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