I hope you have read what brother Rev. Doezema wrote in our column last time. Better re-read it or re-call it otherwise you won’t know what I am going to try to write about now.
While on my vacation we came into contact with John Calvin, and, believe it or not, he had something to say about doctrinal catechism for ten-year-olds (Institutes IV, 19, 13). He said it would be a good thing if we should observe the methods of ancient days when ten-year-olds studied the system of Christian Religion and made public examination thereof in the presence of parents and especially in the presence of the church.
This, however, just by the way.
At least Calvin thought that ten years old was not too early to train them in the doctrines of the church. Besides, he had something to say also about how lax parents would be put to shame if at ten years old their children were ignorant of the vital doctrines.
This, however, just by the way.
I believe that Rev. Doezema and I agree perfectly on the fact that our children should receive doctrine. He states “we should teach doctrine through history”. Hence, we should teach doctrine. The difference between us seems to be that of method. And after all the method depends upon the instructor or catechist. 1 certainly believe in teaching history, but not in the sense of using our time in catechism for telling and re-telling Bible stories. The brother would not want to do that either. He, too, would like to acquire some system whereby doctrine is taught through history. We were looking for that system. When the children come to the age where they will study the Heidelberg Catechism or the Essentials or what have you, they will study doctrine but through history also.
I believe as I wrote before that children in their early years are very receptive, and if we will but come to them with that which is calculated for young minds, they will grasp tremendous things.
Another question is, have we tried it?
We ought not to say: it can’t be done, we must say: let’s come to the children in such a way that they can understand. Then the method will be left to the instructor.
Timothy from a child knew the Scriptures.
Brother Doezema is afraid that such a system as I outlined makes us vulnerable to the charge of being more interested in Creeds than the Bible. Answer: In the eyes of those who cry “no creed but Christ” we are vulnerable when we study from the Creeds at any time, also when we preach the catechism on Sundays.
I believe rather “no Christ without a creed”. How much we disassociate the Creeds from the Bible, and thus become guilty of studying creeds instead of the Bible depends upon how we preach the Catechism and how we teach it in our classes. If we use catechism books we are also vulnerable. I like studying direct from the Bible, but history and experience has taught us that we need compendiums, etc. The Creeds are not the Bible, I know, but if we should interpret the Bible contrary to the Creeds. . . .what would we have? If our children follow the system which we outlined, and they have grace in their hearts, I believe they will have a good conception of the Bible.
Next, the brother states that a detailed study such as we outlined will not indoctrinate the youth but rather give them to know the language of the Confessions. Answer: The language of the Confessions is the vehicle through which the doctrines of Scripture are transmitted. It is very essential that our youth know the language of the Confessions and we instructors must teach them what that language means. A generation which no longer knows the language of the confessions is ready to learn a strange language.
The Heidelberg Catechism is beautiful, but it is only ONE of the THREE Forms. Besides, the Catechism is preached continually in our churches, and except we be careful we will have generations who know nothing about the THREE Forms. Along with the Catechism we should study also the other two. Who could ever object to that?
Next the brother says that experience and psychology show that much of the confessions cannot be assimilated before the age of twenty. Answer: I know people three times twenty years old who haven’t assimilated the truth yet, and I know some, half-twenty years old that are assimilating as rapidly as it is presented to them in digestible form. All depends upon how we present things, that is, if there is faith present to understand spiritual things. The doctrine of Justification is intensely difficult, especially for adults. We assimilate it by faith. Children also have faith and they have minds which are logical and receptive. And as for the psychology of giving children doctrine at say 11-13 years of age, I know famous psychologists who are catechizing children at six years of age.
Our friend from sunny California comes next to say that my system runs the danger of abstracting history from doctrine. Answer: It might appear that way. The method of teaching would have to decide that. To abstract history from doctrine is as wrong as to abstract doctrine from history. How much we in all our catechism teaching teach history doctrinally and doctrine historically depends upon the method used. If, as the brother suggests, we will use history as our text book, good and well, but who will create us some system? And what system of doctrinal study could ever prepare our youth for making confession of the Christian Faith quite like our Confessions? Our young people will never learn the reformed faith unless we present them a system of that faith. I believe we have that system in our Creeds, at least basically.
And our colleague says that Scripture says beginners should be fed with milk. Answer: The true doctrine is milk. How much it becomes digestible for the youth depends, under God, upon how it is presented to them.
In conclusion: Rev. Doezema does not write in order to maintain his point over against, say, my point (if I have any), but he writes because he wants people to weigh things carefully when it comes to catechism endeavor.
And that is excellent advice. The “religious” world in which we live requires in ever-increasing measure that our young people be equipped to distinguish carefully. We do not pretend that contact with the truth merely will fortify them, of course not, the Grace of God fortifies them, but God empowers His people through the Word and their knowledge of the Word. After Paul tells his listeners what weapons belong to the armor of the Christian, he tells them also that they need the sword of the Spirit. . . .and that is the Word of God.
The time is short!
The recently begun Draft tells us that the time is still shorter. Part of the precious time of our youths will be spent away from any catechism contact, unless we put forth some effort as churches to keep contact with our draftees. But the quiet of the catechism room at least is broken up, and our youth have to face the world in a way which calls for preparedness.
Can we then begin TOO early to indoctrinate?
And what system have we which is better than the system which our Christian Faith itself proposes?
By the way, we have sent out some Methodologies; they give the scheme according to which we operate our system. If you want one we will send it to you. And Rev. Cammenga is getting his presses ready to provide more Easy Steps, Primers, etc.
I hope you may have enjoyed our little debate as much as Rev. Doezema and I did, and may have been edified. And as for catechism, let’s accept nothing less than the best.