Catechism, smatechism?

My dad recently emailed me this post from Bob’s Blog, about how re-introducing catechisms into our churches’ ministries to children should be a “no-brainer.” It’s a very informative read, and if you are at all curious about catechisms, I adjure you to take the time to read this post and Bob’s promised series on catechism.

Bob quotes John Murray, Assistant Editor of Banner of Truth Magazine as saying:

“It is surely an indictment of the Church today that in dealing with the subject of catechizing we have to begin by explaining the very meaning of the term. What was looked on as a necessary and beneficial practice by the early church and by the Reformers has now fallen into such disuse among Christian people that very few seem to have any understanding or appreciation of the subject. And yet we believe it is to the discontinuance of this practice that we can trace much of the doctrinal ignorance, confusion and instability so characteristic of modern Christianity.”

Wow. Mr. Murray may just have a point — at least about the lack of understanding or appreciation in today’s Church for the practice of catechism. Although I was raised in a born-again family with parents in full-time ministry (mostly Baptist churches), I didn’t really know what catechism was until went to a Christian Middle School that was affiliated with a Lutheran Church. Even then, I only knew it was something many of my friends had to “do” to become a full-fledged adult in the Lutheran Church, and I didn’t realize exactly what it was they were “doing.” My friends from Baptist churches seemed to have a better handle on Christian doctrine and truth than those involved in more liturgical churches, so the idea of catechism was not a draw to me at the time.

As parents, my husband and I have recently considered the idea of teaching our children from catechisms, and possibly memorizing one or more of them. The first time we really gave it some thought was when we read this fabulous article on family worship (see pages 6 through 16 of this very large .pdf file). Though the article resonated with me, I sort of wrote off the idea of catechism as “Presbyterian Thing.” I thought, “Catechism, smatechism.” I planned to teach my children plenty of scripture, and didn’t understand why someone else’s take on scripture would be of value to us.

The more my husband and I have considered catechisms, the more we have found there is to like. Instead of being a replacement for scripture, I see that catechisms can be used to organize scripture, and help with memorization of scriptural truths. I still don’t think catechisms are NECESSARY to teaching children or new believers about theology, but now I see they can indeed be very helpful (along with creeds). The conclusion I’ve come to is that if one sees catechism as his/her servant, not becoming a slave to the catechism (and not letting the Word of God become secondary to it), it can be quite useful for teaching your children systematic theology.

We haven’t yet used any of the following ideas concerning catechism, but thought I would share what direction we are looking toward. Hopefully these ideas will be helpful to you as well:

From Crown and Covenant, we found a devotional book called Training Hearts, Teaching Minds that looks fabulous. Training Hearts, Teaching Minds focuses on each question/answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism for one week at a time, reading scripture and devotionals on different aspects of that question/answere each day of the week. (Not long ago, Training Hearts and catechisms in general sparked a lively discussion on the Choosing Home blog.)

Somehow (I can’t remember how!), I came across this Small Catechism for Preschoolers, homemade by a dad for his little kiddos. I love this idea, using scripture as the answers to the catechism questions — you can’t go wrong with scripture. I’m thinking about re-writing it using our favorite Bible version, the ESV.

I have heard about this little CD, Why Can’t I See God by Judy Rogers, that is based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is a little goofy, but I think my kids would like it, especially my son-who-makes-up-songs-wherever-he-goes. Please, leave a link in the comments section if you know of other catechism resources that may be helpful to our family.

**Please forgive any error on the idea of or misuse of the spelling of “catechism” — I am still figuring this stuff out. For example, is the word Catechism a noun or a verb, a body of words or a class you take, should it always be capitalized or only with with a proper name attached?? ACK!

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6 thoughts on “Catechism, smatechism?

  1. cat·e·chize
    transitive verb
    cat·e·chized, cat·e·chiz·ing, cat·e·chiz·es

    1. To teach the principles of Christian dogma, discipline, and ethics by means of questions and answers.

    2. To question or examine closely or methodically: “Boswell was eternally catechizing him on all kinds of subjects” (Thomas Macaulay)

    ——

    cat·e·chism
    noun

    1. A book giving a brief summary of the basic principles of Christianity in question-and-answer form.

    2. A manual giving basic instruction in a subject, usually by rote or repetition.

    3. A body of fundamental principles or beliefs, especially when accepted uncritically: “the core of the catechism of the antinuclear left, the notion that the threat to peace is technological, not political” (George F. Will).

    ———

    Westminster Catechism

    Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

    A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,
    and to enjoy him forever.

    ——–

    The Westminster Catechism puts the emphasis on Man.

    The Lutheran emphasis is on God. Ask Lutheranism, “What is the chief end of man?” and a proper Lutheran reply would be something like, “To be forgiven my sins by the blood of Jesus Christ.”

    That puts the emphasis on God, on God’s work of redemption.

    God is glorified in imparting forgiveness, so there is no contradiction. Just a different emphasis.

    So, catechize your boys. But there are differences. Lutheranism emphasizes grace where Reformed (Calvinist, eg. Westminster) emphasizes rules. Lutheranism sees the rules God gives us as having the purpose of bringing us to grace.

    A proper catechism restates basic biblical truth. Likewise the creeds.

    Calvin felt free in his early years to criticize the Nicene Creed, and refused to sign the Athanasian Creed. After no small bit of controversy in which he was accused of being an Arian, he changed his tune, not because he needed the creeds but because he did not want to oppose them.

    The Lutheran confession re-states the Word of God. From God’s Word all other documents must be assessed and judged as to whether one should approve or reject them.

  2. I would have to disagree that the Westminster Confession puts the emphasis on man. Read carefully again A.1 – To Glorify God!!!

    I am no expert but to say that Calvinism emphasized rules is a bit too simplistic. He might have emphasized Law . . . and Gospel combined.

    We use the Training Hearts and Teaching Minds, and find it useful. I know that I am planting seeds.

    Don’t waste too much time. Life is too short. Find the right catechism and run with it. How much harm could catechizing our children bring to them?

  3. Daughter,
    Glad you made use of it. May I further suggest that you might view many of the Scriptures themselves as Catechisms? I have memorized some great chapters of Scripture that give daily life guidance.
    Just a thought. Wasn’t it Luther, David, who said Solo Scriptura?
    Dad

  4. Thanks for the suggestions, guys!
    I think for now we ARE going to stick with memorizing scripture. We found a good idea here for reviewing verses we've already learned (right now we are going through the Fighter Verse Pack from Desiring God Ministries, but this way we can add in whatever verses or passages or chapters the Lord puts on our hearts).
    HOWEVER, we already bought the Judy Rogers CD that makes children's music out of questions from Westminster Shorter and Children's Catechisms — and we love it! Our kids will have the basic ideas memorized in no time, with no effort! And we are hoping to buy the Training Hearts book at some point in the future.
    Maybe we'll memorize a catechism in the future…but for now this is the plan…
    Thanks again for your ideas!!

  5. I just came across your blogpost and realize it’s about a year old… but if you find this helpful, I recently wrote an article about some things we have found helpful in teaching our small children.

    In addition to many of the things mentioned here in the comments, I commend to you the Truth and Grace Memory books from Founders Press (www.founders.org).

    The article I wrote is here: http://glorygazer.blogspot.com/2007/06/six-resources-helpful-in-catechizing-3_2111.html

  6. Thanks so much, Mr. Smith, for stopping by! I am definitely keeping record of the resources you’ve mentioned for future use.
    Deb

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