It’s happened to most of us, I suppose, who write now and then, that you talk with somebody, and say, “Yes, I wrote about that lately, remember?” And you discover to your dismay and his chagrin, that he doesn’t remember. He simply had not read your last article.
Now it is possible that you did not read what we were trying to express in our former issue.
The gist of it was this, that the Catechism which our youth receive during their catechism years, prior to making confession, should include a study of the Three Forms of Unity. The catechism they receive should center around the Confessions.
It would be totally unnecessary, I’m sure, to set forth how important this is. We should insult the church of the ages if we thought it were necessary to prove how valuable are our Creeds. As Reformed people this needs no proof, does it?
It remains therefore that we outline a course by which it will become possible to cover this territory within the time limits assigned us in the development of our covenant youth.
The question arises: how can we cover all this territory during the catechism years ? That, however, is not the main problem. There IS time enough. It is a matter of how we make use of that time. That is a much greater problem because it involves .us in a re-arrangement of our catechism time. It involves us in re-thinking the methods which are generally in use and which have gradually been adopted.
And then we almost naturally say that we have always done it this way, and that is good enough. But yet, whatever we do we should do it consciously, because we are convinced that it is the best way. We must not do things just because things were always done that way. We must be able to give an account of why we do it thus and why we don’t do it some other way.
Well now the first problem is therefore to get ourselves to that point where we examine our catechism course and test it for accuracy and efficiency.
We must ask ourselves whether the catechism as it is being conducted at present is giving the youth a thorough instruction in the doctrine as formulated in the Three Points of Unity. In other words, when the youth come to make confession of faith, have they made a systematic study of the Confessions? We should place ourselves before that question.
Now if you are convinced that our youth should not have or do not need such a study, all right. Period. But, if you can see the great value of a catechism coursed in our Confessions, and ask: but how can we work that out, and how can we crowd it into our catechism years. . . . come, we can talk together.
The first half of problem one is solved.
Now the other half.
We will have to change our catechism set-up a little.
Can you concede that a change might be beneficial? If so, the other half of problem one is solved also.
To get a catechism course of study which will embrace the Confessions, it is needful that the catechumens receive doctrinal instruction at much earlier age than is generally the case.
That means, of course, that we for the most part shall have’ to substitute doctrine for history in the younger classes.
Please do not say that doctrine is too difficult for our younger children. It is not too difficult for them. It depends on how it is presented. Instead of taking our refuge within the excuse that doctrine is too difficult for them, let us face the responsibility of presenting it to them so they can understand.
Our fifth graders in school study science, but they do not use university text books for that purpose. They study it out of science books written for fifth graders. They study mathematics, principally the same mathematics as the university students study, only they study it from books graded to their conception. Why. then could not our children study doctrine?
As far as teaching history in our catechism classes is concerned it would be well to analyze this carefully. First of all it is our conviction that it is primarily the duty of the home to teach children the history of the Bible. The parents should feel themselves responsible for this work. It is very good for the parents to realize that this is their calling. A great danger today is that all the work is taken away from the parents, or rather that they let the school, the Sunday School and the church do their work for them. The parents should know themselves responsible especially for this work. This ought to induce them also to tell their children Bible stories, read for them out of the Bible, etc. Besides that, our youth should be induced to read the Bible for themselves. Reading a little while every night before they retire would give them a complete course in Bible history. Then there are the Christian Schools which give a rather thorough course in Bible narratives, and finally there are the Sunday Schools in many churches that provide still more opportunity for acquaintance with the Bible’s contents.
Should we in catechism then repeat what first the parents, then their individual reading, then the Christian School and finally the Sunday School has given them? Repeat that? Is that the work of the Church in catechism?
If someone would say: yes, but in catechism we interpret history. We answer that a consistent course in history interpretation is impossible when so much material has to be covered in such little time. And, if we commence to interpret history for the children we presuppose a doctrinal background. For if they shall interpret history they must first have a course in doctrine. Doctrine precedes history, as far as interpreting it is concerned.
And then the high calling of the Church, her grand calling is to indoctrinate. That phase of work is very clearly the peculiar calling of the church. The Christian School, neither the Sunday School is able to indoctrinate, neither should they imagine it to be their duty. The home may indoctrinate and private Bible reading is naturally an indoctrination, but to the Church God says: Preach the Gospel, indoctrinate my lambs, feed them with the Word.
Therefore then the church should clearly feel it her duty to emphasize indoctrination, that is her peculiar field of labor.
Now if such indoctrination shall progress as our covenant children develop, it is evident that we should follow a system.
It is that system which we would at this time set before you for your kind consideration.
Catechism Over The Years.
(the ages are approximate)
Age 7-9—General History, o.T. and N.T.
Age 10-11—Easy Steps in Doctrine.
Age 12—Primer of Reformed Doctrine.
Ages 14-15—Heidelberg Catechism, as is
Ages 16-17—Belgic Confessions.
Ages 18-19—Canons of Dordt.
Ages 20 etc.—Optional: Essentials of Reformed Doctrine; Church History, Liturgy, etc.
This system requires a graded course of work, wherein the classes graduate from one step to the next in order. It is inherent in youth to want to make progress, and to graduate. It produces an incentive on their part to make progress. It sets before them a goal, the attainment of which they shall diligently seek.
In favor of this system is surely that our children, at their most impressionable age are receiving the rudiments of sound doctrine. Children learn readily and absorb rapidly, and what is impressed upon them in those formative years can never be erased.
What a solid foundation is then being laid in their lives. How great the unity too, for all their instruction centers around the Doctrine which has been cardinal to the Reformed faith. As the children become founded in doctrine they gradually understand history better and it means more to them. Their home catechism, their Christian School, their private reading, their Sunday School becomes richer as they get a grasp on the true doctrine. The preaching of the Gospel above all becomes richer for them, and that, earlier in life.
This system may present a few difficulties in congregations where, because of distances, etc., the graded plan cannot be followed. But even those difficulties frequently dissolve in proportion as the parents resolve to make a few sacrifices. For the rest it presents no difficulties which are insurmountable. In fact, it is a challenge to the ministers to surmount whatever difficulties this may entail. But I can assure you that the difficulties are pot too great.
As for books for the younger classes, there are such books. You may improve upon them if you like. Some initial work will perhaps have to be done for the very young classes. For helps in the older classes there is material available, and the minister no doubt will want to work his own way through the graded series.
Now then, let us consider this carefully. If anyone is interested in a detailed outline of the entire course, methodology and all, we shall be glad to send it to you for your consideration.
The Lord our God builds up His Church, and we His servants shall arise and build.