My daughter says the word "no" in threes — a repetition I've gathered she learned from me as I answer her questions about what she may and may not do. Last month, I used this quirk to my advantage while teaching her about the Reformation. Using a simple question and answer format, we covered the basics:
"What did Martin Luther say to the Catholic Church?"
"No, no, no!"
"What was Martin Luther's favorite book?"
"Who did Martin Luther love the most?"
Cute, right? And she's only 20 months old.
We use this teaching method daily in our home to teach her church history and the fundamentals of our faith. It's called catechizing, which refers to educating through a question-and-answer model. We use age-appropriate catechisms to help her build a framework for what we hold most dear. All the while, praying God will use this knowledge to capture her heart and mind for his glory.
Catechesis by the Church
The Church began catechizing in the 16th century. Adult converts struggled to learn proper theology in light of their cultural norms. Not only was the doctrine new, but the vocabulary used was foreign to them. So, the Church summarized God's large truths in understandable, digestible questions and answers. Through catechizing, people exchanged lifelong false beliefs for life-giving doctrines of grace.
There's an obvious disconnect between our current culture and our Christian beliefs, too. It's not that our culture is particularly horrendous in comparison to years past. The lies may have shifted, but sin has always been sin. And, like the generations before us, we're an alien people wandering in a foreign land. We need to know what God says about himself, about us, and about how to live. And we need to teach those same truths to our children.
So how do we—as parents, mentors, and church leaders—help the children in our care separate wisdom from folly? We train them as the Church has for generations: we catechize.
Catechesis as a Foundation
It starts with a question, then an answer.
"Who made you?"
"What else did God make?"
As you can see, we've altered the historical catechisms to what we call "toddler theology." I thought real faith training would begin when our oldest could speak in full sentences. But when she began to answer questions with, "No, no, no," I knew better.
Children are gifted mimics, acting as parrots for our most used phrases. And they faithfully remember what they hear repeated often enough.
Catechizing utilizes both of these skills to build a Christian foundation through memorization. We teach the meaning of words ("What is sin?"). We learn the position of man ("Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?"). We begin to explain the power of God ("What are God's works of providence?").
We use questions to break down big theological words and concepts to build up a foundation; this allows the gospel to shine. When you explain disobedient action as sin, they know it's in their hearts. When you explain the need for a Savior, they know they need a way to God. When you share the hope of the cross, they know this is our only hope.
While knowing doesn't earn saving faith, God can use it for his purposes in your child's life. We're responsible for teaching our children as we sit in our homes, walk by the road, and begin and end our days. But only God brings a dead heart bursting into life.
Think of catechism knowledge as biblical kindling for the heart. Use kindling to build a foundation for a good fire and, with eager anticipation, pray for the spark of the Holy Spirit to bring forth light.
Catechesis for the Church
Catechisms reinforce biblical truths. They form a worldview capable of rightly filtering culture through a gospel lens. They teach children to experience life from a humble position. They instruct on how a disciple ought to live and how the Church should function. They remind them God works through all things to will and work for our joy and his good pleasure.
The knowledge acquired through catechesis isn't for knowledge's sake. Sound knowledge is a part of our Christian heritage for the benefit of the entire body of Christ. All that we're given—including understanding—is for service to one another for the glory of God. If our children are well-trained disciples, the greatest benefit will be to the Church as God uses his people to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Imagine if the next generation understands the beautiful, deep truths of scripture. Imagine if they’re Bible-literate and equipped for service. Imagine if they love God with their hearts and their minds.
Imagine when faced with the foolishness of this world, they say, “No, no, no,” and cling to Jesus.