This morning our men’s group studied what the Bible has to say about catechizing our children. This is a method of family discipleship that has come upon hard times in the church in the West because we have entrusted the spiritual nurture of our children to ministry professionals. We also are plagued with a sense of our own inadequacy for spiritually leading our families. I would urge you to read the below and ask the Lord to show you one thing that you can do to become more intentional about passing the baton of faith in Jesus to your kids.
I. What is catechizing?
- A catechism is simply a series of questions and answers that systematically teach a body of information.
- Catechize comes from the Greek word ‘katecheo’ meaning to instruct. The body of information is taught by a catechist, literally one who instructs others in the Christian faith. Those who are taught are called catechumen.
II. Why should you catechize your children?
- It is a tried and proven method of raising children in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
- It is simple and does not require additional resources and training.
- It exposes you and your children to a rich reservoir of theological, devotional, and practical content. It is an effective way to teach them a framework of biblical knowledge that helps them develop a Christian worldview that will enable them to fulfill 1 Peter 3:15 — “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
- To familiarize yourself and your children with the foundational and transformational truths of sound doctrine. Most Protestant, Reformed Catechisms expound in some fashion the Decalogue, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments.
- It engenders the excellent habit of memorizing by verbal repetition.
III. For what purpose has the church catechized in the past?
- The catechism prepares our children and newly converted adults to publicly profess their faith. It gives them a methodical arrangement and summary of essential Christian doctrine. (Calvin, Institutes, 4.19.4,13).
- “The infants, therefore, who had been initiated by baptism, not having then given a confession of faith to the Church, were again, toward the end of their boyhood or on adolescence, brought forward by their parents, and were examined by the bishop in terms of the Catechism which was then in common use. In order that this act, which otherwise justly required to be grave and holy, might have more reverence and dignity, the ceremony of laying on of hands was also used” (Institutes, 4.19.4)
- “Catechizing by which those in boyhood, or immediately beyond it, would give an account of their faith in the face of the Church. And the best method of catechizing would be, if a form were drawn up for this purpose, containing, and briefly explaining, the substance of almost all the heads of our religion, with which the whole body of the faithful ought to concur without controversy. A boy of ten years of age would present himself to the Church, to make a profession of faith, would be questioned on each head, and give answers to each. If he was ignorant of any point, or did not well understand it, he would be taught. Thus, while the whole Church looked on and witnessed, he would profess the one true sincere faith with which the body of the faithful, with one accord, worship one God. Were this discipline in force in the present day, it would undoubtedly whet the sluggishness of certain parents, who carelessly neglect the instruction of their children, as if it did not at all belong to them, but who could not then omit it without public disgrace; there would be a greater agreement in faith among the Christian people, and not so much ignorance and rudeness; some persons would not be so readily carried away by new and strange dogmas; in fine, it would furnish all with a methodical arrangement of Christian doctrine” (Institutes, 4.19.13).
- It serves as a test of orthodoxy for those who would be ordained as pastors, teachers and officers in gospel ministry
- Richard Baxter said of Westminster Shorter Catechism, “It is the best Catechism I ever saw — a most excellent sum of the Christian faith and doctrine, and a fit test to try the orthodoxy of its teachers.”
- “As truly as in the cases of the Nicene and Chalcedonian formularies, the Westminster Standards mark an epoch in the history of human reflection on the truths of the gospel—an epoch in the attainment and registry of doctrinal truth; and as truly in the one case as in the other the statements they give of the truths that fall in their sphere are scientifically final. All attempts at restatement must either repeat their definitions or fall away from the purity of their conceptions or the justness of their language.” (Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Significance of the Westminster Standards as a Creed,” 1897)
- J.S. Mill claimed in his famous essay, On Liberty that the Scots had become mental philosophers of the first order through their study of the Bible and the Shorter Catechism. Douglas Kelly noting the work of Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance, states that “children brought up on the Catechism have a greater capacity for conceptual thinking (as opposed to merely pictorial thinking) than those who never memorized it.”
- The Anglo-Catholic essayist, J.A. Froude, who spoke of “the Scottish peasant as the most remarkable man in Europe,” traced the dignity, intellect, and character of the typical Scottish peasant up to that time, “as largely flowing from the memorization of the Shorter Catechism” (Douglas F. Kelly, “The Westminster Shorter Catechism,” Carson and Hall (ed), in To Glorify and Enjoy God, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), p.124-125).
IV. Where do you start?
- For you and your small children:
First Catechism: Teaching Children Bible Truths, Great Commission Publications, 1996. This is a resource for children ages 2-5.
Big Truths for Little Kids: Teaching Your Children to Live for God, Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1999.
- For you and your big children:
The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly (With Scripture references). Free Presbyterian Publications, First Published 1648; reprinted 1998.
The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture, Thomas Vincent. Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, First Published 1674; reprinted 1998.