Our 12 year old son made a profession of faith in Jesus a few years ago. One of our neighbors, upon learning of his conversion, asked me about our next step with him.
âWe are considering baptizing him,â I told him, âbut before we do, we want to watch him for a while and carefully catechize him in sound doctrine to make sure he understands the gospel and the commitment. which he took from Christ. She looked confused. “I didn’t know you were all Roman Catholics. I thought you were Baptists. Is catechism a Baptist thing?
His reaction upset me for a few seconds. Then it struck me: my mention of catechisms gave him the impression that we are Roman Catholics. âIn fact, Baptists have always catechized their children. It’s not just a Roman Catholic thing.
I have had a similar reaction over the years when discussing catechisms with other Christians. In the eyes of many, âBaptistâ and âCatechismâ are not allies. But historically speaking, nothing could be further from the truth.
Baptists and catechesis
The Reformation was a golden age for catechisms among Protestants. Luther and Calvin placed great importance on the catechism of children and adults, and each wrote catechisms for this purpose. The Heidelberg Catechism (1562) and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) are the two best known and most influential catechisms from the Reformed tradition.
It is not as well known, but Baptists also have a rich tradition of writing and using catechisms. They have used catechisms practically since their appearance in the 17th century. Particular Baptists and General Baptists in England used them. The unforgettable Hercules Collins (1646-1702), a peculiar Baptist (Calvinist) pastor of 17th-century England, adapted the Heidelberg Catechism as the basis for his Orthodox Catechism, published in 1680. One of the most important catechisms influential from the Baptists was The Baptist Catechism, published by Benjamin Keach (1640-1704). It is often referred to as âKeach’s Catechism,â and it is based on The Shorter Catechism, which also served as the basis for Spurgeon’s Catechism in the 19th century.
The principal theologians among the general Baptists (Arminians) in England, Thomas Grantham (1634â1692) and Dan Taylor (1738â1816) also published catechisms in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Baptists in America used catechesis as a fundamental educational tool. The first Baptist association in America, the Philadelphia Association, and the first Southern Baptist association, the Charleston Association, published duplicates of Keach’s catechism. Dozens of churches in both associations faithfully used catechesis, producing different versions depending on age and level of learning. The short catechism would be suitable for young children, while the larger catechism was written for older children and adults. Henry Jessey (1603-1663), a leader among the early particular Baptists, produced three linked catechisms, including one with only four questions titled A Catechism for Babies, or toddlers.
Although the Baptists did not produce a new catechism for many decades, they did so until the 19th century, as shown in the Catechism of Biblical Doctrine by James Pettigru Boyce (1864) and the Catechism by John Broadus. commissioned by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (1891).
But that was over 100 years ago. So I want to call on my Baptist brothers and sisters to rediscover this age-old method of teaching Bible doctrine to children (and adults). Over the years, my children and many friends have benefited from this practice.
Here are four reasons why this excellent teaching method should be picked up.
1. Children’s minds cling to memorized facts like glue.
Dozens of verses remain lodged in my mind in Elizabethan English. Why? Because I grew up in church and memorized the scriptures in Sunday School and Holiday Bible School, mostly from the King James Bible.
Children will amaze you with the amount of information they can memorize. Two of my children knew the children’s version of the Baptist Catechism when they were 10 years old. They often laughed at me good-naturedly asking, “Daddy, give me the book so I can see if you know it.” Their minds held the answers much better than mine. Just because my kids are exceptionally bright, it’s not because they’re kids and most kids memorize much better than adults.
2. Teaching children Bible truth does not save them, but puts them in the kingdom of grace.
No, Baptists do not have confirmation classes for their children, but memorized Bible truths will remain into adulthood and can be used as a tool in the hand of God.
3. Catechizing children gives them a framework to interpret life.
Teach your children the Baptist Catechism, the New Town Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism or any other classic Evangelical Catechism. In doing so, you provide them with a complete Christian world view. You introduce them to Him Who created the world, how the world went wrong, and what God did to fix it. Catechesis introduces children to all of the vital doctrines of Scripture and gives them answers when the world begins to knock on their faith door, especially during the middle school years.
John Newton, the old slaveholder whom God saved and made a preacher, the man who wrote the famous hymn âAmazing Graceâ, was converted in part because his mother catechized him as a child. When Newton walked away from the fold of God, he knew he was leading a life of sin because of the Bible truth hidden in his heart. He knew that God was watching, that Christ had come, and those who would reject Him would face a terrible eternity. One fateful night during a storm, Newton thought his ship was sinking. These realities frightened him and made his heart long for salvation. He later attributed all of this, at least in part, to his mother’s catechetical efforts.
4. The seeds of truth planted now can blossom in a harvest of grace.
Spiritual training requires discipline. Teaching your children the great truths of Christianity requires both diligence and patience. Jesus’ parable of the growing seed in Mark 4: 26-28 encourages such efforts:
The kingdom of God is as if a man were to sow seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed germinates and grows; he doesn’t know how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
Brothers and sisters, get a copy of a catechism and begin to sow seeds in the young hearts of your home and church. They are fruitful for Baptists â and all Christians. Here are some recommended resources to get you started:
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at 9Marks.