Bob Roberts, Kids 4 Truth President/Director
Rediscovering a Valuable Tool for the Indoctrination of Children
In this Series we will discuss: What is Catechism?, A Biblical and Historical Apologetic to Use Catechism, Some Purposes and Benefits of Using Catechism; and A Few Objections to Using Catechism.
My Goal is to convince you that catechism should be used in all Bible-believing churches, and that it is a shame, pity and heinous mistake that we are not currently doing so.
My Testimony Concerning Catechisms: I heartily echo Tom Nettles words concerning catechism: “It is spiritually refreshing to meditate on the phrases of the responses and investigate the Scriptures used to develop those responses. That exercise has been as helpful in my personal theological education as any other single practice.”
What Catechism is Not: Catechism is NOT a large, deep crack in a mountain where you can toss kitties, Catechism is NOT a subsidiary wholly owned by Roman Catholics, and Catechism is NOT an outdated practice that is worthless to the Church.
What is Catechism? Origin of the Word: The word ‘catechism’ derives from the Greek word katecheo, which is found in several places in Scripture. The most familiar is Luke 1:4, where Luke explains why he wrote his Gospel: “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” The word “instructed” is katecheo. Like many Greek words katecheo is put together from two words, in this case kata, meaning “down toward,” and echeo, meaning “to sound.” Katecheo is to “sound down.”
What is Catechism? Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583 contributor to the Heidelberg Catechism) defines catechism as: “Kataeceoh more properly, however, means to teach the first principles and rudiments of some particular doctrine. As applied to the doctrine of the church and as understood when thus used, it means to teach the first principles of the Christian religion, in which sense it occurs in Luke 1: 4, Acts 18:25, Galatians 6:6.”
Dictionary Definition: 1: oral instruction, 2: a manual for catechizing; specifically: a summary of religious doctrine often in the form of questions and answers. Catechism can refer both to a method of instruction (question & answer) and the content of the instruction itself.
Example of a Catechism Q&A: Q&A #3 of 114 from The Baptist Catechism (also called Keach’s Catechism) - Q: How may we know there is a God? A: The light of nature in man and the works of God plainly declare there is a God (Romans 1:19-20); but His Word and Spirit do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners (1 Corinthians 2:10).
What is a Catechism designed to do? To be a map or skeleton upon what we should believe. It is like the lines of a coloring book. It draws the lines and everything we believe is colored within the lines. A key word is: Foundation. A catechism lays the foundation upon what we believe. Thomas Watson: “To preach and not to catechize is to build without foundation.”
Matthew Henry Sums it up: “By these forms of sound words, the main principles of Christianity, which lie scattered in the Scripture, are collected and brought together.” “By these [catechisms], the truths of God are arranged and put in order . . . the harmony of divine truths, how one thing tends to another, and all center in Christ, and the glory of God in Christ: and thus, like the stones in an arch, they mutually support, and strengthen, and fix one another . . .” “By these [catechisms], the truths of God are brought down to the capacity of young ones.” “Catechizing does to the preaching of the word the same good office that John the Baptist did to our Saviour; it prepares the way, and makes its paths straight, and yet like him does but say the same things.”
A Biblical/Historical Apologetic for Catechism: Determine: Is it Biblical? Look at what saints of old have said about catechism. Think about what some significant unbelievers have said about catechism. Discover the impact of catechism.
Biblical Precedent for Catechisms: It does appear that there was a body of authoritative instruction and even a way of teaching it in the early church. Romans 6:17 Paul gives thanks that “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” 2 Timothy 1:13 says, “Hold fast the form of sound words [teaching], which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
Historical Precedent: The Question and Answer method has a rich history. The Socratic Method: a variation of catechism recorded by Plato. Augustine (353-430) in Catechizing the Uninstructed. In the early church new converts had a period of catechical instruction before they were baptized. This period of time helped both the church and the “convert” determine if he really was a convert! Anselm (1033-1109) in Cur Deus Homo. Erasmus (1466-1536) in Ten Colloquies, which he wrote as a short book of formulas, question and answer sentences. It continued to be used for 3 centuries. The great leaders of the Reformation: Martin Luther, John Knox, and John Calvin attacked the colossal ignorance they met by making catechisms and catechizing. One of the first efforts of the Reformers was to return sound catechical instruction to the churches. In Geneva, the children were to be trained at home by parents and also attend catechism classes on Sunday. The entire catechism was covered in 55 weeks.
The Baptist Tradition Is Replete With Scriptural Catechisms:
Keach’s Catechism – late 18th century, A Catechism for Boys and Girls (Question 12) - Q. Does God know all things? A. Yes. Nothing can be hidden from God.
Sutcliff’s The First Principles of the Oracles of God (Question 2) - Q. What are those things which are of greatest importance? A. The knowledge of God and myself, with what concerns my relation to, and enjoyment of Him.
A Brief Catechism of Bible Doctrine by J.P. Boyce – 1874 - Q. Does He [God] not influence men to do right? A. He does; and it is owing to His grace that we do anything that is good.
From a 1777 letter to Particular Baptist ministers in England: “Our confession of faith and our catechism for the instruction of our young people, are published to the world; and from these glorious principles we hope you will never depart . . . At present, blessed be God, we believe there is no apparent apostasy in our ministers and people from the glorious principles we profess; but, at the same time, we must in great plainness and faithfulness tell you, that catechizing of children is most sadly neglected, both in private families and in public congregations . . . “Our honored brethren, the ministers at Bristol, have lately encouraged the publication of two editions of our catechism, . . . and we do most earnestly intreat you to furnish yourselves with this excellent compendium of true divinity, and that you would teach it diligently to your children in private, and desire your pastors to instruct them, at least for the summer season, in public.”