En Gedi: Finding rest in the wilderness!

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Archive for the ‘Raising Kids’ Category

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 Catechism is an outdated mode of instruction; memorized questions and answers do not have the panache of modern educational approaches.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

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