Every Child Deserves the Catechisms

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

The topic for today is catechism, that strange, archaic sounding word that most evangelicals of today grew up believing was primarily a Roman Catholic thing, if not "high church" Protestantism. I am convinced though, as a dad of four little darlings, that this particular advice is, generally speaking, as valuable for today's generation as ever.

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

Assuming a lack of personal exposure for those who may stumble upon this post, let's briefly address the definition of a catechism, and why it seems to me that more of parents today ought to give it a hard look, regardless of the Christian tradition to which they may belong (i.e. Baptist, non-denominational, Presbyterian, etc.).


Let's consider Merriam-Webster's definition of catechism. This alone 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 contained inside. 

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 (re)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, 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 the purposes of this post, I'd like to offer just one practical-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.

Alas, the culture in which we live will not allow for such a thing, it seems.

I sat down one recent morning with my kids to watch a children's movie they had just been gifted. 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 child's movie, but they were mostly over their heads, and not an immediate, discernible threat.

There was one that was of concern to me--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 could not let that one go. This statement, made by the hero of the movie, and therefore impactful in the mind of a child, was a worldview-shaping, moral-ethical statement on justice that strikes at the heart of the gospel.

Do all people deserve to be happy?

If not, what do they deserve, if anything?

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 and others are the types of questions that a young mind will eventually begin to form with maturity. Absent an organizing structure around which to cling, all of the Sunday school lessons of a lifetime may be reduced to a vague moralism that crumbles in the face of cultural pressure. 

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, catechism questions and answers 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, with, in this case, the Heidelberg and Westminster Shorter Catechisms and, of course, Scripture as my tools. 

I asked my kids (particularly my intuitive and inquisitive 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 jump-off point. From there, I led them in a brief five-minute discussion of a couple relevant points from the Westminster Shorter and Heidelberg catechisms, as follows:

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

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...

None of this is expected to neatly wrap up a lifetime of probative questions my children will surely have in the years to come. 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 the biblical worldview we're attempting to instill in them.

To You and Your Children

While the evangelical church struggles to turn the ship on biblical illiteracy and discipleship, individual families and households can easily and more quickly implement needed change for the good of their children. The benefit to the whole family of the regular practice of catechism is arguably one of its greatest strengths.

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

For these and other reasons, I would suggest, contra our movie character's declaration that everyone deserves to be happy, that every child deserves to be happily catechized. The promises of God, given to us throughout Scripture, are for them. It's our responsibility and great joy to be used by God as vessels of mercy that communicate these promises to their impressionable minds in ways that will be useful to them.

The catechisms provide for us what may be one of the strongest tools for Christian discipleship ever developed. I say: use them, and use them often.

For added emphasis, recall that while you may forget or neglect to catechize your children, our post-Christian American culture will not.

It has a message for your children.

Do you?

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

~ Joshua Waulk

Has Your Church Partnered with Us?

The local church is central to all that we do at Baylight Counseling. As a para-church ministry, we exist not to be served by the local church, but to serve by helping our counselees find true and lasting hope in the one who gave his life as a ransom for many, Jesus Christ.

Since 2013, we've been working to refine and make better our ministry services in order to effectively and efficiently serve the local church and her pastors as an adjunct partner for the care of their people. Today, we'd like to deepen those relationships by introducing a new effort: the Church Partnership Program.

Under this program, which will increase in size and scope as time passes, we desire to give to the churches we serve as much as we receive in overall support from them. The goal of this effort is to establish a network of local churches that are finding relief to the questions: Where do we send our people when they need extended counseling, and who can we trust to be faithful to the message of the Gospel?

We believe Baylight is the perfect resource to answer the counseling dilemma for the local church of Tampa Bay, and we invite pastors, elders, and deacons to consider this new opportunity to take a decisive and intentional step for faithful and trustworthy soul care.

In the future, we anticipate additional ministry offerings, to include equipping seminars focused upon common shepherding issues faced by pastors and small group leaders. Partnering churches will have access to these seminars t no additional cost to their church. In the meantime, partnering congregations will enjoy constant contact with us concerning their counseling cases, collaboration on difficult scenarios, and complimentary first sessions for their covenant members.

If you're a pastor who would like to learn more, or if you know a pastor who should know about this opportunity, please feel free to contact us. We'd love to meet with you in person to talk about how Baylight Counseling might become a valuable resource to your church and ministry.

Here's a letter to local pastors that also speaks to this exciting new ministry service (click on link): 

Read Dr. Willy Rice's (Calvary Church) endorsement of Baylight Counseling as a viable option for your church's counseling needs (click on link):

Yours in Christ,

Joshua Waulk, MA
Executive Director 
(727) 433-0682

Law, Gospel, and the Measure of Our Faith

The measure of the authenticity and efficacy of our faith is its object: Jesus Christ.

It is not the production of good works, in either intensity or volume, that saves a man or "transforms the culture,” an extra-biblical but common refrain of modern, “social justice” infused evangelicalism.

Salvation and transformation are categories uniquely under the power and will of the Holy Spirit, but you might not get that when listening to the “Just Do Something” culture of today. The need, contrary to the tone of many streams in evangelical culture today, is to let the fruit of our salvation be that and that alone, recognizing that it is God who is at work in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

"These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences [emphasis added] of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life." Westminster Confession of Faith, 16.2

If we understand or preach or teach good works as anything other than a consequence of our justification and sanctification, we will invariably make them an instrument of our greater salvation. Here, we will fall into the error of neonomianism, that is, a new type of law (i.e. the production of good works) by which a person is made or remains right with God in addition to faith. This is the heart of the error by which so many in our day confuse law and gospel.

In counseling, I frequently encounter this confusion. It can be identified as a source of much emotional and spiritual angst experienced by believers, who can never know if they have produced an acceptable amount or intensity of good works, or, for that matter, if their efforts were directed at the proper cause (an arbitrary matter usually adjudicated by fellow believers who typically demand that the entire church walk in the same direction and pace as they do).

These believers have, whether of their own accord or through errant teaching, come to confess justification by faith alone, while holding to a subtle sanctification by faith and good works. When this happens, the gospel, that message of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, is at risk of being lost altogether.

The heart that has embraced neonomianism or that confuses law and gospel cannot rest in Christ because it is trusting in something other than, or in addition to the grace and promises of God. Here, the Christian life becomes a burden, rather than a joy, and that is no Christian life at all. Here, the yoke of slavery to law is taken up once more, and the only fruit is the bitterness of failure and inability.

How then can we know if we are at risk of these errors?

There would be the obvious testimony of our conscience, witnessing to us the reality that we have been holding to good works as an instrument of salvation, whether in justification or sanctification. A more subtle indication would be if in any of what has been said here is the thought or concern that the intended message is the degradation of good works.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

The desire has been to guide or nudge us back toward a proper understanding of the role and nature of good works. The more faithful our understanding of these matters to the teaching of Scripture, the more freedom, joy, and rest we will encounter in Christ, as he alone becomes and is our sole righteousness and hope.

“For the Law has its terminus, defining how far it is to go and what it is to achieve, namely, to terrify the impenitent with the wrath and displeasure of God and drive them to Christ. Likewise the Gospel has its unique office and function: to preach the forgiveness of sins to troubled consciences. Let doctrine then not be falsified, either by mingling these two into one, or by mistaking the one for the other. For the Law and the Gospel are indeed both God's word; but they are not the same kind of doctrine.” Martin Luther, 1532