Why Catechisms Should Be Used By All Christians


Catechism [kat-i-kiz-uhm]

1. an elementary book containing a summary of the principles of the Christian religion, especially as maintained by a particular church, in the form of questions and answers.

 A flood of “random” influences recently compelled me and my wife to explore the value of using a catechism for family discipleship. Our basic knowledge of catechisms was like most evangelicals – general unfamiliarity except knowing they are used by Catholic, Lutheran, and covenant theology-holding churches. The vast majority of evangelicals seem to have discounted the use of catechisms altogether, and I was left wondering…“why?” (I’m not the first person to ask [Internet Monk]. Nor the first person to present this argument [Tim Keller].)

If catechisms are such a great discipleship tool, but usually bent towards differing doctrinal positions, could we not just re-craft any opposing questions according to our own doctrinal positions, and use this great tool as we continually seek to apply Deuteronomy 6:4-7 to our family discipleship? In fact, I was about ready to sit down and do this for my family!

But, thankfully, I did some research first, and was thrilled to discover that others have indeed already done it. Whew! That saves me some time. 

A Catechism for Lake City Community Church

While reading, along with the men in my small group, Voddie Baucham’s fantastic book on family discipleship, Family Driven Faith, I came across the following section which explains what a catechism is and why we should use one; and provides a link to the little book my family has been using, and which I encourage the Lake City family to purchase and use.

Read and enjoy this section from chapter six of Voddie’s comprehensive, straightforward and hard-hitting book on family discipleship.  

The Catechism Phase

In verse 4 of Ephesians 6 Paul puts the cookies on the bottom shelf. Here he states in no uncertain terms what the role and responsibility of the Christian parent is expected to be. After contextualizing his teaching on children in verse 1, he ties it to the commandments in verses 2 and 3. Then in verse 4 he gives us the bottom line. Parents, your job is to teach your children to behave like Christians and to believe like Christians.

Phase 1 in living by the Word in the rearing of children is training and discipline. Once we have that base covered, we can move on to phase 2 – catechism. I hesitate to even use the word catechism since, frankly, so many Christians today either don’t know what it means or think it has something to do with a particular branch of Christianity. In fact, until recently Bridget and I didn’t really understand catechism ourselves. We are good Southern Baptists who had never heard of such a thing. But catechism is merely basic instruction in Christian doctrine using questions and answers.

The goal of catechism is to impart biblical theology. Through a series of questions and answers the child slowly learns what to believe and, more importantly, why. Catechism is not a magic bean or a silver bullet. We still have to work at teaching our children. However, the catechism is an invaluable tool that facilitates the process. More importantly, the catechism lays the foundation for the discipleship that is to follow. Without the catechism our discipleship is reduced to a list of moralisms.

For instance, what if I tell my sons not to engage in premarital sex but do not give them the biblical and theological foundation upon which to build such a decision? Unfortunately, this is precisely the way I was taught. I was told that I should not have sex with girls because I was too young and I could get someone pregnant. Of course, what this also meant was that when I was older I could justify the practice if I took the proper precautions. Thus I was no longer too young, and no one was going to get pregnant.

Compare this to instruction based upon an understanding of the sanctity of marriage, the dignity of the opposite sex, my role as a protector of what Peter calls the “weaker” marriage partner (1 Peter 3:7), the biblical purposes for which sex was given, and a host of other theological principles, and the difference is astonishing. For instance, the Westminster Shorter Catechism addresses the issue of sexual purity from the perspective of the Seventh Commandment:

Q: What is the Seventh Commandment?

A: The Seventh Commandment is, “You shall not commit adultery.”

Q: What is required in the Seventh Commandment?

A: The Seventh Commandment requires the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity of heart, speech, and behavior.

Q: What is forbidden in the Seventh Commandment?

A: The Seventh Commandment forbids all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.

This is a far cry from “Don’t get anyone pregnant.” That is not to say that children armed with this information will never violate the principles they have been taught, but it will require thought-out rebellion as opposed to the logical assumption that the activity is justifiable.

Catechism is merely a track to run on. So many of our children have little idea what they believe or why they believe it. Couple this with the fact that they are fallen human beings whose natural bent is to sin and they live in a culture that glorifies, justifies, and promotes such sin, and it is not difficult to see their dilemma. Failing to catechize our children is tantamount to surrendering to the culture. Walking in holiness is difficult enough when we know what is right; let’s not make things tougher than they already are.

I had a conversation recently with a pastor who was at his wit’s end with his oldest son. The young man was clean-cut, pleasant, and very well mannered. However, there was an obvious tension between the boy and his father. When I sat down with the two of them, I realized that this pastor had not discipled his son. The young man was well versed in church language, but he did not have a grasp on biblical Christianity.

Some Useful Tools

A number of wonderful catechisms are available – Westminster, Heidelberg, Spurgeon’s, etc – and a simple Web search will provide you with more information than you ever thought possible. One thing we have found very useful is the Truth and Grace Memory Book material from Founders Press.

This is not really the place for discussing the pros and cons of each catechism. I simply want to implore you to find a good tool for teaching your children biblical theology. I just happen to think catechism is about the best way to do it. However, even if you choose not to use a formal catechism, you must catechize your children. In other words, if you do not find something that fits your theology, make one of your own.

Our children are developing a theology whether we are teaching them or not. As you saw in the worldview section, everyone has basic, underlying assumptions about the nature of God, man, truth, knowledge, and ethics. Failing to catechize your children only makes it that much easier for the Secular Humanism with which they are constantly bombarded in school, on television, and through friends, neighbors, and coaches to take root and become the guiding principle by which they live.

How to Get Started

Book 1          Book 2

I encourage every family to purchase one or both of the Truth and Grace Memory Books right away (Book 1 for ages 2 through 4th grade; and Book 2 for 5th grade through high school), which, in addition to an excellent catechism, contains age-appropriate memory verse systems, songs, poems, and more.

From here, I plan to continually encourage the Lake City Family to employ catechism as a component of our discipleship. I would love to ask the kids in the Sunday preschool class where I work with my wife a consistent 10 questions each week; to see their satisfaction as they remember the answers, and to be satisfied that important truths are sticking.

I would love to see our small groups providing these resources to parents, and to the babysitters to review during each group meeting time.

I would love to see our youth committing these biblical truths to memory, so that God’s truth never escapes them in the face of the temptations, worries and doubts inherent in their increasing independence.

Do you have ideas how we might use this great discipleship tool more at LCCC? Do you have a testimony of catechism helping you learn about God, His Word, theology and life? If so, please share these with me, as we seek continual growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessings on our homes,

Pastor Reg


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