One of the things that I love and am frustrated by with my oldest daughter is that she has an unlimited supply of questions at her disposal. I love it because she really wants to know about the world around her. It is frustrating because as a teacher, I get asked questions for a living and sometimes I reach question overload. But I want her to keep asking questions, because at the heart of learning and at the heart of Christianity are important and valuable questions. For centuries, Christians have agreed that questions and answers from and for children are good. But in the past decades, a tried and true method of discipling children in Christian homes has fallen into disuse (though it is making a comeback in some areas). This method is not VBS, or church camp or youth group; this method is called catechesis.
Catechesis means “instruction or teaching” and in Christianity catechesis has been done in the form of questions and answers and through this method, children are imbued with and formed by biblical and doctrinal truth. In the early church, this method was also done for adults who were converted and were seeking to be baptized.
This leads us to ask two questions about catechesis: why should I catechize? and how should I catechize? I will answer the first of these questions today and the second in a following blog post.
You should catechize your children because:
You are creating a peg board of truth in their mind. My family and I are strong believers in the classical method of education. (You can find our more about this method here and here.) At the heart of the classical method of education is teaching your young children facts and truths through them memorizing these facts and truths. For example, my daughters can say many of the prepositions in the English language and they can give you a definition of a preposition though they are not old enough to understand the function of preposition. However, when they are old enough and they begin to study formal grammar, they will not have to waste time wondering what a preposition is and which words are prepositions because they have already committed to memory the information which they need.
This same principle works in catechesis. For example, question 4 of the catechism we use to teach the girls says this: “Why did God make you and all things? Answer: For his own glory.” Do my daughters understand what the word glory means? No, but they have committed this question and answer to heart. The use of this information comes apparent when in the future if someone were to say God created mankind because he needed someone to love or because God was lonely, my girls will know: “Hey, that is not right, because God created everything for his own glory.” By teaching your children these questions and answers, you are giving them a peg board of truth (as my wife calls it). What she means by this is that you giving your child reference points from which they can understand God, themselves and the world around them. They might not be confronted with alternative views of the world yet, but when they do, they will be prepared with the peg board of truth by which they filter truth and falsehood. By teaching your child the truths of our glorious
God through a catechism, you will be creating a peg board of truth in their mind by which they can navigate our ever-changing world.
Catechisms contain quick and easy to understand doctrinal truths. A possible objection to catechesis is that if you are going to expend the effort to have your child memorize something, they should be memorizing Scripture. I am not against Scripture memory even for children, but the language of Scripture can easily be lost on a child. The metaphors, idioms and figurative language, which are easy for us as adults to understand, can easily fly over the head of small child. Also, a child would have to memorize an incredible amount of Scripture to learn all of the doctrinal truths that a child would learn memorizing a catechism.
For example, question 1o of the catechism we use says: “Where is God? Answer: God is everywhere.” The proof texts listed for this catechism answer are Ps. 139:7-12; Jer. 23:23-24; Acts 17:27-28. This would be quite a bit of memorization for a small child and it would be much easier to help the child memorize the point of those passages: God is everywhere. Obviously, the memorization of Scripture and the catechism should be done in tandem for the best result.
Children will internalize the doctrinal truth and ask good questions. The best way to internalize something is to hear it and to say it over and over again. This is how our minds work, both for good and for ill. A person suffering from depression maybe has a mantra in which they say, “I am worthless. I am worthless.” Because this is said over and over again, the depressed person internalizes it and it becomes part of themselves and how they view the world. Now, if this can be done with falsehood, like the mantra of the depressed person, shouldn’t we seek to help our children internalize truths, like God’s love and care for them? Using a catechism will fill a child’s mind with beautiful and eternal truth that will be good for their soul.
One of the other things that we have noticed with teaching our children through a catechism is that the questions and answers provoke more questions. In other words, our children are thinking about the truths that we are teaching them and that is exactly what I as a parent want. We want our children to think through and think about what we are teaching them. And the catechism will raise issues in their minds which would not have cross their minds otherwise.
Do you use a catechism with your children? What are some benefits that you have seen from using this method? Let me know me your thoughts in the comments section below.
Next week, we will look at how parents can teach their children a catechism.