4 Reasons to Catechize Your ChildrenPro Ecclesia
October 2018 | Joshua Hinson
(Note: Even if you don’t have children, memorizing our catechism is a wonderful way to learn the system of doctrine found in Scripture. Take a peak at the Westminster Shorter Catechism and you’see it isn’t merely a document for children.)
Catechism is a Christian word. If you were raised in the Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed traditions of Christianity then you’ll most certainly be familiar with the term and practice. If your background is one of the many flavors of evangelicalism, then it’s almost as certain that you won’t.
Catechesis, simply put, is oral instruction through question and answer. A “catechism” is a form or collection of such questions and answers, usually accepted by a church or denomination. A catechumen is the student under instruction. In the broadly evangelical Christian culture of the Bible Belt, words like catechism (not to be confused with circumcision) and sacraments connote “high church” practice. I can hear the cynic asking, “And after you’ve catechized my child, will you then make him an altar boy?”
The practice of catechesis is actually very simple, and thankfully, many are recovering the practice as an effective tool for believers to teach Christian doctrine to their children. Here are four reasons you should catechize your children.
1. Because it is your responsibility.
This point is certainly general in nature. I’m not suggesting that Christian parents who have faithfully taught their children, but without a catechism per se, have been unfaithful. However, we all have a creed whether it is written or not and the content of what we teach our children as a summary or interpretation of Scripture is a confession of faith.
Although Christians may (and do) disagree over the isolation or integration of the school, church, and home, Scripture is clear that parents in general, and fathers in particular, are to instruct their children in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:1-4).
The church nurtures families and families nurture children. Parents, the responsibility is first with you.
2. Because of historical precedent.
From the earliest days when converts would be called on to answer “What do you believe?” before baptism — all the way down to the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms, and the Baptist Catechism by Benjamin Keach – this practice in the history of the church has a long tenure. The Princeton Theologian B.B. Warfield shares the benefit of catechetical instruction with an excerpt from the life of the evangelist, D.L. Moody:
An anecdote told of evangelist Dwight L. Moody will illustrate the value to the religious life of having been taught these forms of truth:
Moody was staying with a Scottish friend in London, but suppose we let the narrator tell the story. ‘A young man had come to speak to Mr. Moody about religious things. He was in difficulty about a number of points, among the rest about prayer and natural laws. ‘What is prayer?,’ he said, ‘I can’t tell what you mean by it!’ They were in the hall of a large London house. Before Moody could answer, a child’s voice was heard singing on the stairs. It was that of a little girl of nine or ten, the daughter of their host. She came running down the stairs and paused as she saw strangers sitting in the hall. ‘Come here, Jenny,’ her father said, ‘and tell this gentleman ‘What is prayer.’ Jenny did not know what had been going on, but she quite understood that she was now called upon to say her Catechism. So she drew herself up, and folded her hands in front of her, like a good little girl who was going to ‘say her questions,’ and she said in her clear childish voice: ‘Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.’
‘Ah! That’s the Catechism!’ Moody said, ‘thank God for that Catechism.’
Of course, this historical practice is much more particular than the general principle that parents should teach the content of our faith to their children. What then, is the best practice? Well, catechesis has a proven record. Furthermore, the use of a historic catechism accepted by a church or denomination as the doctrinal standard of that Christian body recognizes that each generation of parents isn’t called upon to reinvent the wheel.
3. Because you hope to send them out.
“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Ps. 127:4-5a).
In this Psalm, children are described as arrows in the hand of a warrior. What are the purpose of arrows? Hint: They’re not made to remain in the quiver. Our children are under our care for a time, but ultimately they are to be released into the world to penetrate the kingdom of darkness and advance the kingdom of God in the earth.
But they aren’t ready to be released before they’re properly sharpened. They must learn the content of our faith according to their age and ability. We begin with milk and we move to meat when they are able to chew and digest it. In the classical model of education children learn according to the way God has made them. In the early stages they love memorizing, singing, and have the ability to retain facts. As they mature they begin to ask questions and think about how things work and fit together. Finally, they need to be able to express and argue for what they have learned in order to be a well rounded student. Catechetical instruction can also take advantage of these stages. Small children can be taught to parrot the answers to catechism questions. During the “middle school” years, the children can learn the logic of the catechism; i.e. why these things are true according to Scripture. Finally, as those preparing for adulthood, our children can be challenged to express and give a defense for their faith.
We’re all familiar with musical recitals, but there was a time when students would be called upon to recite what they had learned in other subjects as well. Having a goal for reciting catechism questions can challenge, evaluate, and give opportunity for the appropriate rewarding of children for their progress. Of course, our hope is that our children will come to know the God of their catechism and not merely the answers to questions. That being said, we see no dichotomy between knowing God and knowing about him.
Of course, this approach resembles a marathon and not a sprint, the mentality of a farm and not a factory. But as Christians, don’t we want our children to grow the deeps roots of the first Psalm?
4. Because if you don’t, someone else will.
Like it or not, someone will catechize your children. If you don’t, they will learn man’s chief end from however their peers, the Disney Channel, their teachers, or the magazine rack at the grocery store checkout line defines it. That is a frightening alternative.
I hear the cynic asking again, “But isn’t this brainwashing? Shouldn’t we let children evaluate the evidence and come to their own conclusions about God?” Sure, if we are so naive to believe that our culture is completely objective. The “objective” History Channel taught one of my wife’s former piano students that God is an alien. Completely neutral, needless to say. We hope that our children will be “conditioned” to believe in the true and living God just as unbelievers are “conditioned” by a world that suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.
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