For years I thought that catechisms were for kids who attended liturgical churches – end of story. Then somewhere along the way I began to be exposed to the Westminster Catechism and I started doing some more reading and thinking about catechisms. What are they and what good are they?
This is what I found. First of all, a catechism is a list of questions and answers that explain the basics of the Christian faith in a systematical way. There are lengthy ones with plenty of big theological words and there are much simpler ones intended for young children. A catechism teaches us what we believe about God and why we believe it.
So what good is it? In a world where values change or even disappear as the political and cultural atmosphere changes and in which sin and standards have become a matter of opinion, it is important for Christians to know truth – the truth that is found in Scripture. A catechism is simply a tool to help us dig out the truth and to understand how it applies to our lives on earth. Susan Hunt, the author of Big Truths for Little Kids writes, “Catechizing children is an effective way to teach them a framework of biblical knowledge that helps them develop a Christian worldview.” Kevin DeYoung, who wrote a book on the Heidelberg Confession – The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism – says, “…all of us – kids and adults – can have our faith strengthened, our knowledge broadened, and our love for Jesus deepened by devoting ourselves to reading rich truth like the kind found in the Heidelberg Catechism.”
So, is reading and studying a catechism a substitute for reading and studying the Word of God? Of course not! Actually, a careful reading of a catechism should propel us back into the Word to see if these things are really true. For instance, the Heidelberg Catechism teaches infant baptism. I understand the arguments, but I still can’t line infant baptism up with what I read in Scripture. Remember, just because something is written in a catechism doesn’t make it inspired – we must search the Scriptures to find the truth. However, on the whole I have found the study of a catechism to be a reminder of the tenets of my faith and a reminder of the great God who is the giver of that faith.
I can highly recommend Susan Hunt’s and Kevin DeYoung’s books as well as the New City Catechism (http://www.newcitycatechism.com/) and Westminster Shorter Catechism in 90 Days, an iPhone app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/westminster-shorter-catechism/id357433595?mt=8).
Give it a try and let me know what you think!