A 21st century plea for Catechizing our youth, part 1
This is the first in a series of posts about the critical importance of catechesis in the home and church today. My hope is to convince that catechism is a discipline and privilege that Christian parents should engage in and churches encourage and support. While this has always been true historically, I believe it is especially critical in light of our current cultural situation. Unless we wish our children to become another statistic we must devote ourselves to passing on the faith to the next generation, and catechism in home and church is a time tested way of doing this effectively.
In this first post, I answer the question "what is catechism?"
Our English word "catechism" comes from a Greek word which means to "teach in a systematic or detailed manner." For example, in Acts 18 Luke describes Apollos as a man who had been “instructed in the way of the Lord," and was thus competent in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24-25). Similarly, Luke opens his gospel by telling his recipient, Theopolus, that one of his goals is to give him certainty concerning the things he "had been taught."
Thus, "catechism" refers to a way of teaching the doctrinal and moral truths of the Christian faith in systematic manner. Most branches of the Christian church have developed and used catechisms for centuries to help teach the faith to new converts and children, although they are also incredibly helpful to anyone wishing to learn Christian doctrine. Typically, a catechism follows a question and answer method that requires memorization. For example, the Westminster Shorter Catechism (used in the PCA) begins:
Question: What is the chief end of Man?
Answer: The Chief End of Man is to Glorify God and enjoy him forever.
The Children's catechism that I am currently using with my 4 and (nearly) 2 year old begins:
Question: Who Made you?
As the catechism continues it unfolds core Christian doctrinal convictions such as the Trinity, sin, grace, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the meaning of the sacraments, prayer, and many other things. The catechisms also devote extensive treatment to the moral life, requiring memorization and understanding of the 10 commandments. In short, the catechism supplements weekly worship and Bible reading (which are likewise critically important) by beginning from the earliest of ages to instill a biblical worldview in the hearts and minds of our children.
As we progress I hope that it will become abundantly clear how important it is that we systematically teach doctrinal truth to our children from the earliest of ages. But for now I leave you with the words of Dr. Thomas Manton, who wrote several centuries ago about the danger of neglecting what he calls "family duties" (referring to biblical and catechetical instruction in the home).
The devil hath a great spite at the kingdom of Christ, and he knoweth no such compendious way to crush it in the egg, as by the perversion of youth, and supplanting family-duties. He striketh at all those duties which are publick in the assemblies of the saints; but these are too well guarded by the solemn injunctions and dying charge of Jesus Christ, as that he should ever hope totally to subvert and undermine them; but at family duties he striketh with the more success, because the institution is not so solemn, and the practice not so seriously and conscientiously regarded as it should be, and the omission is not so liable to notice and public censure. Religion was first hatched in families, and there the devil seeketh to crush it; the families of the Patriarchs were all the Churches God had in the world for the time; and therefore, (I suppose,) when Cain went out from Adam's family, he is said to go out from the face of the Lord, Gen. 4:16. Now, the devil knoweth that this is a blow at the root, and a ready way to prevent the succession of Churches: if he can subvert families, other societies and communities will not long flourish and subsist with any power and vigor; for there is the stock from whence they are supplied both for the present and future.