Sunday, February 6, 2011

Catechisms as Teaching Tool

Psalm 78:5-8 (NKJV)
5 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; 6 That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, 7 That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments; 8 And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Last week we remarked that one of the lessons which the fathers of Israel are to teach the people of God is the necessity of instruction. Fathers are to teach their children – and one of the tools that our fathers have handed down to us to accomplish this task is the catechism – a question and answer format that summarizes some of the most essential teachings of Scripture.

Today we are reminded that the function of these catechisms, the function of this instruction, is not first and foremost to fill the minds of our children with facts. Knowing what Scripture teaches is important, but this knowledge is not intended to exist as a repository of data; it is to move them, to touch them, to transform them by the grace of God. Notice what the psalmist declares:
[We teach] That the generation to come might know them [here is the knowledge level – but note it doesn’t stay here], The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments;

Notice the several purposes which this instruction is to have. Children, take note what you are supposed to be learning from the catechism, from the teaching which your parents are giving you. First, you are to learn the importance of giving this information, this instruction, to your children. You are going to grow up. You are going to have children yourself, most likely. God is giving you this information now so that you in turn can give it to your children.
Second, God is giving you this instruction so that you might put your hope in Him. The world wants to offer you all kinds of objects in which to put your hope. Put your hope in an ipad; put your hope in a great education; put your hope in diversity; put your hope in a change of government; put your hope in health care; put your hope in your ability to defend yourself. The catechism teaches you to put your hope in God. He will not betray you; He will not desert You; all His promises will reach their fulfillment; He is entirely trustworthy.

Third, the psalmist insists that the purpose of instruction doesn’t end here: when we have learned what God has done in the past, when we have learned that He is totally and absolutely trustworthy, we will then be reminded of the absolute necessity of obeying Him and keeping His commandments. After all, when we learn the stories of Scripture, one of the things we learn is the seriousness with which God takes His Word, the faithfulness with which He judges His people when they ignore it. And so, the catechism teaches us what it means to obey God, what it means to serve Him and delight in Him. This is the duty which God requires of man.

Let us consider, therefore, what the purpose of our instruction is – the purpose is not just to fill the mind but to touch the heart, to move the will, to shape the conscience. Parents, how are we doing molding and shaping not just the minds of our children but their character? Children, how are we doing learning not just the facts, not just the information that is being given, but the significance of this information for our own lives?

Reminded that the function of education is to do all these things, let us kneel and confess that we have often neglected them.