Chapter 4

Teaching Children Truths through Catechism

“I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times.” —Charles Spurgeon

Do you remember the show called Kids Say the Darndest Things? In a similar way, my children have taught me that kids also ask the darndest things. Our seven-year-old daughter Anna Belle loves to ask questions. She has a knack for asking particularly tough questions that are not easy to answer. In fact, this afternoon she asked me, “If our house was burning down and the fire department came to help, would we have to pay them for coming?” The truth is, I don’t really know!

Questions are an important part of life. You are never too old or too young to ask questions. When you’re growing up, you don’t know all of the answers. In fact, you typically have a lot more questions than you do answers. That’s why children ask so many. Questions like “How can birds fly?” or “Where do people go when they die?” or “Why does the sun set and rise?” or “Where is heaven?” I could go on.

Questions are natural ways to find out the basic answers to life. Questions are also an essential part of growing in your faith. They help us discover the mysteries of our faith. They are how we learn, grow, and ultimately come to believe. Once you stop asking questions, you stop learning, growing, and believing.

Learning through Questions and Answers

Christians throughout the ages have used simple questions and answers to teach the faith to children. Over time, Christians began to put questions and answers down in a formal teaching method called a catechism. The Greek word for “instruct” or “teach” is katecheo, from which we get our English word “catechize.” Catechesis is the process of instructing children and adults in the basic essentials of the Christian faith.

Catechisms are basic summaries of the church’s teachings to ensure that all members of the church understand the essentials of the faith for themselves using a question-and-answer format. Catechisms are not a pass or fail fill-in-the-blank test, but an invitation to learn the doctrines of grace. Using a catechism involves vital learning, ongoing reflection, and discussion within the community of faith.

Catechisms have been used by Christians for centuries. As early as Augustine (AD 353–430), the Christian church has used catechisms to instruct new believers. During the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers compiled many catechisms to help train new believers.

The Puritans also developed catechisms for their day. Puritan pastors encouraged heads of families to catechize family members in their home. Richard Baxter said, “Persuade the master of every family to cause his children and servants to repeat the Catechism to him, every Sabbath evening, and to give him some account of what they have heard at church during the day.” Puritan pastors regularly visited the homes of their flock to catechize families. The Puritans believed that the parents had a personal responsibility to catechize their family members.

The Foundation of the Creeds

Many of the historic catechisms were primarily built on the foundation of the early Christian creeds: the Apostles’ and Nicene. A creed is a brief statement of faith used to clarify doctrinal points and to distinguish truth from error. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo, meaning “I believe.” The Bible contains a number of creed-like passages (see Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 12:3; 15:3–4; 1 Timothy 3:16). The creeds offer us a concise summary of authentic Christian doctrine.

As the early church spread, there was a practical need for a statement of faith to help believers focus on the most important doctrines of their Christian faith. The Apostles’ Creed is named not because the original apostles wrote it, but because it accurately reflects the teaching of the apostles. The final text of the Apostles’ Creed was eventually accepted around 800 AD as the standard form in the Western church.

As the church continued to grow, heresies also grew, and the early Christians needed to clarify the defining boundaries of the faith. In the early 300s, controversy developed over the divinity of Jesus Christ. At the request of Emperor Constantine, Christian bishops from across the East and the West met at the town of Nicea, near Constantinople. In 325 AD they wrote an expanded creed, called the Creed of Nicea. These two creeds are widely accepted among all Christians as statements of true Christian orthodoxy. In particular, the Apostles’ Creed has been used for memorization and catechizing children.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth;

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Affirmation of the Faith

We believe in God the Father, Almighty.

We believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, Giver of Life.

We believe in the Three in One. Amen.