Reformed Catechism Classes: A Calling
1. The Key Thing in Life
The key thing in life is to understand that our
chief end and that of our children is to glorify God and enjoy Him
forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 1).
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his
righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not
worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not
worthy of me (Matt. 10:37).
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure
hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for
joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a
merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl
of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it (Matt.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will
come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow
me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will
lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited,
if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall
a man give in exchange for his soul (Matt. 16:24-26)?
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get
wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding (Prov. 4:7).
Blessed is the man that heareth me [i.e., Christ,
the wisdom of God], watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts
of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain
favour of the LORD. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own
soul: all they that hate me love death (Prov. 8:34-36).
This people have I formed for myself; they shall
shew forth my praise (Isa 43:21).
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things
which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set
your affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col.
2. The Calling of Covenant Children
The calling of covenant children, baptized into the
name of the Triune God, is to follow Jesus Christ, to whom they belong
in both body and soul (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 1), by
believing and obeying His Word according to their capacity. Some of
the most pertinent Scriptures are the following:
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide
my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto
wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest
after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou
seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the
knowledge of God (Prov. 2:1-5).
Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and
instruction, and understanding (Prov. 23:23).
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this
is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first
commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou
mayest live long on the earth (Eph. 6:1-3).
Children, obey your parents in all things: for
this is well pleasing unto the Lord (Col. 3:20).
This biblical calling of covenant children is
expressed in our "Form for the Administration of Baptism:"
Whereas in all covenants, there are contained
two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of,
and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one
God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love
him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind,
and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our
old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.
… that they may daily follow him, joyfully
bearing their cross, and cleave unto him in true faith, firm hope,
and ardent love; that they may, with a comfortable sense of thy
favour, leave this life, which is nothing but a continual death,
and at the last day, may appear without terror before the judgment
seat of Christ thy Son, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with
thee and the Holy Ghost, one only God, lives and reigns forever.
3. The Calling of Christian Parents
As well as supporting the church in its calling
with regard to their children, the calling of Christian parents
concerning their children is, in brief, to teach them their calling
from God’s Word (as above) and to train them in it in love, as the
following texts from Holy Scripture indicate:
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul
diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have
seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy
life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons (Deut. 4:9).
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and
with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which
I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt
teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them
when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the
way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deut.
And ye shall teach them your children, speaking
of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by
the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou
shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy
gates (Deut. 11:19-20).
Set your hearts unto all the words which I
testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children
to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain
thing for you; because it is your life (Deut. 32:46-47).
We will not hide them from their children,
shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his
strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he
established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known
to their children: That the generation to come might know them,
even the children which should be born; who should arise and
declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in
God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious
generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and
whose spirit was not stedfast with God (Ps. 78:4-8).
Train up a child in the way he should go: and
when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to
wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord
When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith
that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and
thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also … And that
from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able
to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ
Jesus (II Tim. 1:5; 3:15).
This is summarized in the third question
addressed to parents in the "Form for the Administration of
Whether you promise and intend to see these
children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are
either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the
aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed
therein, to the utmost of your power?
This is the delight of all believing parents: "I
have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth"
(III John 4).
4. The Calling of Christ's Church
Besides teaching Christian parents and their
children their respective callings before God (and praying for and
supporting them in this), the church also has a special calling from
Jesus Christ toward the seed of the covenant: "Feed my lambs" (John
This is clearly seen in God’s Word to Abraham
concerning his instruction of his household, the church of that day:
"For I know him, that he will command his children and his household
after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and
judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath
spoken of him" (Gen 18:19).
God’s knowledge of
Abraham here is His deep personal knowledge of him in love.
God’s knowledge of love caused (cf. "that" or "so that")
Abraham as a parent (regarding his "children") and church leader
(regarding his "household") to instruct (even "command") them all
according to their capacity to "keep the way of the Lord, to do
justice and judgment."
This way of covenantal instruction is the way in which God
realises His covenant with His people in their generations: "that
the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him."
Abraham is the father of all the faithful, whether Jew or
Gentile (Rom. 4:11-12, 16-18), for the promises to his covenant seed
are made to Christ and all the elect New Testament church in Him
(Gal. 3:16, 29).
Thus, our "Form for Call-Letter" lists this among
the labours expected of the minister: "attending to catechetical
Church Order 44, which addresses church visitation,
requires the visitors to enquire as to the up-building of the
congregation and "in particular the youth." This refers especially to
catechism instruction as the "Questions for Church Visitation" make
The consistory is asked, "Does the consistory see
to it that catechism classes are regularly conducted? Does the
consistory determine the material for instruction? And does it see
to it that the classes are regularly attended?"
The elders and deacons are asked, "Does [the
minister] regularly conduct the catechism classes, visit the sick
faithfully, and take part in family visitation?"
The minister and deacons are asked, "Do [the
elders] at set times attend the catechism classes to see how they
are conducted and attended; and do they assist the minister when the
need requires it in catechizing?"
The Westminster Assembly’s "The Form of
Presbyterial Church-Government" requires the minister of the gospel
"To catechise, which is a plain laying down the first principles of
the oracles of God, or of the doctrine of Christ, and is a part of
The church office-bearers are called to be watchmen
and are held accountable by God (Eze. 3:17-18; James 3:1)—for their
care of the covenant children too.
5. The Benefits of Catechism for Covenant Children
It gives the covenant children a strategic grasp
of Old Testament and New Testament history and a solid doctrinal
foundation (the latter comes especially through the classes on the
Heidelberg Catechism and the Essentials of Reformed Doctrine) to
help them learn "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
It does all this at their level, using tried and
tested materials and methods of instruction, including personal
instruction, discussion and questions and answers.
This enables them to understand the church
This strengthens them to testify that Jesus
Christ is Lord (Mark 8:38; Rom. 10:9-10; II Tim. 1:12).
All this trains them to become confessing members
of the church who can partake of the Lord’s Supper as mature
By God’s grace, the children grow to become
complete Christians and soldiers in the kingdom of heaven, and not
be devoured by the world or the departing churches.
In this way and with God’s blessing, covenant
children will become pillars and leaders of the church in the next
6. Other Benefits of Catechism
Catechism through the week demonstrates that Christianity is far
from only a Sunday religion.
Catechism fits with and serves a godly family: "as for me and my
house, we will serve the LORD" (Josh. 24:15).
Catechism is a noble tradition in the history of Christian and
Reformed churches for many centuries and manifests our unity with the
historic Christian church.
7. Catechism in Church Reformation and Deformation
In his address to the reader, before his
Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), John Calvin wrote,
It has ever been the practice of the Church, and
one carefully attended to, to see that children should be duly
instructed in the Christian religion. That this might be done more
conveniently, not only were schools opened in old time, and
individuals enjoined properly to teach their families, but it was a
received public custom and practice, to question children in the
churches on each of the heads, which should be common and well known
to all Christians. To secure this being done in order, there was
written out a formula, which was called a Catechism or Institute.
Thereafter the devil miserably rending the Church of God, and
bringing upon it fearful ruin (of which the marks are still too
visible in the greater part of the world) overthrew this sacred
policy, and left nothing behind but certain trifles, which only
beget superstition, without any fruit of edification. Of this
description is that confirmation, as they call it, full of
gesticulations which, worse than ridiculous, are fitted only for
apes, and have no foundation to rest upon. What we now bring
forward, therefore, is nothing else than the use of things which
from ancient times were observed by Christians, and the true
worshippers of God, and which never were laid aside until the Church
was wholly corrupted.
Elsewhere Calvin declared, “... the Church of God will never
preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the seed to keep
the good grain from dying out, and causing it to multiply from age to
age. And therefore, if you desire to build an edifice which shall be
of long duration, and which shall not soon fall into decay, make
provision for the children being instructed in a good Catechism, which
may shew them briefly, and in language level to their tender age,
wherein true Christianity consists” (Selected Works, vol. 5,
Apostasy leads to the decline of catechism, which
leads to further apostasy. Through their neglect of catechism, many
churches are failing their young people and families, and proving
unfaithful to their Christian and Reformed heritage. Scripture
repeatedly warns of the bitter consequences of failure to instruct the
children of the covenant properly. The out-working of this is evident
in the ignorance, and departure from the church, of so many young
people in our land today:
And also all that generation were gathered unto
their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which
knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones
which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were
hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the
sea (Matt. 18:6).
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge:
because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that
thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of
thy God, I will also forget thy children (Hos. 4:6).
On the other hand, faithful catechism instruction
and reception (along with other biblical means) brings great
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for
ever. Amen (II Peter 3:18).
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and
is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for
instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect,
throughly furnished unto all good works (II Tim. 3:16-17).
For the catechism materials used in the Covenant
Protestant Reformed Church in N. Ireland, the Protestant Reformed
Churches in the US and Canada, the Covenant Evangelical Reformed
Church in Singapore and the Berean Protestant Reformed
Church in the Philippines,
For more on the history, method and development of
catechism instruction in the Reformed tradition, see these three
Standard Bearer editorials on "Catechism: The Old Path, the Good
Way" by Prof. Barry Gritters:
Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (1)
Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (2)
Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (3)