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    Catechizing the Kids

    April 2, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    When I was growing up, catechism was for Catholic kids. Little did I know that catechisms like the Westminster have a long tradition within the reformed Christian church. Training Hearts Teaching Minds is a book that we were given awhile back, but I assumed that it was too much for my children. If I had really looked at it, I probably would have started it right away.

    This weekend, I remembered the book as I was pondering what to use for morning Bible time once kindergarten is officially underway this fall. Training Hearts Teaching Minds goes through one question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English per week. This gives plenty of time to explain to young children what the meaning of the question and answer is, as well as study various Scripture from which the answer was originally derived.

    Starr Meade, the author of Training Hearts Teaching Minds, connects catechizing children to the larger purpose of the church. Essentially, Meade would say that if the church is to continue in the business of being the “pillar and support of the truth” {I Timothy 3:15}, the children, since they are the future church, must be taught the essential doctrines of the faith. She goes on to explain in her introduction that this was the original purpose of the various catechisms {including the Westminster}.

    I was always resistant to memorization because I have often read disparaging things about what is disdainfully referred to as “rote memorization.” However, Meade persuaded me when she wrote:

    It is said that if we require our children to memorize by rote, they will only memorize meaningless sounds and words without understanding them. Certainly we do a disservice to our children if we insist that they memorize words they do not understand, while we fail to take the time to discuss, teach, and explain the meanings to them. The solution, however, is not to discard memorization as a teaching method, but to faithfully supply meaning by discussing and explaining.

    Meade also discusses the importance of teaching children actual doctrine rather than doing what many churches do and presenting various Bible stories in the form of moral tales:

    Children hear the same Bible stories repeatedly, almost always as moral lessons on how to behave. Typical Sunday school lessons reduce Bible stories to moral tales much like Aesop’s fables. The focus is on the human being in the story, who becomes its main character. So the teacher comes to the end and concludes, “And you must be like David and God will bless you,” or “You must not act as Ahab did or you will find trouble.

    When Bible stories are used in this way, God sits on the periphery of the narrative, like the genie in a fairy tale, blessing human actors for good behavior or cursing them for failures. Children seldom learn to see that God Himself is the main character of every Bible story. They do not learn to ask about each account they read, “What does this story tell me about God?” They never learn to read all the biblical narratives in the light of God’s overall purpose to redeem a people for Himself. All they learn is: Be good and God blesses; be bad, and He does not. Not only is this a faulty representation of the gospel, it is not the gospel at all! What a tragedy!

    She goes on, explaining that this form of Sunday school teaching is failing to equip the Church’s children to be that pillar and support of truth they are called to be. Her solution to this failure is her book. She explains:

    Those of us who care about passing on the baton of historic Christian truth must awaken to the importance of faithfully imparting its doctrines to our children. We cannot depend on haphazard, hit-or-miss Bible stories and memory verses, hoping that somehow our children will distill from them Christianity’s important teachings. Rather, we must provide careful, systematic instruction in doctrine. Children need a grid through which to sift all that they see and hear. We must provide this for our children while they are still young. Doctrine cannot wait until children are teens, because adolescents are making major life decisions. The theological framework on which to base those decisions, the biblical worldview, must already be in place.

    And so today, this very day, we began our Westminster Shorter Catechism adventure. If we are diligent in our work, we will complete our trip through this book in approximately two years. If I can remember, I will post each week’s question and answer in the sidebar. If you are like me, you could probably use a Doctrine Refresher Course anyhow!


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  • Reply Brandy December 13, 2007 at 4:12 pm


    I am glad you are enjoying it! It has been more of a blessing for our family than I ever dreamed. The kids are, of course, learning a lot, but what I didn’t expect was how much more clearly I am learning to think. 🙂

  • Reply Frieda December 13, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Seeing the Q/A on the sidebar of your blog led me to this posting, which I’d not seen because I found your blog only a short time ago. Then I googled the Shorter Westminster Catechism, printed it out (it’s not so short, either!) and am now using it in my daily Bible study. Thanks for bringing it to mind again, and for the review of the book you mentioned.

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