About Catechism and Bible Instruction

About Catechism and Bible Instruction

      We live in a day in which our children are often subjected to a fragmented curriculum in the schools, which results in many passing through the system without being adequately educated to function in society. Likewise, the Biblical instruction of our children is also fragmented and rarely systematic. This leads to a situation later in life when they are "tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive…" ( Ephesians 4:14 ).

     God has intended for His children to know the scriptures "from a child" and this knowledge will make him/her "wise unto salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus". Furthermore, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be throughly furnished unto all good works" ( 2 Timothy 3:15-17 ).

     God has led the Church of the past to develop systematic Bible and doctrinal catechism instruction materials in order to preserve and transmit the truth to the next generation. Sadly, this practice is no longer widely maintained.

     The Catechism booklets featured in the office reflect the labors of a faithful denomination of Christian churches, which has preserved this tradition. Beginning when the child first learns to read and continuing untill he/she becomes a maturing youth (or young adult) there will have been adequate instruction in the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). This will help the Christian parent to "train up a child in the way he should go" to insure that "when he is old he will not depart from it" ( Proverbs 22:6 ).

Pierre C. LeMaster, MD  Pediatrician 

Excerpts from: "What is Catechism?" by Zacharias Ursinas
Writer of the Heidelberg Catechism 1563


This necessity may be urged,

  1.  Because it is the command of God: "Ye shall teach them to your children" etc. ( Deut. 11 . 19.)
  2.  Because of the divine glory which demands that God be not only rightly known and worshipped by those of adult age, but also by children, according as it is. said, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength." ( Ps. 8 . 2.)
  3.  On account of our comfort and salvation; for without a true knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ, no one that has attained to years of discretion and understanding can be saved, or have any sure comfort that he is accepted in the sight of God. Hence it is said, "This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and

Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent," And again, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." ( John 17 . 3, Heb. 11 . 6.) And not only so, but no one believes on him of whom he knows nothing, or has not heard; for, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10. 14, 17.) It is necessary, therefore, for all those who will be saved, to lay hold of, and embrace the doctrine of Christ, which is the chief and fundamental doctrine of the gospel. But, in order that this may be done, there must be instructions imparted to this effect and of necessity, some brief and simple form of doctrine, suited and adapted to the young, and such as are unlearned.

  1. For the preservation of society and the church. All past history proves that religion and the worship of God, the exercise and practice of piety, honesty, justice, and truth, are of the greatest importance to the well-being and perpetuation of the church and of the commonwealth. But it is in vain that we look for these things among barbarous nations, since they have never been known to produce the fruits of Piety and virtue. Hence, there is a necessity that we should be trained to the practice of these things from our earliest years; because the heart of man is depraved and evil from his youth; yea, such is the corruption of our nature, that unless we early commence the work of reformation and moral training, we too late apply a remedy when, through long delay, the evil principles and inclinations of the heart have become so strengthened and confirmed, as to bid defiance to the restraints we may then wish to impose upon them. If we are not correctly instructed in our childhood out of the sacred Scriptures concerning God and his will, and do not then commence the practice of piety, it is with great difficulty, if ever, we are drawn away from these errors which are, as it were, born in us, or which we have imbibed from, our youth, and that we are led to abandon the vices in which we have been brought up, and to which we have been accustomed. If, therefore, the church and state are to be preserved from degeneracy and final destruction, it is of the utmost importance that this depravity of our nature should, in due time, be met with proper restraints, and be subdued.
  2. There is a necessity that all persons should be made acquainted with the rule and standard according to which we are to judge and decide, in relation to the various opinions and dogmas of men, that we may not be led into error, and be seduced thereby, according to the commandment which is given in relation to this subject, "Beware of false prophets." "Prove all things." "Try the spirits whether they are of God." (Matt. 7 . 15, 1 Thess. 5 . 21, 1 John 4 . l.) But the law and the Apostle's creed, which are the chief parts of the catechism, constitute the rule and standard according to which we are to judge of the opinions of men, from which we may see the great importance of a familiar acquaintance with them.
  3. Those who have properly studied and learned the Catechism, are generally better prepared to understand and appreciate the sermons which they hear from time to time, inasmuch as they can easily refer and reduce those things which they hear out of the word of God, to the different heads of the catechism to which they appropriately belong, whilst, on the other hand, those who have not enjoyed this preparatory training, hear sermons for the most part, with but little profit to themselves.
  4.  The importance of catechisation may be urged in view of its peculiar adaptedness to those learners who are of weak and uncultivated minds, who require instruction in a short, plain, and perspicuous manner, as we have it in the catechism, and would not, on account of their youth and weakness of capacity, be able to understand it, if presented in a lengthy and more difficult form.
  5.  It is also necessary, for the purpose of distinguishing and separating the youths, and such as are unlearned, from schismatics and profane heathen, which can most effectually be done by a judicious course of catechetical instruction.

    Lastly. A knowledge of the catechism is especially important for those who are to act as teachers, because they ought to have a more intimate acquaintance with the doctrine of the church than others, as well on account of their calling, that they may one day be able to instruct others, as on account of the many facilities which they have for obtaining a knowledge of this doctrine, which it becomes them diligently to improve, that they may, like Timothy, become well acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, and "be good ministers of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith, and of a good doctrine, whereunto they have attained." (1. Tim. 4, 6 .)

    To these considerations, which clearly show the importance of catechisation, we may add many others of great weight, especially with the great mass of mankind, such as the arguments which may be drawn from the end of our creation, and from the prolongation and preservation of our lives from childhood to youth, and from youth to manhood, etc. We might also speak of the excellency of the object of the doctrine of the catechism, which is the highest good, even God himself, and might show the effect of such a course of instruction, which is a knowledge of this highest good, and a participation therein, which is something vastly more important and desirable than all the treasures of this world. This is that pearl of great price hidden in the field of the church, concerning which Christ speaks in Matt. 13:44 , and on account of which Christians in former times suffered martyrdom, with their little children. We may here refer to the example of Origen, of which we have an account in the sixth book and third chapter of the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius. So the fourth book and sixteenth chapter of the history of Theodoret may be read to the same purpose. But if we are ignorant of the doctrine and glory of Christ, who from among us would be willing to suffer on their account? And how can it be otherwise but that we will be ignorant of these things, unless we are taught and instructed in them from our childhood? A neglect of the catechism is, therefore, one of the chief causes why there are so many at the present day tossed about by every wind of doctrine, and why so many fall from Christ to Antichrist.

Excerpts from: "Catechism Instruction" by Rev. denHartog,

Minister of the Word in the Protestant Reformed Churches

    We point to several excellent features of true catechism instruction. First of all, catechism is systematic doctrinal instruction in the Word of God. The practice of catechism instruction is based on the conviction that the Bible contains a system of doctrine. It is not merely a collection of aphoristic sayings. The Bible is not merely a collection of stories with little moral lessons. The Bible contains the great doctrines of God. These doctrines form a glorious harmonious logical system. This system is consistently found through scripture. It does not have any contradictions even though superficial reading of the scripture might at first suggest this. The Christian benefits greatly from learning the biblical system of doctrine. Our faith cannot be based on a scattered and disjointed series of texts found in various parts of scripture and often taken out of the context in which they are found, and given meanings other than was intended by the inspired authors. Our faith must be grounded in knowledge, not mere emotion, feeling and experience, as real as these may seem in themselves. Catechism teaching seeks to illicit from scripture the great doctrines of God's Word that are a summary of all of what the Bible as a whole teaches. We believe that the Reformed Confessions excellently summarize the teaching of the whole of God's Word and that they set forth how we are to rightly understand all the fundamental doctrines of the Word of God.

    Catechism teaching takes into account the development of the truth in church history. It is not interested merely in maintaining tradition thought up by men, even if these men were actually great theologians. Catechism teaching does, however, set forth what the true church of Jesus Christ has always understood regarding the doctrines of scripture. We do not imagine ourselves to be the first ones to ever study the Scriptures. We seek to benefit from the great men of God and great men of learning who have gone before us in the history of the church. The great catechisms of the church reflect not merely the opinion of one man, not even the opinion of one or more of the greatest theologians of church history. The catechisms of the Reformed Churches represent what the church as a whole officially believes to be the truth of God's Word. It is the conviction of the truly Reformed man that the true church has always held to the truth of God's Word. Through history the church has grown in her understanding and appreciation of the Word of God, which in seed form the Lord has always given to the church. God has guided His church over the years by His Spirit into a deeper and richer understanding of the Word of God. The catechisms of the church reflect this, they are the product of the Spirit's leading, though not in the same way as the infallible scriptures.

    Catechism instruction not only sets forth the truth of God's Word but also sharply distinguishes this truth from error. Many there are in the church who imagine that one can hold to the truth of God without condemning error. They want everyone to believe what they themselves want to. They imagine that tolerance of all forms of belief and every doctrine devised by man is a most loving mark of the church. Catechism instruction seeks to equip God's people to discern the truth, contend for that truth and in doing this refute and condemn error. It would be easy to prove that our Lord Jesus Christ constantly did this while He was on earth. The letters of the inspired apostles contained in Holy Scripture are mighty doctrinal treatises, some even more than others. The truth of God cannot be maintained without distinguishing it from error. The church is called to condemn that error and to warn the members of the church against it. This we believe is equally important today as it was for Israel in the Old Testament. Israel was called to condemn the idolatry of heathen nations and separate herself from it. Only then could Israel be consecrated in love to her God. The church that boldly and forthrightly condemns false teaching and steadfastly maintains the sound doctrine of God is defending the honor and glory of God and His truth.

    Catechism teaching promotes unity of faith in the church. The great catechisms and confessions are the united confession of the Reformed Church. In our Protestant Reformed Churches we hold to "The Three Forms of Unity" mentioned above. We believe that these confessions unite us. When new converts join our churches they are catechized. We want our members to know and love the truth of God together with us. We are not interested in mere numbers but in the true unity of the church in knowledge and love of the truth of God. When new converts make confession of their faith in the midst of the public worship services of our churches they acknowledge agreement with the doctrines maintained in our churches and summarized in our confessions. The Lord is pleased. His name is glorified not by diversity of strange doctrines in the church but by unity in the confession and love of the truth of His Word, the truth which is Jesus Christ Himself.

    Catechism teaching is adapted to the level of understanding of the catechumens. Its purpose is to teach new converts the deeper things of God. Its purpose is to lead those who are infant in the faith to mature understanding of the Word of God. The purpose of catechism teaching is to help the members of the church in understanding the preaching of the Word of God in church and to continue all their life long to grow in the knowledge of God.

    We believe that catechism teaching in the church is serious business. It ought to be placed on an equal plane with the preaching of the Word on the Lord's Day. The catechete (those doing the teaching) should be well-trained. They are after all responsible for the souls of God's people and for upholding God's glorious truth in His church. As pious as it might seem to encourage as many members of the church as are willing to become teachers in the church this is not a biblical mandate. Scripture clearly teaches the need for a well trained, gifted, called, ordained and supervised ministry which can rightly divide the Word of God and maintain sound doctrine in the church. If at all possible catechism training in the church should be done by the theologically trained pastor. In our churches most of the catechism instruction is done by the pastor. Because this work is considered so important, our pastors devote a tremendous amount of time and energy to this work. I myself regularly teach seven catechism classes every week from September to May. If the minister of the Word is for legitimate reasons incapable of doing the work of catechism instruction it should be done by well-trained elders in the church.

    True catechism instruction rightly involves the memorization of answers of the great confessions and catechisms of the church. There is tremendous value to memorization and recitation. We believe that this is an excellent method for learning the Word of God. However, in connection with this the catechete has a twofold task. First of all he must carefully explain the questions and answers in a manner that is consistent with the level of understanding of his students. Mere rote memorization of doctrine without any or with only minimal understanding of what is learned is of little value and will lead to dead orthodoxy in the church. Secondly the catechete must clearly demonstrate for each class and its students the biblical basis for the things being taught. Learning doctrine in the abstract will produce students who might perhaps be excellent in retaining in their memory certain formal statements of doctrine but who after it all still know little about the Bible. All the great Reformed Confessions are replete with Biblical proof texts. In fact some of them such as the Canons of Dort are as far as their very content almost half simply quotations from scripture.

    We exhort members of the church to consider the matter of catechism instruction so important that you urge the church to which you belong to give such instruction. If this is not done in your church we consider it to be of such great importance that we exhort you to join yourselves to a church that does faithfully and rigorously catechize her members. Remember that we are not to be concerned merely for ourselves but for the church as a whole and for all of her members that they be strong in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and the knowledge of His truth. To be sure, our concern is not merely that of maintaining a certain formal tradition. Our great concern is that the members of the church know their God and love His truth. This concern is entirely Biblical.

    The fruit of faithful catechism teaching in the church will by the grace of God be members who are strong in the faith and the knowledge of the truth of God. It will promote unity of faith in the church and a standing together against false teaching. Again, this is so urgently needed in our day.

    Our churches have over the years developed some good catechism materials that are used regularly in our congregations. We invite our readers who are interested to send for samples of these.