Dear young people, you and I can be very thankful to our covenant God that He has preserved the practice of catechism instruction and learning for you and our children in our church. This practice is an ‘old path’ that goes all the way to the beginning of the church in the Old Testament.1 Though it languished for a while in the Middle Ages, it was restored during the Reformation. But alas, this heritage of the Reformation is all but lost in modern Christendom today. The concept, much less the practice, of catechism instruction is hardly known in the church world today. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why many churches are weak in doctrine and do not know the basics of the Christian faith. The truth of the Bible is not systematically taught to covenant children and new adult believers to ground them firmly in the faith. Doctrine is glossed over, decried as divisive, and downplayed in favour of a teaching that is man- centred, minimises sin and focuses on universal love and ecumenical union. God’s Word is not taught, but man’s godless philosophy. Unless a church returns to the old path of faithful catechism instruction, she will not maintain the truth of the Scriptures in her generations.
The inestimable value of faithful catechism instruction cannot be overstated. It will take a separate article (or even a book) all by itself to underscore this point. In this article, this fact will be assumed. We then move on to discuss the practical aspect of catechism and memory. A few words about the importance of memorising catechism ought to be said so that you have the proper motivation in memorising your catechism. Then we’ll look at some ways to help you in your practice of catechism memorisation.
Why must you memorise your catechism each week before you go to class? Why do your minister and parents require it of you? Because your parents and this church take our calling and baptismal vow to instruct you in the doctrine of the Scriptures to the utmost of our power seriously. We know that the tried and tested way of ‘sounding down’ the truth to you and have you ‘echo back the truth’, is one of the best ways, if not the best way, for you to learn and remember the grand, biblical truths of the Reformed faith. Memorising the catechism questions and answers will fix the truth in your minds. When as young children, you memorise the Bible stories, you inscribe biblical history and facts deep in your young and absorbent minds. As the doctrines and truths of Scripture are taught to you and woven into your lives from as young as you can remember, they shape your thinking and mould your character, so that you grow up to be God-fearing young men and women. And by God’s grace, you will one day confess publicly before the church that precious faith you’ve been taught and have come to love.
As you grow into adulthood and face the trials of life, as you certainly will, then having the catechism in your memories will enable you to draw strength and find comfort to go through those difficult times. The beautiful language of our Heidelberg Catechism will come to you as you lay hold, by faith, of the glorious truth of our certain preservation as God’s children unto the end, assured that “I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation”. Thus strengthened, you persevere in your pilgrim’s pathway, looking for the city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.
And if the Lord leads you to find a godly spouse and enter marriage, and give you children, then you will also teach them the catechism, require that they memorise the questions and answers, and explain to them the inestimable spiritual value of doing so by your own experience. In this way, the church, through you and other godly families, will raise up another generation who knows the Lord. And the cycle continues from generation to generation. Thus, God by His sovereign grace is pleased to preserve His truth among us and His church in our generations until the Lord Jesus Christ returns.
I hope you see why it is important that you memorise your catechism, and you are now properly motivated to do it. So how can you better memorise your catechism? Here are two ways I have found helpful for myself and my family.
First, Memorise the overview or big picture of the catechism. For the younger children’s catechism, memorise which main sections of OT or NT history the various stories fall into. For the older children, memorise the overall structure of the Heidelberg Catechism (Introduction : Q&A 1-2; Sin : Q&A 3-11; Salvation : Q&A 12-85; Service : Q&A 86-129). Having this big picture constantly at the back of your mind would not only help you to memorise the specific questions and answers better, but also helps you appreciate how a particular truth fits into the overall biblical narrative or the entire body of faith. For example, when the HC deals with the requirements of the law commandment by commandment, it does so under the 3rd section of the catechism on ‘Thankfulness’, showing that the 10 Commandments continue to be relevant in the life of a child of God as a rule for thankful living. So, as you memorise the questions and answers to each of the Commandments, you are always mindful that you obey them not to earn any favour or reward with God, but to express your deep gratitude for His sovereign grace in saving you from all your sin and misery.
Second, make catechism memory part of your daily routine. Parents, make it part of the daily routine of your child. Perhaps during lunch or dinner time, you could take out your catechism book (or an electronic version on your mobile phone) and memorise the questions (you have one week – so you don’t have to memorise everything in one sitting!). Parents can go through the catechism with their children before or after family devotion times. Just like we do for our personal and family devotions, build catechism memorisation into your daily routine. Once you establish the habit, it will become easier. Perhaps initially the daily memorisation feels onerous.
Some days you would probably miss doing it. Many times, you might feel like giving up. But don’t! Pray and ask the Lord for strength. Persevere, for in the long term, not only does it become easier, but you will also begin to enjoy it and realise how much you’re learning each day! The benefits far outweigh any difficulties you may encounter, for you are building up an entire storehouse of the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. That is priceless!
Catechism instruction and memorisation is one of the greatest blessings for the church. It is part of our rich reformed heritage. Let us treasure it and preserve its practice in CERC.
Parents, be not weary in the well-doing of having your children memorise the catechism, week in and week out. For in due season, you shall reap. This is the Lord’s promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Pro. 22:6). Young people, memorise your catechism! It will do you, and the church of which you are a living member, great spiritual good – now and in the generations to come.
Engelsma, David, (1997). Catechism! Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 73, Issue 21. http:// standar dbear er.r fpa.org/ar ticles/ catechism-1
Cammenga, Ronald, (1984). Catechism. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 60, Issue 21. http://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/ catechism-0
Gritters, Barry, (2008). Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (1). Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 84, Issue 20.
Gritters, Barry, (2008). Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (2). Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 84, Issue 20.
Van Dyken, Donald, (2000). Rediscovering Catechism: The Art of Equipping Covenant Children. New Jersey, USA.
Written by: Lee Kong Wee | Issue 42