Today we look at the foundation for catechetical instruction. Although catechesis may be useful and helpful for training one’s children in the faith, if the idea is not biblical, how much attention should we really give to this method of instruction? Since Scripture is to be the Christians foundation for life and faith, then it is necessary for catechesis to be based on God’s Word. Well, is it? According to Packer and Parrett, “catechesis is … a very biblical idea” (Grounded in the Gospel, 33). They go on to support their thesis through exploring both Old and New Testament texts associated with the idea of catechesis. The remainder of this post provides a summary of key Old Testament texts associated with catechesis.
When it comes to the idea of teaching the faith to one’s children, the Hebrew Bible contains several texts, two of which are briefly assessed here. First, there is Deuteronomy 6:6–7, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” God through his spokesperson Moses gives parents the responsibility for communicating God’s commandments to their children. While new covenant Christians are not under the old covenant law, we may still understand this text generally as a command for Christian parents to instruct their children in the Word of God. Notice that the responsibility to teach one’s children lay primarily with the parents and not pastors, youth workers, or Sunday school teachers. Also, the time to “impress” God’s Word on one’s children is not limited to family devotions, but covers every time one is with one’s children. Now the method for communicating this is not specifically described in these verses. But, given the nature of the relationships between Jewish fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters with regard to their daily lives, the impression of the commandments on their children would have taken the form of formal instruction from Scripture, casual conversations throughout the day, and parental example of living in step with God’s commandments. We may similarly appropriate these methods today as we seek to instill God’s Word in our children’s hearts. Similar instructions can be found in Deuteronomy 11:18–19.
A second text that describes the importance of passing on one’s faith to the younger generations is Psalm 78:1–8. In this passage the psalmist exhorts his audience to hear and understand his teaching, which is comprised of past deeds of the Lord toward his people. These things God commanded his people to teach their children. The purpose for doing so is “so the next generation would know them, … put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands … [and] would not be like their ancestors—a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him” (78:6–8). We see here that the ultimate purpose for passing on the faith to our children and those younger than us is not simply so that they may know things about God, though they certainly will, but so that such knowledge may lead to faithfulness to God and his Son, Jesus Christ. What we are hoping for is not content transfer, but transformation of the entire person. We instruct our children in the faith so that they may be like Christ. If one wonders what it looks like for parents and elder Christians to neglect this clear command to pass on the faith, one need look no further than the book of Judges. There we find a generation “who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). And what was the result: “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt” (2:11–12). The remainder of the book records the moral and spiritual decline of an entire people. If churches are concerned over the spiritual state of their own members, they need only look to themselves as the chief culprits for their present condition. Failure to properly disciple the coming generation can only lead to moral and spiritual decline.