing and education are largely concerned with indoctrination. I want to pass my values and beliefs on to my children. If I fail to indoctrinate them, there is no doubt that someone else will (school, television, friends, etc.). They will absorb a worldview and they will form values and opinions. The only question is whether they will learn those things from me or someone else.
The Bible speaks directly to the need for parents to indoctrinate their children. Moses commanded the Israelites, ““And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise,” (Deut 4:6-7). In the New Testament, Paul commands Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” (Titus 2:1). Now the issue is broadened out beyond the family to the entire church. Parents must indoctrinate their children and pastors must indoctrinate the church.
To that end, I’d like to suggest that we embrace a very old form of religious instruction that is helpful for both parents and churches: the catechism. Now, I know many of my fellow Baptists have as negative a reaction to the word “catechism” as they do to “indoctrinate.” But that has not always been the case. In the past, Baptists have made good use of these simple question-and-answer approaches to teaching theology. What Christian doesn’t teach his son that God created him and all the world? What believer doesn’t want his children to know that God made all things for his glory and that Christ gave his life for our sins. Now, we can haphazardly teach these and many other theological truths to our kids, or we can follow an organized pattern of instruction in which our children learn the correct answers to questions covering all the major areas of Christian doctrine and life. That’s what a catechism is for!
If we would obey God’s word (as families and churches) we must be committed to indoctrinating children with the truth. If we would make use of the work of past saints and learn from their example, we should use catechisms to accomplish this great task. So, for those who want help in the task, I suggest the following catechisms (pick one):
A Catechism for Boys and Girls (This is the one I use.)
The Baptist Catechism
A Brief Catechism of Bible Doctrine (Printed by the Sunday School Board of the SBC in 1864)