Catechism for Everyone

I’ve mentioned several times during the course of the last year just how important it is that we are teaching our children a good catechism.  This reality was hammered home again to me by the relentless suggestion of Dr. Sinclair Ferguson during the most recent Ligonier Conference in Orlando.

The reason we need our children to be learning a catechism is because it gives them a foundation for organizing the main themes of Scripture in an orderly fashion – a foundation that is most important to lay during their younger years.

But what I haven’t talked much about is the need for grown men and women to be learning a catechism – this is especially true of churches in the Southern Baptist church tradition (my church included) that simply ignore or neglect to emphasize this, so we now have grown Christians who still lack straightforward knowledge to some of the most crucial (if basic) theological questions.  We’ve raised generations of adults whose ideas about fundamental doctrines are cloudy at best.

But our Baptist church isn’t the only culprit, this is happening throughout the evangelical world as a whole.  And because of this, several prominent pastors and theologians have rushed to solve the problem! (:

Here is a link to John Piper’s adapted Baptist Catechism

Here is a link to Tim Keller’s New City Catechism (which can be downloaded as an app as well as a PDF)

I grew up learning the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is still a fantastic catechism – I just wish I had these kinds of more baptist-oriented resources when I was growing up.  The New City Catechism is currently being taught to the entire church at Parkside by Pastor Alistair Begg, and we may end up introducing this wonderful resource to our class in the coming weeks…so stay tuned!

In conclusion, it is important for even adults to have a solid understanding of a catechism in order that they might have a solid understanding of the fundamental questions and principles of Scripture. I’d highly encourage you to take a look at these resources and spend some time reviewing them, and using them to teach yourself and your family.

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The Lost Art of The Catechism

Kim Riddlebarger has an excellent article on the lost art of catechism.  Catechism is something we’ve talked about in class, and something that many of us are employing to help our children understand and become familiar with the fundamentals of Biblical theology.  Kate found this article helpful and sent it to me, and though it is a fairly lengthy article, it’s well worth the read.  I would urge each parent to consider using a catechism in their home – it’s well worth the effort, and is a very useful tool.

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The Lost Art of Catechism  (original article here as well)

Growing up in American fundamentalism, as I did, the very word “catechism” brought to my mind images of the liberalism of mainline Protestant denominations, or some mysterious Roman Catholic ritual that could have no biblical support whatsoever. As a “Bible church” person, I was taught from my earliest youth that “catechism” was at best a worthless practice, if not downright dangerous to the soul. But if you were to have asked me just what exactly “catechism” was, I’m not sure that I could have given you an answer. Growing up with such misconceptions, I often viewed my friends who attended “catechism” classes as people who could not possibly be “born again” and therefore, in desperate need of evangelization. For unlike their misguided and dead church, our church had no creed but Christ, and we needed no such “man-made” guides to faith since we depended upon the Bible alone. Whatever “catechism” was, I wanted no part of it!

The burgeoning evangelical men’s movement, demonstrated by the huge amount of interest garnered by such groups as Promise Keepers, has raised a whole host of legitimate questions about the role of Christian men in society, the workplace and the home. This is certainly an important and indeed, a healthy trend. But I wonder if the answers to such questions are perhaps best found in the wisdom of earlier generations, rather than from among our own contemporaries. Many of these same questions have been asked before and the answers given to them by our predecessors and fathers in the faith were not only based upon a thorough knowledge of Scripture (which, Gallup and Barna remind us, is sadly lacking in our own age), but additionally, were forged through a kind of wisdom and life experience gained during an era in which Christians were less apt to simply react to the secular agenda and uncritically imitate its glitz, glamour and noise. Evangelical Protestants of previous generations, it seems, were often more careful about confusing the sacred and the secular than our own leaders, and they often dealt with such weighty issues theologically and historically. Inevitably, when we look to the theological wisdom of the previous generations regarding the role of men in society, the workplace and the home, we come back to the importance of the practice of catechism.

Catechism (from the Greek word catechesis) is simply instruction in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Instead of replacing or supplanting the role of the Bible in Christian education, catechism ideally serves as the basis for it. For the practice of catechism, as properly understood, is the Christian equivalent of looking at the box top of a jigsaw puzzle before one starts to put all of those hundreds of little pieces together. It is very important to look at the big picture and have it clearly in mind, so that we do not bog down in details, or get endlessly sidetracked by some unimportant or irrelevant issue. The theological categories given to us through catechism, help us to make sense out of the myriad of details found in the Scriptures themselves. Catechism serves as a guide to better understanding Scripture. That being noted however, we need to remind ourselves that Protestants have always argued that creeds, confessions and catechisms are authoritative only in so far as they faithfully reflect the teaching of Holy Scripture. This means that the use of catechisms, which correctly summarize biblical teaching, does not negate or remove the role of Holy Scripture. Instead, these same creeds, confessions and catechisms, as summary statements of what the Holy Scriptures themselves teach about a particular doctrine, should serve as a kind of springboard to more effective Bible study. When this is the case, these confessions, creeds and catechisms are invaluable tools to help us learn about the important themes and doctrines that are in Scripture.

     The practice of catechism also serves as an important safeguard against heresy and helps to mitigate some of the problems associated with the private interpretation of Scripture. How many times have you been forced to sit through a Bible study in which the goal was not to discover what the text actually says, but instead to discover what a particular verse means to each of the studies’ participants? When we remember that virtually every cult in America began with an open Bible and a charismatic leader who could ensure his or her followers that they alone have discovered what everyone else, especially the creeds, confessions and catechisms, have missed, we see perhaps the greatest value of catechism. These guides protect us from such errors and self-deluded teachers. As American evangelicals have moved away from the practice of catechism for subjective and experiential modes of meaning, it is no accident that biblical illiteracy has risen to embarrassing levels and that false doctrines have rushed in like a flood. These important safeguards of basic doctrine have been removed, and since Satan is, of course, the fathers of all lies, we are most helpless against him when the truth is not known.

    Protestant catechisms most often take the form of a series of questions and answers developed as summaries of biblical teaching. The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), for example, focuses upon the theme of the believer’s comfort by asking “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The Heidelberg Catechism is arranged around the three-fold distinction of guilt, grace and gratitude. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1648), on the other hand, seeks to get right to the “big” question concerning the ultimate meaning of life, when it asks in question one, “What is the chief end of man?” Luther’s Larger Catechism (1529) begins by setting forth the meaning of the Ten Commandments, and Luther attempts to set clearly in the catechumen’s mind the proper relationship between Law and Gospel from the outset. Indeed, the primary purpose of all three of these catechisms is to instruct new Christians and our covenant children in the basics of the Christian faith. For in all of these great catechisms we are to learn about the content of the law and its relationship to the gospel, the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for our fellowship with God, the Apostle’s Creed as a summation of Christian doctrine, and the sacraments as our means of spiritual nourishment. Thus these catechisms are all formulated to introduce catechumens to the basics of the Christian faith–things that all of us should know and believe.

The practice of catechism should ideally have a two-fold emphasis. The first of these emphases centers around the home. If Christian men are wondering about what their primary role should be as a father, in terms of their obligation to be priests of their own homes, I suggest that the practice of catechism occupy a major role. The Scriptures make it very clear that parents, especially fathers, are assigned the role of recounting to their children the mighty acts of God in redeeming his people (Exodus 13:8 ff). God commands us to teach his commandments “to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9; cf. also Deuteronomy 6:6-9). In Joshua 8, we read that:

    Joshua read all the words of the law–the blessings and the curses–just as it was written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including women and children, and the aliens who lived among them (vv. 34-35).

The prophet Isaiah tells us that parents are to tell their children about God’s faithfulness (Isaiah 38:19). In the New Testament, we discover that the young pastor Timothy, had known the Holy Scriptures from infancy (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul recounted how important his own religious instruction had been to him, even before he became a believer (Acts 22:3). It is Paul who instructs fathers not to exasperate their children, but to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

     Certainly it is important that every dad teach his children about the meaning of life. Yes, it is important to know who Larry, Moe and Curly are and every properly mannered child should know how to make various Stooge sounds and gestures despite their mother’s objections. It is also important for dads to teach their sons why an F-15 is superior to a Mig-25, and to even build a model of it together if possible. It is a must to know what a “draw play” is, and why if your child does not learn from your mistakes and grows up to be a Rams fan, they too must learn to live with perennial disappointment and heartbreak, a very difficult but valuable lesson. It is important to learn how to tie a ball into a mitt to make a good pocket, to run a lawn mower properly so as to not leave streaks in the grass and to position the firewood precisely so that you get a good hot and clean fire. But while all of this is important, it certainly pales in the light of eternity, when we realize that our children must also come to know the unspeakable love of Jesus Christ, who declared over the objections of his disciples, “let the children come unto me.” There is no doubt that the Scriptures themselves assign specifically to fathers the vital role of instructing their children in the Holy Scriptures and the great doctrines of the Christian faith. Let us never forget that our children come to Christ, many times, directly through instruction received in the home. But how can Mom or Dad best instruct their children in the faith? This can be done very effectively through regular Bible reading and catechism–practices that at one time were the distinguishing mark of a Christian home.

    The second emphasis of catechism centers on the role of the local church. Here the role of the pastor and elders, as well as the goal of the Sunday school program, should be to further and support those efforts at catechism ideally begun in the home. Parents should not assume that the church’s role is to supply the catechetical instruction that they as parents make little or no effort to provide at home. Too many times Christians labor under the false assumption that the church and its various youth programs will make up for a lack of instruction in the home. Just as you cannot expect your children to do well in school without the active involvement of the parents at home after school, so too, parents cannot expect their children to grow in faith as they should apart from concerted effort to provide regular catechism in the home. Sunday schools and youth programs are wonderful reinforcements to what the parents undertake in the home. But these can never replace the value of instructing one’s children in the basics of Christian faith. Certainly we are all too busy, and this seems so difficult to do. But even a little time spent in catechism pays great dividends, and a discerning parent can find plenty of object lessons with which to illustrate the truths of the catechism from virtually every family discussion, newscast, situation comedy, or feature film. One of the best by-products of parents taking an active role in catechizing their kids, is that they also catechize themselves in the process! In order to teach your kids and to be able to answer their questions, which are often more direct and difficult than those asked by many adults, you must learn the material for yourself. In order to teach, you have to learn!

There are surprising practical ramifications that result from the practice of catechism as well. Many people who hear the White Horse Inn and are suddenly intrigued by Reformation theology frequently inquire about the best way to learn Reformation theology for themselves. There is no doubt that getting one of the Reformation catechisms, and working your way through it, is a great place to start. Too many people assume that the place to start learning theology is through tackling technical theological writing, when in fact the creeds and catechisms of the Reformation were designed to instruct novices in the faith. Starting with the catechism and confessions is really a better way to go.

There are other practical results as well. When I first entered the ministry, I was quite surprised at how many times I heard from people how the catechism questions and answers they memorized in childhood kept coming to mind when temptation or doubt would assail them later in life. Many were able to recount how catechism in their youth kept them from joining cults, because they knew enough doctrine to know that you must believe in the Trinity to be a Christian, or how catechism kept them from marrying people from non-Christian religions, since they knew enough biblical teaching to tell the difference. Indeed, several who were on the verge of leaving the faith altogether simply could not escape what had become such an important part of their subconscious. The catechism questions and answers they had memorized many years before simply would not leave them when the going became difficult. It was a part of their life history that they could not escape no matter how hard they tried.

In conclusion, there is one story that wonderfully captures the importance of catechism, perhaps more than all others. The great Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield, in an article defending the worth of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, recounts a wonderful story that demonstrates what he describes as the “indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism.”

We have the following bit of experience from a general officer of the United States Army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien [bearing], whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: “What is the chief end of man?” On receiving the countersign, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”–“Ah!” said he, “I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!” “Why that is just what I was thinking of you,” was the rejoinder.1

Concludes Warfield, “It is worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God.”2 If we want our children to grow up to be men and women of God, one of the best possible ways for this to happen is to recover the practice of catechism!

     Recommended Catechisms: The Heidelberg Catechism, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Luther’s Larger Catechism.

Family Worship

As the kids have gotten older, Kate and I have tried to find ways to raise the kiddos in a way that causes them to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  Some of the time we feel as though we’re doing great, other times…not to much!  Much of this is just a matter of disciplining ourselves to make time and make it a priority. 

To that end, I wanted to pass along a helpful excerpt from RC Sproul, Jr. on the topic of Family Worship.  He has many helpful suggestions that were encouraging to our family, and hopefully will be encouraging to yours!

 

Simple Steps for Family Worship

by RC Sproul, Jr.

Timing

Right now in our lives, we practice family worship right after supper. We used to have family worship right before the kids went to bed. Either one is fine for us, but there is a practical reason for doing it in that time frame. Every day, no matter what, we eat supper and we go to bed, so we have a pair of alarm clocks that tell us we cannot escape our call to do this. We think, “Oh, we just finished eating, it’s time,” or, “We’re about to go to bed, it’s time.”

After supper, I’ll ask one of the children, “Please gather the things for worship.” We have a place where we keep the worship materials, and one of the children will go and get the stack of books and things, and place it on the table in front of me.

Away From Home Or With Guests

By the way, if we’re not at home, we modify things a little bit. We have worship in the car sometimes. If we’re at a friend’s house or even a stranger’s house, we don’t impose on him or her and say, “Well, thank you for supper, it’s now time for the Sproul family to have worship.” If we have a guest at our house, we try to make an assessment of his or her spiritual maturity and then make a decision. We might ask ourselves, “Will this make our guest angry, or will he like this?” If it likely will make him mad, we probably won’t do it.

Catechism

When we are at home, we start with our catechism work. Catechism is a word that is unfamiliar to many today. A catechism is simply a tool for teaching basic biblical content to those who are young or new to the faith. A catechism typically consists of questions and answers. The parent asks the child a question, and the child gives the answer.

We use two different catechisms. We have a children’s catechism that consists of fifty questions. Each of the questions is five or six words and each of the answers is about three words. I ask my son Reilly, who is three years old, “Reilly, who made you?” Reilly says, “God.” I say, “What else did God make?” He says, “Everything.” As you can see, the questions and answers are very short. We teach these to the very small children, and when they learn these things, we celebrate. We don’t bribe. We don’t buy them off. But we do celebrate. When one learns the entire children’s catechism, the whole family goes out for ice cream, because Daddy likes ice cream.

When the children get bigger, we move to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which has slightly longer questions and answers. There are 107 of these. When the children master them all, I take them skiing, because Daddy likes skiing.

We have a “sophisticated” system by which we do the memory work. It goes like this. I say to the children: “Daddy says, ‘What is man’s chief end?’ You say, ‘Man’s chief end …'”

They say, “Man’s chief end …”
I say, “… is to glorify God …”
They say, “… is to glorify God …”
Finally, I say, “… and enjoy him forever.”
They say, “… and enjoy him forever.”

We do that, and after a couple of days they get it. As I said, it’s a terribly complicated system.

Scripture Memory

Then we move on to Bible memory. We have a “complicated” system for that, too. Right now our family is working through the Psalms, so every day we recite one of the psalms we have learned and we work on a new psalm. Don’t be overly impressed; we are only up to twelve. I don’t know what we’re going to do when they get really long. When we get to Psalm 119, then you can be impressed. But again, we use the same system. I say a verse or part of a verse, and the kids repeat it. My older kids make fun of me because I have my Bible open as I’m helping them learn these things, but they know many of the psalms by heart.

Scripture Reading

Then we move to Scripture reading. We have done our Scripture readings in different ways. Sometimes we read a book of the Bible. Sometimes, when we have a new child who is very small, we use one of the children’s Bible storybooks. I want to give them a very basic understanding of the flow of Scripture. Right now we’re going through one of those Bible storybooks where Jesus has eyes that look like Ping-Pong balls.

I read the story, then I give my sermon, and my sermons are typically twenty to thirty seconds long. I give the children some sort of lesson from the text. I want to bring the text to bear on their lives and mine.

This gives me an opportunity to practice the first corollary to the “R. C. Sproul Jr. principle of hermeneutics.” Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation, and the R. C. Sproul Jr. principle of hermeneutics states that whenever you are reading your Bible and you see someone doing something really stupid, you must not say to yourself, “How can he be so stupid?” but “How am I more stupid?” The first corollary to this principle is that whenever you are reading a story in the Bible and you wonder who you are in the story, you are the sinner. If you are reading a story and there is more than one sinner, as in the parable of the prodigal son, you’re both. So we read our Bible text and I ask: “Children, how are we like this person? And how are we like that person? And how am I like this person or that person?” That’s the sermon.

Prayer

After the sermon, I take prayer requests. I ask, “Children, what would you like Daddy to pray for tonight?” Now, I encourage my children to pray. They pray before they go to bed. They pray at times during home-school. They pray on many occasions. But when we gather together for family worship, they don’t pray. Why not? From the beginning, I have done the praying at family worship because I want to communicate to them—and, more importantly, to myself—the importance of the father’s priestly role in the home. I am saying to them and to myself, “I am responsible, as the head of this home, to take you before the throne of God, to beseech the God of heaven and earth for your wellbeing.”

In fact, when the children were younger, we even had a posture to help communicate this—again, more to me than to them. I would ask the little ones to come sit on my lap. I would take one on each leg, put my arms around the children, put my hands over their heads, and pray for them. I would ask God to bless them specifically. My son Campbell would ask every night, “Please ask God that we would grow in grace, in the fruit of the spirit, and in wisdom.” God has blessed him with wisdom.

Singing

Then we move into singing. Again, the children are invited to participate by choosing what we are going to sing. We sing the service music from our church’s liturgy. We sing the Gloria Patri. We sing the Doxology. We sing the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. We sing the Song of Simeon, which is how our church closes its service.

Let me tell you about something that is even more practical. When visitors to Saint Peter Church try to find the nursery, we tell them we do have a nursery, but we hope they won’t mind serving in the nursery on that particular day. We assure them that if they’ll look after their children, we’ll be fine. You see, we worship together—parents and children. Visitors are afraid and puzzled about this. They think, “What kind of weird thing is this?” Then, when we in the congregation stand to confess our faith together and little two- and three-year-olds ardently recite the Apostles’ Creed, suddenly our visitors see the beauty of it.

We let our children pick the songs they want to sing. We do have one rule—only one child’s song a night. Reilly always wants to sing “Hallelu.” I’ll ask, “What do you want to sing tonight, Reilly?” and he’ll say, “Hallelu.” It’s a very simple song: “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah, praise ye the Lord!” We divide the family in half, and half of them are the “hallelus” and half of them are the “praise ye the Lords,” then after the first verse we switch and do it faster. But we sing only one of these a night.

That’s it. It’s not complicated. It’s not time-consuming. It’s not a duty. It’s a joy, a delight.

What If I Haven’t Been Doing Family Worship?

At this point, you fathers might be thinking, “OK, R. C., I see this. I see that I ought to do this. I see how to do it. But what do I do about the fact that I haven’t been doing this?” Here’s what you do: Gather your family together, sit them down, and then tell them that you are sorry for failing them in this way. Show them what repentance looks like. Then tell them that Jesus Christ came to suffer the wrath of God the Father for failures such as this. Give thanks for that provision. Pray in thanksgiving for that forgiveness. Then sing in thanksgiving for that forgiveness. That is day one. If you have done this in the past and have fallen out of the habit, simply follow the same instructions.

But I’m Too Busy for Family Worship

But if you are too busy, here is what I want you to do: stop being too busy! What could possibly be more important? The God of heaven and earth, the self-existent, transcendent, holy God, is inviting you to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Will you say to Him, “Thanks for the invitation, Lord, but I’ve got my bowling league tonight.” Would you tell Him, “I’d love to meet with You tonight, but I have a meeting with someone important.” No one is too busy to draw near to the living God. No one is too busy to give up the less important, the less rewarding, and the less joyful for the source of all joy.

The glory of the gospel is that the high, transcendent, exultant God, because of the work of Christ, has drawn near to us and to our children, and will continue to do so. Therefore, don’t do this in order to be holy. Do it to be happy. In the end, it’s the same thing. Our austere pursuit of personal holiness doesn’t impress God one bit. But God delights when we delight in Him. Bring the children; suffer the children to come unto Him (Matt. 19:14). Do this so that you might glorify and enjoy Him now, for this is what we will be doing forever.

This series has been adapted from material in R.C. Sproul Jr.’s contribution to Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God.

If you’d like more resources to assist you in the area of family worship, please consider:

Orginally found at: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/simple-steps-family-worship-part-1/