Bringing Back Catechism—and Some Resources to Do It

Catechism is a forgotten practice. It was once considered a necessity by Christians for the training of their children in the faith (as well as new converts). What better way to teach children Christianity than questions and answers about important doctrines? Having children learn answers and memorize them at a young age will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

However, catechism is not just for children. Adults too can and should be catechized (especially adult converts). Catechism reminds all of us of the great truths of the Christian faith. And just like memorizing Bible verses, it helps us to store up these truths in our hearts.

When Should Catechism Be Done?

Churches should teach catechism for both children and youth. (It is also a great guide for teaching adults.) This can be done during Sunday school or on a weekday evening. However, catechism really is the responsibility of parents. It is not a difficult task, and the dinner table makes for an ideal opportunity. Parents can pray before dinner and follow dinner with a chapter of Bible reading and/or a catechism question and answer. It doesn’t have to be long. The family can even seek to memorize a question and answer together.

Which Catechism Should You Use?

This really depends on your beliefs and which church you belong to. Many of the catechisms coming out of the Protestant Reformation are at least partly based on the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. So they have some similarities.

As a Presbyterian, I recommend the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The Westminster Confession and Catechisms were written by the Westminster Assembly in 1646. They are Reformed and Calvinist in their doctrine. On top of being a great catechism, the Westminster Catechism has the benefit of being originally written in English. Its first question is famous and is an example of its greatness:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Another great catechism is the Heidelberg Catechism, written by Zacharius Ursinus in 1563. This is an excellent catechism that is still used by the Dutch Reformed churches. Its first question is famous because of its comforting and beautiful language:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

If you are Lutheran, Luther’s Small Catechism is great.

Resources for the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Because I cannot provide resources for every Christian tradition, I will here focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. (You can find it here for free online.) Though there is a children’s catechism out there, this was not an original document. We like to think of ourselves as educated today, but the Shorter Catechism of 1646 was actually intended for children (as opposed to the Larger Catechism). I think we should still use the Shorter Catechism for children.

Here is a nice hardcover edition of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms with Scripture proofs.

If you just want the Shorter Catechism, this is a nice small and cheap edition.

Here is an edition of the Shorter Catechism in Modern English. But beware, this edition does not just get rid of words like “hath.” It is still faithful to the original meaning, but you may not be pleased if you are used to the original wording. I prefer the original. 

Starr Meade has written a book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism that helps parents and teachers by providing devotions based on the Shorter Catechism—Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism. Meade also has a similar book on the Heidelberg Catechism.

If you want to study the Westminster Assembly more in depth, Robert Letham’s The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context is an excellent book. This is particularly good for those teaching on the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, as it covers the history and the theological debates behind the Westminster Confession. The book is well written, but it is not light reading.