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An Old Way of Teaching Kids Right From Wrong!

Posted by Scott on October 25, 2007

The Benefit of Catechism

Why do we teach our children the catechisms? Catechism is an outdated mode of instruction; memorized questions and answers do not have the panache of modern educational approaches. After all, what good does it do to just memorize words – don’t we want the kids to believe God’s truth in their hearts?

And so on. You know how the argument runs. I’ll answer, but let me first ask my own question: Which of the following actions are sinful?

a. telling a lie
shooting an intruder in your home
performing an abortion of convenience
showing disrespect to your neighbor’s gay lifestyle
driving an SUV
smoking a cigarette
spending Sunday afternoon and evening at the ballpark
cheating on your taxes

I could go on, but the list is complex enough to make the point.

You may think some of these are easy judgments to reach, but you must admit: your kids are growing up in a world in which some people think each of these things is sinful, but everybody agrees on none of them. To put that in philosophical terms, your kids are growing up without the benefit of a culturally shared ethic. Given that they most certainly will be exposed to a variety of definitions of right and wrong, isn’t it a good idea to give them a biblical definition of sin they can use every time they are confronted with one of these thorny questions?

I grew up memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism, so I can tell you (and could from an early age) that “sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the Law of God.” That simple phrase defines one loaded term (sin) with several others. It summarizes an entire ethical position.

Notice first that this definition presumes that right ethics are found in what God has said, not in men’s opinions. Morality is derived from “the Law of God.” That Law demands “conformity,” or obedience to certain standards. It tells us certain things we are to do. It also forbids “transgressions.” It tells us certain things we are not to do. Consequently, the catechism provides a rather simplistic, two-part definition of “sin.” If you don’t do what God commanded you, that’s sin. If you do what God commanded you not to do, that’s also sin. And that’s the whole definition. Any failure to conform and any transgression are sin. Anything else is not sin.

I actually think about this particular catechism question quite a lot. I use it to resolve every ethical problem that arises. Does God’s law command me to do something? Not to do something? Does this action involve a want (lack) of conformity, or a transgression? If so, it is sin. If not, it is a matter of liberty. It isn’t always easy to work out the answers to those questions, but at least I know the questions to ask. I am not, consequently, bound to conform to the ever-changing definition of sin produced by society. I have an ethical system which binds me to God’s Law instead.

Now here’s the funny part. When I first memorized these words, I didn’t know what “transgression” meant, and I didn’t understand how “want” was used in the seventeenth century. I’m pretty sure I thought “conformity” was spelled with a “k,” and it never occurred to me to connect it with the word “conform.” So, was I memorizing sounds without meaning? Was it an empty exercise?

Not really. First of all, I understood what laws are. They are rules, and every kid understands rules. Secondly, I knew that I was saying that God has rules. (I knew who God is – He’s the answer to the question “Who made you?”) And I understood, as any young child can, that the question and answer was teaching that you have to follow God’s rules, and if you don’t, that’s called “sin.” So it was a meaningful thing to study those words.

As I got older I was able to learn the subtleties of the answer which escaped me as a child. I even eventually learned to spell “conformity.” Because I had memorized the words as a child, and because children memorize so easily, I have always known the words. They are easily recalled each time I need to apply biblical ethics to a thorny question. The definition is wonderfully functional. Reread the eight circumstances named early in this post, and ask these questions: “What does God’s law say?” “Did God tell me to do something?” “Did God tell me not to do something?” The clarity with which you may then consider these issues is breathtaking.

So why do we teach the catechisms? The questions and answers are intended to lend definition to our thinking. “What is God?” “What is sin?” “What is Justification?” What does God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?” These are matters of which we should think clearly. Catechisms aren’t the only way to learn to do so, but they are a very effective way.

posted by Tom Chantry of Christ Reformed Baptist Church

-Scott Bailey 2007


7 Responses to “An Old Way of Teaching Kids Right From Wrong!”

  1. […] here for full […]

  2. Ruslan said

    Yes you have stated very useful ways how we should teach our children what is wrong for them and how we should educate them moral values.

    I would use these methods for my children.

  3. what you mean by Catechism?

  4. […] here to […]

  5. qbaileys said

    A catechism (κατηχισμός in Greek) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present.
    Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life. This article and topic has nothing to do with denominational beliefs like Catholic or Protestant, although, they have their own Catechism’s as well…this is purely to understand Christ and the New Testament Christian church. Simply put, it is the systematic teaching of our Christian doctrine to our children, new believers, and anyone else that wants a deeper understanding of their Christian heritage and faith.
    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

  6. Term Paper said

    Hi Scott,

    How should we go about telling our children? I mean should we use forcing way like telling them with stick or we should say and leave upto them how they understand the things related to God. And there is always some problem to teach children who are mature…how u go to teach adults for example…

  7. qbaileys said

    That is a good question. I do think it is left up to you as a parent as to how you want to drill this into your childrens character. God has placed a particular characteristic in each person life like a person that is very organized and must have his/her checklist will not be treated the same as a person that is hard driving and only looks at the bottom line…one form of discipline on one child may not work on another and may cause greater frustration. I would encourage you to look into the D I S C analysis program or Personality Profile paste this into your web browser http://www.personality-insights.com/robertrohm/ for your children. This will increase your awareness as to how that child will respond to certain discplines and how that child learns (their learning style). This way when trying to instruct you kids in the way they should live and the priniciples of the faith you will understand how that child will absorb them. Most importantly is how do you live your life in front of your children? For our kids, using a spanking or stick, as you call it, has not been most effective. They look at how my wife and I live and our example plus what we teach them on a daily basis. Our greatest prayers for our children is that God would keep drawing them closer and closer to Him and His ways. My conclusion is that although my wife and I are in charge of raising these kids, they still belong to our heavenly Father. We are to present them with the facts and instruction of God’s word and allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest. This does not take away consequences for lying, stealing, or disobedience on our end…I can assure you the punishment can come quickly and firmly and at other times depending on the sin may require time to think about a punishment that fights that sin. Allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts as parents, too.

    Issues like putting a knife in the wall electrical socket requires quick and stern action or it could harm or kill that child…so a swat on the hand and a stern “NO” may be best or simply pulling the child away to another location and a stern “NO”. However, a child that may disobey a specific command of “take out the trash” could require a greater amount of patience and time to allow God to work in the heart of that child…they will take out the trash immediately, but I am saying do not let this be a one size fits all action. Forcing anything on them physically in ways of instruction on life most likely will not do any good. This is not the subject of “spare the rod and spoil the child” we are addressing the catechism issues and faith issues….not issues of them telling us no or the knife in the electrical outlet….this is a deeper spiritual issue we are addressing.

    Whatever you do, make sure the child knows it is from a loving heart that care deeply for them and what they become…this is a love that your child will understand is for their safety, great good and the glorifying of God. Make sure your focus to be all that you as a father or mother can be in Christ and allow room for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts and mind of the children. Keep repeating the truth to them….in conjunction with the Holy Spirit those biblical truthes will produce a great warrior for Christ and citizen of whatever country they live in.

    I appreciate the opportunity to shed further light on God’s subjects in life.
    Hope that is helpful.


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