Rev. David Harr
I can still recall the first time I heard the word "catechize." I was a college freshman listening to a Reformed pastor address our college fellowship on the need to know biblical truth in an increasingly secular age. Then he said it, "catechize." Even though I was raised in the church and had been walking with the Lord for years, the word was foreign to my ears. It sounded like a type of Medieval medical procedure. So if it has to do with learning the faith, I reasoned, it must be backward and painful.
What I didn't understand was that "to catechize" simply means to instruct in the faith by means of a catechism – a series of questions and answers that address foundational doctrines. I discovered that catechesis is an ancient method of teaching but it is far from backward. I learned that it can be extremely fruitful and even fun.
However, it required an introduction. I needed to be introduced to a good catechism to see the process up close. I needed someone to give me a taste of just how effective and enjoyable catechesis can be in learning the Christian faith.
I imagine that my experience is not an isolated one. I can count on one hand the number of adults in our current congregation who grew up memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Whether they grew up in non-believing homes or broadly evangelical churches, the vast majority of our church (and probably yours) didn't cut their teeth on the catechism. If these Christian adults are going to be committed to learning the catechism themselves and teaching their children to memorize it, they need an introduction. Not just an introduction to a strange sounding word, but an up close and personal demonstration of this time-tested and biblical form of learning.
There are a multitude of ways that a church can make catechism introductions. This video shows one that we have used at Immanuel OPC in Medford, NJ. Some years ago, the elders decided to try a different format for Sunday School during the summer. All of the classes, young and old, come together for Family Sunday School. We sing hymns and scripture choruses, memorize scripture, and learn key stories from the Scripture. One of the highlights is Mr. Graham's catechism songs. Yes, that is OPC stated clerk, Ross Graham, with his guitar. The children (and the adults in the background!) are singing songs that Ross wrote to teach parts of the Shorter Catechism.
Students of all ages have learned about the attributes of God and justification, and had a lot of fun doing it. Part of the goal is to give the congregation that up close and personal introduction to the catechism. The prayer is that this taste would motivate parents, Sunday School teachers, and covenant kids to work on memorizing the whole catechism and become more fully grounded in the truths of scripture.
What would catechism introductions look like in your church or your family? Sunday School teachers can use catechism songs each week in their classes. (Apart from Rev. Graham's selections, there are several different song collections that have been professionally written and recorded for the First Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.) Parents can make catechism memory a regular part of family devotions. Pastors can refer to the catechism in their preaching and incorporate the catechism into worship as confessions of faith.
Creative introductions to catechesis may look different in different contexts. But the goal is the same. Psalm 145:4 summarizes it well, "One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts." Our goal is to know the mighty acts of the Lord and commend them to a new generation. May the Lord grant us grace to faithfully do just that.