Because of the noise, I normally would not have been able to hear anything they were saying, except that it was something very familiar to me; I mentally zone in on familiar sayings or phrases even amid clamor. I have been known to discern the episode or scene - even the point in a conversation - of an Andy Griffith Show rerun from several rooms (or a floor) away, merely by the tones of voices and the background noises :).
My mom's voice: What befell our first parents when they had sinned?
I couldn't make out Ben's reply, as he was slightly farther away, but I mentally replied with him: Instead of being holy and happy, they became sinful and miserable.
When I emerged into the living room a few minutes later, I was in time for:
Q. Can any one go to heaven with this sinful nature?
A. No; our hearts must be changed before we can be fit for heaven.
"I thought I heard the catechism!" I exclaimed. Sure enough, my mom had pulled out my brother's old copy of The Catechism for Young Children and was testing his memory. Even after more than a decade, many of the questions were still fresh in his mind. I felt inspired to get out my own worn catechism, and I took a trip down memory lane as I reread the questions I had poured over and committed to memory so many years ago. I can still recall most of the answers, though the ones at the end of the catechism are a bit rusty.
My brother is only a year older than me, so we often had Sunday School together growing up. When we were respectively in 4th and 5th grade, we were together in Mrs. Thigpen's class (I also had Mrs. Thigpen in Kindergarten and then in 5th grade). Under the instruction of Mrs. Thigpen in Sunday School and my mother at home, Ben and I both memorized The Catechism for Young Children by the end of 5th grade, along with many memory verses that went along with the related Sunday School lesson. I still have my key chain full of colored, laminated memory verse cards, and I occasionally flip through them and recall them to my memory.
Let me stop here and say that catechetic instruction is rarely beneficial unless supported and propelled by parents in the home. I've mentioned before how important parental religious instruction is, and how sad it is that often Sunday Schools downplay parents' (particularly the father's) spiritual responsiblity to train their children. I believe that Sunday Schools and catechetic instruction should be in addition to (or impemented by) parents, particularly by fathers. The main reason the catechism proved beneficial for me was that my mom incorporated the catechism into homeschooling, as well as related activities. As one who has taught Sunday School, I can attest that it is very tough to have a lasting spiritual influence on children without the support and reinforcement of parents.
My old Sunday School teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Thigpen, founded Children's Ministry International a number of years ago; CMI is a non-profit organization that writes and publishes reformed children's curriculum based on The Catechism for Young Children and The Westminster Shorter Catechism; I recommend the CMI curriculum for anyone looking for a solid, Bible-based Sunday School or homeschool curriculum that is grounded in reformed principles, while presented at an introductory level. I learned the catechism in conjunction with the CMI curriculum.
Some of you may be scratching your heads at this point, as catechetic instruction is often associated with the Catholic church. The Catholics do not have a monopoly on the use of catechisms to train young children, however (and I do applaud their recognition of the importance of such instruction). Catechisms have been used for centuries, and continue to be used today, by protestants as well as Catholics to train the next generation in basic Biblical truths. Catechetic instruction is particularly favored in Catholic and reformed circles, although other groups also find such a method to be beneficial.
For those unfamiliar with catechetic instruction, perhaps a definition of a catechism would be helpful at this point. Here is the definition given by Webster's Dictionary:
1. A form of instruction by means of questions and answers, particularly in the principles of religion.
2. An elementary book containing a summary of principles in any science or art, but appropriately in religion, reduced to the form of questions and answers, and sometimes with notes, explanations, and references to authorities.
The catechism I learned, The Catechism for Young Children, is a simplified version of The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which was written centuries ago by the Westminster Assembly of Divines. After learning The Catechism for Young Children, I did begin The Shorter Catechism, but only barely. I have since regretted not taking the time to commit The Shorter Catechism and its scripture proofs to memory (many catechisms, including The Shorter Catechism, contain reference Bible verses, called "scripture proofs", which are memorized along with the catechism questions).
As my attention to The Shorter Catechism was brief, to this day I only remember the first (and perhaps the most important) question in The Shorter Catechism:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
I would be hard-pressed to find a more excellent summary of a Christian's purpose and duty here on earth than the one given above. The purpose of a catechism is to instruct and train minds to be more like Christ as they learn to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Young children are like young plants, eager to drink in whatever food you feed them. What better food to feed them than the truths of God? Rather than (or at least in addition to) filling their young, impressionable minds with Sponge Bob, Mario Brothers, and Barney and Friends, fill their minds with the truths of God. It will not be in vain.
Proverbs 13:14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.
Catechetic instruction is not about brainwashing children to become Christians, or brainwashing them to become reformed, Catholic, or any other ideology. No instruction can make someone become a Christian; only the Holy Spirit can quicken a person's heart at the direction of the Father. Catechetic instruction is about instructing children in the way they should go, in the faith that God will draw them to Him in His timing. Parents are responsible for planting and watering seeds, but the growth is up to the Lord, lest we become prideful of our success.
Brad Winsted, the current director of CMI explains it this way: We are wiring the house of the child's mind and are waiting for the Holy Spirit to flick the switch translating the head knowledge to heart knowledge.
Many wonder why the catechism? Why not just have children memorize scripture? Wouldn't that be better, since scripture is the very Word of God, and any catechism is a human interpretation of the Word and therefore open to error.
At this point, I would like to offer the necessary disclaimer: I do not hold any catechism to have the same authority as the Word of God; as such, all catechisms (and creeds and confessions) should be tested in light of Scripture. When evaluating any man-made document we should be as Bereans, diligently searching the scriptures "to see if these things are so."
I am not discounting the importance of memorizing scripture. I highly encourage the memorization of scripture. Children have an especially easy time memorizing things, so by all means feed them scripture when they are young! The best catechetic instruction is coupled with scriptural references and memorizations; I have already mentioned scripture proofs that are often included in the catechism. The catechism is a companion to and an interpretation of scripture, not on par with scripture.
Every Christian parent uses some form of human interpretation to religiously instruct his child, whether it be verbal instruction, Bible storybooks, sermons, or even spiritual songs that are not part of the inspired psalms. It is inevitable to teach and instruct based on our own understanding of scripture. The Word of God is meant to be discussed, disected, and explained. No parent would allow his child's entire knowledge of God be exclusively based on direct reading of scripture. Since such training is inevitable, it is right and good to organize and solidify training into something the child will internalize. The catechism is systematic and organized. When properly implemented, it gives a child a structured basis for belief and an organized system from which to learn - sort of a "My First Systematic Theology" book. What a child internalizes becomes part of him, and he will carry it with him the rest of his life.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Brad Winsted, director of CMI:
Let me tell you a true story about a Presbyterian pastor who was asking a Catholic priest about why so many Catholics, when they are older and have been away from church so long, seem to want to come back. The Catholic priest's answer was immediate. "We catechize our little children and it is part of them, therefore, when they are seeking again the answers to life, their memorized catechism questions come back to them and they return again to the source of that learning.".I still refer back to many things I learned as a young girl studying the catechism. The solid Biblical truths I learned come back to me unprompted because they are part of me. To me, sin will always be want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. It was through the catechism that I first internalized the realization that sin has two aspects: not being and doing what God requires and doing what God forbids. That is something I will never, ever forget.
Now that I am older, I have the ability and desire to search out the truths I first learned at my parents' knees and between the covers of my catechism. At the time, I took what I was taught in faith, believing my parents and teachers. Now I can be a Berean, searching the scriptures to test what I was taught. By the grace of God I am continuing a journey that began at the feet of my parents, as they taught me the very basic truths of God.
For those further interested in catechetic instruction, I invite you to read the following articles on CMI's website:
Why Use the Children's Catechism Anyway?
A Personal Family Catechism
Why Bother Catechizing our Children?
It is worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to become men of God. - B.B. Warfield
Soli Deo Gloria