The Blessing of Catechizing Our Children
The Bible is our curriculum, or the content of our prophetic teaching. We cannot give our children a better or more useful gift than knowledge of the Holy Scriptures from their earliest days (2 Tim. 3:15). We should read and explain Scripture to them at the level of their own understanding. As they acquire the ability, they should read and memorize it for themselves. We need to introduce older children to study Bibles, concordances, commentaries, dictionaries, and other helps, and they should share in explaining God’s Word to their younger siblings.
Of particular importance in the Scriptures is the book of Psalms. The Bible says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is [therefore] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). All four of these characteristics are found in Psalms in abundance. Also, as songs and prayers (Ps. 72:20), the psalms give us two valuable ways to teach God’s Word and to learn from it, that is, by singing it and praying it. To do this more effectively, Reformed churches use metrical versions of the psalms, or translations of the psalms into English verse, so they can be sung in public worship and private devotion. Part of our task is “shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD” (Ps. 78:4), so they can “sing praises to God … with understanding” (Ps. 47:6–7).”
Creeds and catechisms are other valuable tools or methods by which we may communicate the truths of the Word of God to our children. These documents provide clear, concise definitions of basic doctrines and key words in easily memorized form so our children can hide them in their hearts. Bible references (“proof texts”) anchor these definitions in Scripture. The catechisms not only teach basic Christian doctrine, but also show us how to live according to God’s law and how to pray. When we catechize our children, they learn the basic truths of Christian faith and living, and we reinforce and deepen our own knowledge of them.
Our English word catechism is derived from the Greek word katecheo, meaning “to sound from above,” “to recount something,” or “to instruct someone.” For example, Acts 18:25 says that Apollos, the great preacher of the apostolic age, “was instructed in the way of the Lord.” Luke wrote his gospel, or “declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,” for the sake of “the most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:1–4). These verses indicate that Apollos and Theophilus had been catechized.
As time passed, basic Christian instruction, or “catechesis,” was cast in the form of questions and answers, and this form remains in use today. In carefully scripted dialogue between teacher and student, questions are posed and answers are given. The answer is provided not just to be memorized, but also to give the teacher opportunity to explain it. Scripture proofs help teacher and student trace the answers back to their sources in the Bible. Specific catechisms have been prepared to serve all age levels, from the youngest children up through all levels of development into adulthood.
During the Reformation and particularly in the Puritan era, parents felt it their duty to catechize their children. Nearly every Puritan pastor wrote a catechism or his own exposition of a catechism. The people in the church used this tool to teach their children. Fathers were advised to catechize their children—whether together or individually—for forty-five to sixty minutes at least once a week.
Today, we have largely delegated this responsibility to the church. In doing so, we must take care not to abdicate our personal mandate as parents. Even if the church does catechize our children, we should incorporate such teaching into family worship, if for no other reason than to support what our church teachers are doing as they work with our children.
Finding time to catechize each child separately may not be possible, but such teaching may be easily incorporated into family worship, when parents speak naturally and openly with their children about spiritual matters. At the very least, each child should be required to say the portion of the catechism he is to memorize for that week’s class at church. Unlike church or school settings, where children may feel uncomfortable speaking up, family worship affords them a place of freedom and support where they may ask questions and make comments of their own.
During family worship, it is essential that we have the parental wisdom not just to recount biblical truths or rehearse catechism answers, but to ask questions and encourage children to respond, taking a conversational approach to the things of God. It is important that children not always be left on the receiving end of religious things but learn to actively think and communicate biblical truths. We need to open our hearts to our children. Many times parents discover that even their youngest children can teach them about the things of God (Ps. 8:2).”
It is also important that our children learn to pray aloud. If children pray aloud in the company of other family members at early ages, they are less likely to feel awkward doing so when they grow older. Praying in front of parents will be natural and unforced if parents start the practice when children are very young. As children get older, they should become more fluent in prayer. As with everything else, we must not expect or demand perfection in the form of the exercise. True prayer is first of all a matter of what is in the heart.
The goal of this kind of catechizing or teaching is that, in a cycle of a year or two, parents journey with their families through the whole field of biblical truth. Then they start over again. By the time children leave home, they will have made this journey several times, and will be more likely to incorporate such teaching in their own homes. Hopefully, they will set a similar pattern with their own children and, in God’s covenant faithfulness, this practice of family worship will continue from generation to generation (Pss. 34:11–15; 44:1; 71:17–18; 78:4–8; 145:4).
Remember, as in all things, we must bring the power of prayer to bear on the work of catechizing our children. It is not enough for us to hammer truths into their heads. The aim is to reach their consciences with conviction, to incline their hearts to embrace biblical teaching with true faith, and to stir in our children the desire to bring forth the fruit of it in their lives. Likewise, we will never teach the catechism with any real effectiveness if we do not first prepare to do so, meditating on the truths to be taught and seeking to bring forth their fruits in our own lives first of all. For this, we need the help of Christ, working in us and in our children by His Word and Holy Spirit.
God has given us a wonderful means of grace in catechizing our children. Yes, we need discipline and diligence to do it, but when we persevere, the rewards are sweet. Do not grow weary if you fail to see immediate progress in your children’s spirituality. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Plant the seeds over and over again. Look for fruit, but understand that blossoms do not appear overnight. “Our job is to plant the seed; the result belongs to the Lord.”
This excerpt is taken from Parenting by God’s Promises by Joel Beeke.