Historically, the church orally instructed children and new converts in the Bible’s teaching and its doctrines; therefore most catechisms have a question-and-answer format. One of the earliest catechisms is the Didache, or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.
The Importance of Catechesis
During my childhood, my friends and I used to run home after school and make our plans for all of the fun we would have, but every Wednesday one of my friends would remind us that he could not participate because he had to go to church for catechism. At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. My then-nine-year-old friend told me he learned stuff about the Bible. I didn’t think much about it then but in my years as a pastor and now as a parent I have come to greatly appreciate the practice of catechesis.
Catechesis is more than just teaching children about stuff in the Bible. Historically, the church orally instructed children and new converts in the Bible’s teaching and its doctrines; therefore most catechisms have a question-and-answer format. One of the earliest catechisms is the Didache, or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.
Pastors and teachers in the early church regularly used catechisms, and the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers reinvigorated the practice. During the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Reformed and Lutheran theologians wrote scores of catechisms in an effort to codify and teach the next generation the faith once delivered to the saints. One of the best-known catechisms is Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, which explains the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments, and prayer. Luther’s intention was to arm fathers with the necessary basic knowledge so they could teach and equip their children for the Christian life.
John Calvin’s Geneva Catechism of 1542 was written specifically for children and follows a similar pattern of topics as Luther’s Small Catechism. Zacharias Ursinus wrote the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), which is one of the three pillars of the Three Forms of Unity for Continental Reformed churches. And the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1648) is perhaps one of the best-known catechisms in the English-speaking world because of its famous first question and answer:
What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.
Catechetical instruction is part of the warp and woof of historic Protestant theology and practice.