The instruction of the Covenant seed in the Catechism deserves a renewed and special emphasis in our day.
In many circles, particularly in the American Churches, the Catechism is either completely ignored, or is relegated to an insignificant place among the Church activities. Slowly it is being supplanted by youth’s activities and the Sunday School which receives all the emphasis and are regarded as of primary importance for the spiritual welfare as well as a gauge for the spiritual stability of the congregation.
The office bearers are often in no small measure responsible for this alarming condition. While they favor that other church activities be continued almost without interruption throughout the year the season allotted to the Catechism is very short and interspersed with numerous and uncalled for vacations so that it often happens that the classes do not meet more than twenty hours in a single year. The instruction itself, sporadic and limited as it is, is often so superficial and lifeless that it is certain to kill any interest that might still be aroused in it.
Forgotten is the fact that catechetical instruction holds a unique position in the Church, just because it is the ministry of the Word to the seed of the Covenant through the office which Christ has instituted.
Anyone who cherishes his Reformed heritage will immediately concede that the basis for catechetical instruction lies in the fact that God realizes His covenant in the line of succeeding generations. The promise came to Abraham as the father of all believers, Gen. 17:7, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” That includes also Abraham’s spiritual seed within that covenant, so that Peter can say to the believers on the day of Pentecost, (Acts 2:39), “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
From which follows that God entrusts to His people in the midst of the world the task of bringing forth the covenant seed. The church of the old dispensation fully realized that it was peculiarly burdened with bringing forth the Seed of the Woman, the promised Messiah, who was to be born in the line of generations in the covenant. And we, too, as members of that organism of the Body of Christ, are instruments and coworkers of God in bringing forth the elect seed which is saved unto eternal life. The natural seed of believers make up the church of the future.
No less has God entrusted to His church the responsibility of rearing that covenant seed in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Ours is the calling to maintain, defend and develop the Truth as it is revealed in the Word of God, to preserve it and to pass it on to the future generations, showing “to the generation to come the praises of the Lord and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done.” (Ps. 78:4).
We have a very significant passage in this connection in Gen. 18: 19, where God says of Abraham, “For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” Evidently this divine knowing whereby God knew Abraham is the eternal and sovereign knowledge of election. God knew Abraham because He had elected him from eternity, even to that position that he held as the father of all believers. From which follows that God also gave to Abraham the necessary grace to command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord and to do justice and judgment. Again, the very fact that these children did keep the way of the Lord and did do justice and judgment was also the result of God’s irresistible and efficacious grace upon them. And the outcome is that God brings upon Abraham and his spiritual seed all “that He hath spoken of him.” All of which can only mean that God uses believing parents to realize His covenant from generation to generation, even until the end of time.
Add to this that other fact, that the Church is comprised of believers and their spiritual seed. Believing parents present their children for baptism in their earliest infancy because also children are comprehended in God’s covenant and must therefore receive the sign and seal of that covenant. They do not become members of the church only after they have reached years of discretion and have made public confession of their faith, but they belong to the organism of the body of Christ from birth. And as members of the Church they must be instructed through the office. The word of the apostle Paul in Romans 10:14 also holds for them, “How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed; and how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard; and how shall they hear without a preacher?”
The church is directly responsible for the spiritual and religious training of the children of the covenant. She is particularly interested in inculcating the fundamental truths of the Word of God in their minds and hearts, and thus laying a basis for a thorough understanding of the preaching of the Word in the public worship. She is determined to present the
Word of God to the covenant seed as the bread of life, the power unto salvation, and the norm and rule for a holy walk of life.
Christ is directly engaged in the ministry of the Word in the Catechism through the instrumentality of His ambassador, the officebearer. That makes catechetical instruction uniquely distinct from any other form of instruction in the Church as the official ministry of the Word to the seed of the covenant.
And because it is unique, it is also essential.
In His infinite and unsearchable wisdom God has willed to entrust to the church the training of the CHILD.
Have you never stopped to consider that no stranger could intrude upon your hospitality as your child imposes himself on you. The little waif, just because it is your flesh and blood, makes bold to enter your home without a stitch of clothes on its back, hungry and utterly dependent, throwing itself upon your care and demanding all your attention. Yours becomes the responsibility to feed and clothe and care for it, but no less to rear it. Much depends upon the early training that child receives in your home. You determine where it will live and how, whether it will grow up as a child of one of moderate means or as a child of the wealthy, whether it will speak English or Dutch or some other language. You teach it practically all that it ever will know, you influence it in its attitude toward various problems of life, and you even play an important role in determining its vocation and position in life. Which is all as it should be.
But added to this is the fact that you are also held responsible for its spiritual, religious and ecclesiastical training. The parent determines whether the religious training will be Catholic or Protestant Reformed, and is daily influential in creating interest or a lack of interest in that training. The parent sends the child to catechism, urges it to be punctual and regular in its attendance, takes an interest in what it learns, helps it to prepare or makes sure that the child himself has well prepared its lesson.
It is beyond contradiction that this early training in the catechism makes an indelible and lasting impression. During the years of childhood the child is very receptive. It learns readily, absorbs easily and remembers well. It readily visualizes the Bible stories before its mind’s eye. Sees the characters as if they were living and speaking and acting at that very moment, is stirred by what is happening and is deeply impressed by the significance of the account. From these historical accounts the child learns the fundamental truths about God, His covenant, His mighty works and dealings with men. The facts of Scripture must be presented to the child as they are, but they must also be placed in their proper light, even as much as possible according to God’s purpose in revealing these facts to us. The child must be inducted into the light of God’s truth and revelation, or he will be led astray into dark channels of heresy, which can but tend to becloud his receptive mind and be a hindrance to him for the rest of his life.
Even as the child grows older the catechetical instruction is essential. The child in his teens may have lost some of his simple receptivity, but is no less a fit pupil for the catechism. He is filled with an almost insatiable inquisitiveness, determined to know the what, the how and the wherefore of things. At this stage he is ready to be instructed in the doctrinal truths of the Word of God as they must be interpreted to the youthful mind. The yearning of his heart to know the works and the might and the praises of the Lord must be aroused and satisfied. The foundation must be laid for a thorough understanding of the Scriptures in the years to come. And the child must be prepared for his place in the church, for the calling God entrusts to him, and for a holy walk as God’s witness in the midst of the world.
Not as if mere catechetical instruction can replace the work of grace in converting the sinner. That is out of the question. Yet it must be granted that God’s work of grace is not immediate, but always through the means of grace, the preaching of the Word and the sacraments. The instruction received in the church serves to enrich the covenant seed with a knowledge of the truth, but is also used by the Spirit to quicken the life of regeneration and bring the child to a conscious faith.
Which means that the catechism is mandatory, and that it cannot be ignored with impunity, neither by the church nor by the individual.
Needless to say, for those individuals who are instructed in the catechism, but come to years of discretion only to despise and reject all that is most sacred, that early instruction must prove to be a savor of death unto death. For one thing, it does prove that they are spiritually dead and void of all grace. For when all efforts which cause a good fig tree to bring forth an abundance of fruit are also expended on the barren fig tree, there can be but one result, the barren fig tree proves its worth. It shows that it never can and never will bring forth fruit. Why cumbereth it the ground?
Likewise, catechumens who are inclined to play truant, are irregular in attendance, late in arriving, lax in preparing their lessons and inattentive during the discussion, will necessarily suffer the consequences throughout the rest of their lives. Poor catechumens make poor timber for consistory members and leaders of the church, are even poor prospects as future parents in God’s covenant, are far from promising as Christians, and will likely be poor church attendants all their lives. They are the first to complain that the sermons are too difficult to grasp, too doctrinal, not nearly inspirational and appealing enough. They readily blame the preaching, while the fact is that they have no one but themselves to blame.
While on the other hand, childhood and youth are the time to absorb and to stow away for the future, the time to lay a sturdy foundation upon which a sound structure can be securely built. The child of today is the man of tomorrow. His preparation today will determine to a great extent what he will be tomorrow. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
And the church that ignores or even disregards sound catechetical instruction is on its way to a hasty ruin. Where sound doctrine is not taught in the catechism it will also have to be eliminated from the preaching, because no one will be in a position to understand or to receive it, with the result that even the preaching becomes superficial and the church dies of spiritual starvation.
While on the contrary, sound catechetical instruction prepares the covenant seed for sound expositional and doctrinal preaching, which alone is in harmony with the Word of God. The church that desires and can digest the unadulterated milk of the Word must flourish. It will be able to ward off every foe. Its future is secure, for the gates of hell will not prevail against her.