What is God?
“What is God?” seems like a simple question that any follower of Jesus should be able to answer and yet articulating a concise response that adequately captures the nature of God can be a challenge. Hundreds of years before Sunday School existed in the church, the primary and most effective means of systematically imparting truth and core doctrines of the faith was Catechetical instruction. The main tool used for catechetical instruction is the catechism, which collects and organizes the teaching of scripture into questions with answers that are often memorized.
Catechism in the Next Generation Ministry
This year, our Next Generation Ministry is reintroducing this time-tested method for discipling young and new believers by using the New City Catechism, which is designed for use with all ages. We will be introducing catechism questions in our children’s Sunday School classes but children will benefit most if parents also use the New City Catechism at home.
In response to the question “What is God?”, younger children will learn “God is the Creator and sustainer of everyone and everything.” Older children and adults will memorize the rest of the answer “He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will”.
The Value of Catechism
One might question the value of children memorizing words and concepts they can’t understand. Charles Spurgeon, who was not only a great preacher but also a father who used the catechism for the instruction of his own children, addressed this concern when he said:
For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children… Even if the youngsters do not understand all the questions and answers…yet, abiding in their memories, it will be of infinite service when the time of understanding comes, to have those very excellent, wise, and judicious definitions of the things of God. 1
The church fathers and Reformers were committed to catechetical instruction but were intent on it affecting the heart and one’s actions. Theirs was not merely a system of rote memorization. It was life-on-life questioning, that encouraged critical thinking, discussion, investigation of the Scripture, explanations, and yes, memorization of the essentials of the Christian faith. More than the memorization of catechism, it was an investigation into the claims of the Bible and the understanding, learning, and embracing of truth.
Tom Nettles in his book Teaching Truth, Training Hearts commends the use of catechisms with these words:
Catechizing forces one to redeem the time…Many parents struggle…with finding a means of creating spiritual and biblical discussions with their children. The discipline of catechizing draws parent and child, student and teacher, together in the most helpful and edifying of all activities—the submission of heart and mind to the teachings of the Bible. 2
To help you get started, there are several resources available this month:
- The New City Catechism is available for a reduced rate at the College Park Resource Center this month, and a free copy will be given to parents who attend the Sunday School Orientation meeting during the second hour on Sunday, Sept. 10.
- The featured resource of the month at our resource center is The New City Catechism Devotional which is designed to focus on one question each week of the year and great for individuals and families.
- There’s a free New City Catechism App that pairs each question and answer with a Scripture reading from the ESV, a short prayer, and a devotional commentary.
May God grant us and our children every grace we need to understand and embrace the enduring truth of his Word and “multiply” faith to the next generations.
For more information about catechism and its use for the instruction of children, consult Sally Michael’s seminar presented at College Park for the 2016 Children Desiring God conference entitled Catechism: Out of Date or a Tried and True Teaching Tool of Eternal Truths?
To hear John Piper’s comments on catechism listen to his 9-minute podcast, Should We Memorize Catechism or Scripture?
Most of this article is excerpted from: Discipleship through Doctrinal Teaching and Catechism by Sally Michael (Minneapolis, Mn. Children Desiring God, 2017)
1 https://madetomakedisciples.com/2016/06/04/a-short-history-of-catechisms-and-a-review-of-the-new-city-catechism/ (accessed 5/12/17) (This is an excerpt from Sermon No. 46, preached by Spurgeon on October 14, 1855, at New Park Street Chapel.)
2 Nettles, Tom. Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life. (Amityville, N.Y.: Calvary Press, 1998), 38.