Thursday, January 8, 2009

Catechism Is Not A Four Letter Word

My daughter called early yesterday morning with a strange question; “What do you think about the Westminster Catechism?”

That took me by surprise. Having been raised in (mostly superficial) Baptist churches, I have to admit that the concept of “catechism” was unfamiliar and shrouded in mystery. When I was a boy, a Catholic friend of mine invited me to a catechism class with him (that was over 50 years ago) but I had no idea what catechism is. My mother would not allow me to attend. She was fearful that I might become indoctrinated into the Catholic faith.

Now, back to my daughter’s question, “What about the Westminster catechism?” She is home-schooling her five children and has recently come onto some interesting materials designed to teach the catechism to young children and she wanted to hear my thoughts.

My answer was short, ignorant, and incomplete. I know very little about any of the systematic catechisms and it has been a long time since I have seen them. Nevertheless, my initial response was that the word, “catechism” is not something to be feared. That it is simply a systematic method, using a question and answer format, to teach children doctrinal truths. That’s not a bad thing; in fact it sounds a great deal like a reasonable response to the biblical command:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

And frankly, any instruction that she gives her children that moves them in the direction of the orthodox theology of the reformers, is far better than the anemic, cartoon theology that is taught by talking vegetables in most Sunday School classes in contemporary evangelical churches today. So, I am excited about the prospect of someone asking my grandchildren, “What are we here for?” and hearing them respond, “To glorify God.”

I told her that I would get back to her soon, with more information. I briefly perused the questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Apart from a few teachings about the sacraments (eg. Infant baptism) the catechism presents an accurate description of man’s sinful condition; it holds Scripture in high esteem; and it is God-honoring.

When it comes to advising my daughter on the subject of catechizing her children, admittedly, I am ill-prepared to speak on the subject. I referred her to this blog post and the comment stream that I found especially helpful. In it the blog author of Shepherd The Flock made this statement on the subject:
"Catechizing sometimes gets a bad rap because of how the Roman Catholic Church has abused it, and probably because people sometimes perceive cold, dead, theology as coming from this particular method of teaching. But let me just tell you, catechizing, when properly done, is anything but dead theology, as it has the potential to bring solid, spiritual substance to many areas of faith and practice which are often casually overlooked. From my personal experience, just in the few weeks we have been at it consistently, catechizing has greatly increased our thoughts of God, our worship, both private and public, our prayer lives, our meditation, our communion, etc. Really, I am beginning to wonder how I ever did without it." Nathan White

Early this morning I was reading a new post by Daisy at Laurel Wreath. Daisy is a woman who is also home-schooling her children. In her post, What I'm Reading... there is this relevant and timely quote:
"The well-being of Christianity worldwide for this twenty-first century directly depends, I am convinced, on the recovery of what has historically been called catechesis - that is, the ministry of systematically teaching people in and coming into our churches the sinew-truths that Christians live by, and the faithful, practical, consistent way for Christians to live by them." ~ J.I. Packer

O.K. so I am taking a good, hard look at the idea of catechizing as a viable teaching method. I know that some critics may argue the real benefit of teaching children by rote but memorization, as a teaching method was employed when I attended school and I still know that 6 X 8 = 48 so it works for me.


Daisy said...

We teach it informally. I use the Westminster First & Shorter Catechisms for handwriting. We read through them frequently & the kids just start to pick them up. We also don't practice infant baptism so we modify that one.

A few terrific resources for children include..."Big Truths for Little Kids" by Susan Hunt (perfect for ages 4-8) and "Training Hearts Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism" by Starr Meade (ages 7-12).

We think of catechism as what we USED to do when church Sunday Dchools actually encouraged memory work. Now it's all games & color pages.

I'm on a computer break but I can't stay totally away. LOL.

Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

Thanks Daisy,

I'm sure Valerie will find your suggestions helpful; I'll pass this on to her.

Anonymous said...

Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist theology is essentially the same except for the sacraments. :)

For those interested, the historic Baptists also put out some catechisms which can be found here:

I like the looks of this one especially (the adapted form of the Baptist catechism of 1689 by John Piper)

Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

Postmillenial Calvinist

Thanks for your suggestions and the reference links. We're new at this and we appreciate all the help we can get.