Recently I wrote this article about our catechism routine in our homeschool. As I was taking the time to think over my family’s rhythms, I found myself contemplating all the day-to-day ways we benefit from having pieces of the Small Catechism memorized in our household.
Our kids have not yet memorized the whole catechism, but each year I see the amount that they retain grow. As their familiarity increases, it has become a standard occurrence in my house to respond to a kid who is complaining about a sibling’s behavior with the question “Is that explaining everything in the kindest way?” (a reference to the explanation of the Eighth Commandment). Or to respond to the exasperated Sunday morning complaint that “church is boring!” with, “Hmm … I can understand why you feel that way. But what does the Third Commandment say about remembering the Sabbath?”
My kids do not always love to hear the Law preached to them in this way, but I find that having this shared vocabulary and catechesis to fall back upon provides me with significant parenting shortcuts. By quoting God’s Law, I bypass my own authority (which, as a parent, I do have a right to invoke) and point straight to God’s authority. (This is the calling of parenthood—to be a representation of both God’s authority and His provision to our children.) Sometimes this can de-escalate a situation since it makes the conflict more neutral and objective. When I point my children directly to God’s Word through a short reference that they understand, I appeal directly to the Word of God that is written on their hearts, and the Holy Spirit present in them from Baptism can work through the Word to convict them of sin and help them to obey God and love their neighbor.
Two Reasons for Children to Memorize the Catechism
The first reason is very simple—because God tells us to instruct our children. In the passage immediately following Moses’ delivery of the Ten Commandments, we read, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). We are commanded in Scripture to teach God’s Commandments diligently to our children. They are to be constantly on our minds, and we should be discussing them all the time. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
The second reason to memorize the catechism with your children is simply because they can do it! It is a fact of child development that young children memorize facts and content very easily when compared to adults. There is never going to be an easier time to memorize anything than when you are a child. Adults can memorize, and the process of memorizing is something that your brain can get better at with practice, but if you think there is a chance that your children will ever want to have the catechism memorized at any point in their lives (and why wouldn’t they?), you are doing them a huge favor by having them memorize it now.
Yes, even if they don’t seem that excited about it. I can safely say, I did not always enjoy memorizing as a kid, and yet as an adult, I find myself incredibly glad to know all my states and capitals, all my multiplication facts, song lyrics to every song from dozens of musicals, and best of all, Scripture verses and catechism sections. It is an investment in your children’s future to take the time with them now! Plus, if you have not memorized the catechism, or if it’s been a while, I promise you will be glad to have God’s Word refreshed in your own mind as you study it together.
Advice from Martin Luther
In his Preface to the Small Catechism, Luther admonishes pastors and parents to teach these core truths of the faith to all the faithful and to expect all Christians to learn them. He includes these tips, which are both practical and pedagogically wise:
• Go slowly. Start with the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed, and then add in the explanations. Luther cautions not to move on until each piece is mastered.
• Be consistent, repeating each part year after year. Luther preached on the Six Chief Parts over and over again. We always need the foundation of our faith taught and preached anew. When catechesis is a regular part of your family culture, you have years to get through everything and to reinforce the memory work.
• Choose one version and don’t vary. Luther said that it doesn’t matter precisely which version or wording you use, but you should be consistent and use the same version year after year. He points out that it undermines the process of memorizing and confuses children needlessly to change the wording every year or so.
The Legacy of the Reformation
We could say that two major legacies of the Reformation are that the content of the faith was made available to the common people and that the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ was restored in the Church. In a very real sense, these two legacies are the same legacy. The pure preaching of the Gospel message removes the power from the church hierarchy to set up legalistic barriers between people and God and also requires that every Christian know what it is that they believe. Martin Luther and the other reformers were concerned primarily with assurance—they wanted all Christians to be sure of their salvation on account of Christ. Teaching the faith to all people is part of providing that certainty. Luther wrote the catechism because he knew that the content of the faith was for everyone and that every Christian needed to know it for his or her own assurance. The Small Catechism is comprehensive and succinct and assumes by its very existence that all Christians, children and adults, can know the content of their faith.
Paul describes his role as a teacher in the Church as being “to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. ... Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:25–26, 28). This is exactly why we memorize the catechism with our children. Because we live in the age when the mystery of the Gospel has been revealed to the saints! We praise God that He has made both His Law and His Gospel understandable even to children, and we strive to abide in that Word with our children so that we as the Church may present everyone mature in Christ.
Memorize the Small Catechism with your kids by using Luther’s Small Catechism for Kids at home.