Catechism: For You and Your Children

Bible Globe

This is a blog post for parents, soon-to-be-parents, and those who think they might one day be parents. Admittedly, it's intended to offer up parenting advice, which in many ways is the last thing some parents find to be in short supply. If this is you, I hope you'll find it to be sound, biblical advice worthy of consideration as you continue on or embark upon your parenting journey.

The topic of this post is catechism, that strange, archaic sounding word that many evangelicals of today grew up assuming was primarily a Roman Catholic thing, or perhaps "high church" Protestantism. I'm convinced though, as a dad of four little darlings myself, that this largely forgotten practice deserves a second look by those of us bringing up the church's next generation.

Considered by many to be an out-dated mode of Christian discipleship, the thought of catechizing children today raises more eyebrows than expectations. I suspect, however, that some of the doubts are rooted in a lack of familiarity with the practice, than direct knowledge and experience.

Assuming a lack of personal exposure for those reading this post, let's briefly address the definition of a catechism, and why it seems to me that parents should introduce catechism to this generation, regardless of the Christian tradition to which they belong (i.e. Baptist, non-denominational, Presbyterian, etc.).

Cat-A-What-Ism

Let's consider Merriam-Webster's definition of catechism, as this may dispel some of the rumors.

catechism: (n); cat·e·chism; 1) Oral instruction 2) a **summary** of religious doctrine often in the form of questions and answers [emphasis added]

That's it. Nothing more. Nothing less. What makes a catechism good or bad, useful or useless, however, is the substance it contains.

If we can agree to the basic idea that memorization is an effective (albeit not only) learning tool for young children, and that many of the historic, Protestant catechisms communicate a robust summary of the Christian faith, then the definition given above helps to remove much of the stigma and mystery connected to the catechizing of children.

For Protestant Christians, catechism need not reflect either a return to Rome or a cold-hearted, ivory tower Christianity. In fact, it may be that these few thoughts help us begin the work of building a case for the introduction of catechism into our homes, and, dare I say, many of our churches within broader evangelicalism.

In an era of signifiant biblical illiteracy, catechism presents a low-cost, time-tested push-back against the failures of biblicism, and the "just me and my Bible" movement of the last several decades.

Why Do It

Dr. R. Scott Clark has written insightfully on this matter of catechizing our children, as has Derek Rishmawy at his blog (I recommend you read them). The biblical-theological case for the catechizing of children has been well established in both Scripture and theological writing.

For this post, I'd like to offer just one application based argument for catechism. Consider it an abbreviated case study. It comes from a recent experience I had with my own children, in what should have been an innocent "dad-and-the-kids-watching-TV" moment. Increasingly, it seems our hyper-sexed, over-politicized culture will not allow for such a thing.

Here's what happened.

I sat down recently to watch a children's movie with our middle two. It was a perfectly fine movie with superb graphics, humor, and music. There were a few "more mature" innuendos that had no business being inserted into a kid's movie, but they were mostly over their heads, and not an immediate, discernible threat.

There was one line that caught m attention--one that at least one of my kids would not miss. The hero of the movie made the following statement: 

Everyone deserves to be happy.

For the sake of my children and their growth in the gospel and faith in Christ, I couldn't let that one go. This statement, made by the hero of the movie, was a worldview-shaping, moral-ethical statement on justice that strikes at the heart of the gospel.

The movie was, in effect, catechizing my children by providing an answer to some kind of an assumed question, leading to even more questions, such as:

Do all people deserve to be happy? If not, what do they deserve? From whom or from where does this happiness flow? Does the sin of man and the justice of God mitigate this idea? On what authority do the movie's script writers base their cartoon character's claim?

These are the types of questions that a young mind will eventually begin to form with maturity. Absent an organizing structure, our children's Sunday school lessons are at risk of being reduced to a vague moralism that crumbles in the face of bold cultural assertions.

As parents, we must recognize that at the point of moral-ethical debate, moments our children will face with increasing certainty, lengthy historical narratives (stories) from the Old Testament that require careful exegesis to properly understand and apply will not serve our children well.

On the other hand, catechism provides the scaffolding that a child's mind, heart, and soul needs in order to relate one to another the various biblical principles that influence moral and ethical decision making. And, unlike lengthy biblical narratives, the questions and answers of catechism become more readily available to the mind as they are memorized.

Making the Application

So, how did I respond to our little movie scenario?

I turned it into an opportunity for learning across a spectrum of gospel-related issues. In this case, along with Scripture, the Heidelberg and Westminster Shorter Catechisms were great tools for conversation.

Specifically, I asked my kids (particularly my intuitive six year-old), what the Bible has to say about all people as regards the issue of sin. I took them to Romans 3:23 as a launching point. From there, I led them in a brief five-minute discussion of a couple relevant points from the catechisms, such as:

WSCQ.14: What is sin?

A: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

HBQ. 11: Is not God then also merciful?

A: God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore his justice requires, that sin which committed against the most high majesty of God be also punished.

With relative ease, my children learned that movies aren't necessarily the place we turn to shape how we think about what people deserve.

None of this is expected to neatly wrap up a lifetime of probative questions our children will ask. Still, used in conjunction with the Scriptures, they will possess biblical tools with which to address the messages they receive from the culture around them (and from their own hearts, for that matter).

The use of the catechisms will, among other things, help to craft in them a level of biblical and spiritual discernment that will guard them from blindly accepting "feel good" moral assertions made by the culture. These are the statements that surreptitiously work to undermine their still-forming biblical worldviews.

To You and Your Children

While the evangelical church struggles to turn the ship on biblical illiteracy and discipleship, individual families and households can more quickly implement needed change. The regular practice of catechism is arguably one of the family's greatest opportunities for spiritual growth and unity.

Every time I consult the catechisms with my kids, I'm equally encouraged and equipped for the work of ministry. In this way, catechism becomes a family affair that we all enjoy. After just a short time of use, my own kids were asking (to my great joy), "Daddy, can we do 'some questions'?" It's hard to argue with that result!

The promises of God, found in Scripture alone, are for us and our children. It's our responsibility and great joy to be used by God as vessels of mercy that communicate these promises to their young minds in ways that will be useful to them for a lifetime.

Use the catechisms, and use them often.

Keep It Going

How have you seen catechism used?

What recommendations would you make?

Scripture: Gen. 17:7; Deut. 6:7; Prov. 22:6; Matt. 19:14; Acts 2:39