“Alana, who wrote the Bible?”
“Holy men taught by the Holy Spirit.”
Such a simple exchange, yet with such immense theological significance. This is the strength of catechism.
Ever since our eldest was born, Libby and I have struggled to find the best ways to introduce the truths of scripture to our kids. Of course, reading children’s bibles and devotionals were a good start, but as they grew older, I began to feel that they were ready for more focused study on the implications of the bible stories they were reading. In a world where people from all walks of life twist scripture to fit their narratives, I believe it is important for my kids to have solid theological footing from the very start. After going through a number of resources searching for something to accomplish this end, my attention was drawn back to a historic method of teaching: catechizing.
Depending on your background, a lump may be forming at the back of your throat. Catechism? Isn’t that a Catholic thing? It is an unfortunate truth that the practice of catechizing our children has fallen out of the good graces of most Baptist churches. But it was not always this way.
Catechism is a Reformation Mindset
Catechism amongst Protestant churches more or less began alongside the Reformation. The word comes from the Greek word “katekeo” which literally means “to instruct.” It stands to reason that the Reformers would be adamant about instructing their children in the Bible’s teachings, considering the core values of the Reformation itself. Providing widespread access to scripture in the face of suppression by the Roman Catholic Church was the goal of such giants of the faith as William Tyndale and Martin Luther, after all. To that end, many of the greatest names of the Reformation produced their own versions of catechism, inspired by the very commands of scripture.
When we teach our children catechisms, we are simultaneously obeying the commands of scripture and teaching our children to do the same. God said to the Israelites, “you shall teach [my commands] diligently to your sons 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 up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). In teaching with a catechism, we don’t have to grasp at what that looks like. We simply commit the truths to memory and discuss their effects on our lives. This will, in turn, set those truths on our children’s hearts. Paul commends Timothy’s mother and grandmother in 2 Timothy 1:5 for raising him in the truth, leading to a powerful faith in Timothy himself. And Paul was proud of Timothy, his own “child in the faith”, saying:
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” – 2 Timothy 3:14-15
We also follow in the example of both Jesus and the early church when we catechize our kids. When Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus in Jerusalem, where had he gone? To be in His Father’s house, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). In the book of Acts, we see the example of a Apollos:
“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” – Acts 18:24-25
Solid Footing in Stormy Days
A final reason that I will contend for catechizing our children is one that I have already touched on briefly: it gives them solid theological footing in a swirling ocean of biblical misinterpretations. In just the first few weeks of going through A Catechism for Boys and Girls, there have been several occasions where one of my children will hear something preached from the pulpit, and make a connection to either a question in the catechism that they have memorized, or the scripture references that go along with it. They are able, at the ages of 5 and 7, to define attributes of God that have been gravely misunderstood by grown men of the past and present. And best of all, they enjoy it. Kids love little more than to answer questions, especially when they can be confident of their answers. The catechism gives them a boldness that will only grow alongside their faith.
I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly’s and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation. Those who use it in their families or classes must labour to explain the sense; but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as years pass. May the Lord bless my dear friends and their families evermore, is the prayer of their loving Pastor.
I may be a bit of a newbie myself, but let me offer a few tips for getting started with using catechisms:
- Choose the right one — This can’t be overstated. Not all catechisms are created equal, and many will not align with your understanding of scripture. Should a Baptist use a Catholic catechism to instruct their children? By no means! Research your options carefully, and choose a catechism that seems both theologically sound, as well as age-appropriate. A younger child may have more difficulty memorizing the answers of the Heidelberg Catechism than they would the Baptist “Catechism for Boys and Girls” (which is the one we personally use for our children).
- Be consistent, yet inconsistent — This sounds oxymoronic at first glance, but bear with me. Consistency is absolutely key in memorization for children. There is a reason the Lord commands Israel as they get up, lie down, eat dinner, etc. Repetition is the most effective way to memorize the answers to these questions, so study them as often as you possibly can. At the same time, presenting the questions in the same way every day will get tedious to both you and your children, so find creative ways of reviewing what your children have learned, and mix it up every once in a while. If you know any school teachers, they are generally extremely good at this, and may be a good resource for you.
- Don’t rush — As much as kids love to answer questions, especially when they know the answers, they are also easily deflated when they don’t know the answer to a question. If your child doesn’t get an answer memorized after one session, that’s okay. Take as much time as they need to fully understand the implications of the question. Go through the scripture references that are (usually) included alongside the question. Pair hymns and other biblical studies with the current question set to encourage them to think closely about how the questions relate to biblical stories. Give kids the opportunity to learn at their pace.
“Holy men taught by the Holy Spirit.” With that simple answer, my daughter has the foundation for understanding the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, the springboard for so many other biblical doctrines. What a valuable experience for a young boy or girl growing up in a world that increasingly seeks to bypass truth and morality.