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One essential way of rearing our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) so that they can hide the truth of God in their hearts is by the old tried and proven means of catechizing. Here are four arguments for faithfully catechizing our small children and youth.

First, catechizing is good pedagogy. Modern educational theory looks askance on rote learning, but our children must have data with which to think. True, not every catechized child will remember it all in adulthood. However, rote memory of Scripture and catechism early in life becomes the intellectual and spiritual building material of a strong Christian life. Princeton theologian and New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen credited his lifelong love for and commitment to the Reformed faith to learning the Bible and catechism on Sunday afternoons at his mother’s knee. Machen might not have understood the significance of learning the catechism and the kings of Israel by rote at ten years of age, but the fruit of his mother’s tender instruction helped provide the church with an extraordinarily faithful and devout defender of the faith.

Second, catechizing is a proven method for fulfilling our calling as parents to instruct our children in the truth. It is likely that catechizing fell on hard times due to the influence of worldly pedagogical theory. This is tragic, since the practice has proven itself time and again to be one of the most effective tools with which parents may fulfill their duty to teach their children from morning, throughout the day, and until bedtime (Deut. 6:6–9).

In most cases our children will love what we teach them to love.

I delighted recently to hear one of our small children in the congregation eagerly say to her mother after worship, “We are going to listen to the catechism on the way home, aren’t we?” Remember, parents, in most cases our children will love what we teach them to love. If we are enthusiastic for the psalms and great hymns of the faith, for preaching and Reformed worship, and for the catechism, our children will be too. Catechism is a remarkable tool to add to our toolbox. What parent would not want to use a tool that, with the Holy Spirit’s blessing, will form children into solid, biblical Christians to whom will apply Paul’s words to Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 3:14–15)

Third, catechizing our children will help them understand the very system of doctrine contained in the Holy Scriptures. Our day is characterized by sloppy rather than logical systematic thinking. The Bible, however—inspired, inerrant, and unified—contains a system of doctrine. We do not know the Bible only by memorizing verses, as essential as that is. We must understand as well the Bible’s teaching on Scripture and its authority, God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, and the last things. Learning the catechism will set a trajectory for learning more deeply the things of God. This knowledge is deeply intellectual, something very much needed if we are to love God with our minds, but the knowledge is also the stuff of which rich and growing piety is formed.

I often say to the children of my congregation to pay special attention to Q&A 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is God? God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” The point I stress is that in the days ahead, when the children and young people face hard things in life, the simple recitation and meditation on that one question provides steel in the Christian’s backbone.

Learning the catechism early in life is not wasted time and effort; rather, it is the best use of time and energy on the part of both parents and their children. The truth systematically learned as the Holy Spirit blesses it develops personal piety in the hearts of children who become adults and face the battle for the cause of God and truth. Then, our children learn with John Calvin to lift up their hearts in their hands to God, “promptly and sincerely.”

Fourth, catechizing our children will help them live to the glory of God. B.B. Warfield argued that learning the catechism leaves an indelible mark. He illustrated that mark with an experience of an officer in the U.S. Army. While in the midst of a riot, the officer saw another man, calm, firm, and confident. As the officer passed by, he turned around, the stranger having done the same, and the officer put to him the first question of the Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” The stranger responded, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”—to which the officer responded, “I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!” The stranger then said that he had been thinking the same about the Army officer.

Now, parents and others who help form children of the church, is this not the point? Warfield argued that it was worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy because Shorter Catechism boys grow up to be men. In the hands of the Holy Spirit, teaching biblical truth through the catechism will help our children grow up to withstand the storms of life with conviction, confidence, and an uncompromising trust in the sovereignty of God.

Let us use this tool, use it well and conscientiously, to lay a foundation in the lives of our children that will, with God’s blessing, bear fruit into eternity.

The Legacy of Luther

Reading and Receiving the Word of God

Keep Reading Luther on Trial: The Diet of Worms

From the April 2021 Issue
Apr 2021 Issue