The Catechism — Learning God’s Word by Heart

Training in God’s Word begins at home.  With this in mind, Luther wrote this heading before each part of the Catechism, “In the plain form in which the head of the family shall teach them to his household” (ELS Catechism 2001 Explanation, p. 13). Teaching and learning the words of the catechism is to take place at home.  In confirmation class and Sunday school, the pastor and teachers are assisting the parents with the task God has given to them.

God has entrusted parents with the task of teaching their children God’s Word. “You shall teach them diligently to your children” (Dt 6: 7).  This command to parents to teach their children God’s Word is repeated in the New Testament, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

God desires that His words be in our heart (Dt 6:7).  They are to become part of us, as we cling to them as the foundation of our faith.  These are the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68), pointing us to Jesus as our only Savior from sin.

How are we to learn God’s Word and the Catechism by heart?  Deuteronomy 6 tells us how:

1.   By repetition: The words in Hebrew for “teach diligently” (v. 7) are the same as for sharpening of a knife and imply repeating the words over and over again.  This is done at home as the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed are prayed together and as parents review the parts of the Catechism with their children. This repetition is aided greatly by frequent church attendance, as the Lord’s Prayer and Creed are prayed together in the service, the Ten Commandments are applied to our lives, we hear the main passages concerning baptism in the baptismal rite, and the Words of Institution are used and explained in the Communion liturgy.

2.   Talk about them (v. 7): The word “talk” here is not making a speech or giving a formal presentation, but talking about them as you would a football game or the weather or how your day went.  This means God’s Word is to be so much a part of our daily lives that we talk about it around the dinner table, while doing chores, or during commercials.

3.   “Talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (v. 7). Learning the Catechism by heart is not done by “cramming” it into your head at the last minute in the bus or car on the way to class.  Take a few moments to repeat portions of the catechism when you’re sitting around, going about your daily routine.  It is especially easy to find a quiet moment when you get up and are eating breakfast or are waiting for your turn in the shower.  When you lie down, right before bed, when you’re saying your bedtime prayers is another time to take a couple minutes each day to go over your memory work.

4.   “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (v. 8).  The children of Israel would carry little boxes with portions of God’s Word inside them on their foreheads and hands. We too can carry a small, portable catechism around with us each day in a folder or backpack, so that we can take it out and review it during the day when we have a few extra minutes.

5.   “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (v. 9).  By writing out passages from God’s Word and the Catechism, they go up your arm and into your brain.  They may be written in a notebook or on index cards, which can serve as flashcards.

6.   Notice in this passage how many senses are being used here to learn God’s Word by heart- hearing, touch, and sight.  Learning God’s Word by heart will not be done by just reading a passage over and over, but by speaking it aloud, hearing it over and over again,  keeping it before your eyes, and writing it.

Why learn God’s Word by heart?  Learning God’s Word by heart equips us to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).  We are strengthened and comforted in times of sorrow and affliction.  Learning God’s Word by heart provides us with offensive and defensive weapons for fighting against the temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

What is our motivation for learning God’s Word by heart? The above words from Deuteronomy 6 are preceded by a confession of faith. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Dt 6:6) God is our gracious Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter.  He has given us all our needs of body and soul by His grace and mercy.  We respond in faith and love to Him (Dt 6:5). Learning God’s Word by heart is a joyful response of faith in the one true God.


The Catechism — Learning God’s Word by Heart — 9 Comments

  1. Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.
    (Proverbs 22:6 ESV)

    Train up a child in the way he should go – The Hebrew of this clause is curious: ??? ???? ?? ?? ???? chanoch lannaar al pi darco, “Initiate the child at the opening (the mouth) of his path.” When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and begin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible; then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunction of the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, or that such habits shall ever be destroyed.

    ??? chanac, which we translate train up or initiate, signifies also dedicate; and is often used for the consecrating any thing, house, or person, to the service of God. Dedicate, therefore, in the first instance, your child to God; and nurse, teach, and discipline him as God’s child, whom he has intrusted to your care. These things observed, and illustrated by your own conduct, the child (you have God’s word for it) will never depart from the path of life. Coverdale translates the passage thus: “Yf thou teachest a childe what waye he shoulde go, he shall not leave it when he is olde.” Coverdale’s Bible, for generally giving the true sense of a passage, and in elegant language for the time, has no equal in any of the translations which have followed since. Horace’s maxim is nearly like that of Solomon: –

    Fingit equum tenera docilem cervice magister

    Ire viam, quam monstrat eques; venaticus, ex quo

    Tempore cervinam pellem latravit in aula,

    Militat in sylvis catulus. Nunc adbibe puro

    Pectore verba, puer; nunc te melioribus ofter.

    Quo semel est imbuta recens, servabit odorem

    Testa diu.

    Hor. Ep. lib. i., Ephesians 2, ver. 64.

    “The docile colt is form’d with gentle skill

    To move obedient to his rider’s will.

    In the loud hall the hound is taught to bay

    The buckskin trail’d, then challenges his prey

    Through the wild woods. Thus, in your hour of youth

    From pure instruction quaff the words of truth:

    The odours of the wine that first shall stain

    The virgin vessel, it shall long retain.”


    Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible

  2. It is still true that the Christian lifestyle is more “caught
    than taught.” Children need to see their parents praying,
    reading Scripture, attending Divine Worship, going to Bible
    Class, etc. As parents mentor their children in Christ, the
    children will follow their example. A Christian home needs
    Christian parents who love their children with the love
    of Christ.

  3. I have wondered if we are really going about things in the best way by having kids memorize the catechism in confirmation. Taking into account cognitive learning theories, it does make more sense to concentrate on the memory work in their early years ages 2-5. Children generally do very well with memory work at this age just through simple repetition. At age 3 my daughter had the entire the Family Evening Prayer service memorized.

  4. Do they still make the Small Catechism without all the questions and answers? It used to be like a little paperback version that fit better in a pocket or bookbag.

  5. Dave Likeness :It is still true that the Christian lifestyle is more “caughtthan taught.” Children need to see their parents praying,reading Scripture, attending Divine Worship, going to BibleClass, etc. As parents mentor their children in Christ, thechildren will follow their example. A Christian home needsChristian parents who love their children with the loveof Christ.

    Ideally every child lives in a Christian home and parents teaching by example.

    In reality–I find something very different–and if I can I try to teach the parents along with the children; but I won’t turn a child away because of the parents choices not to lead along the path of Christ.

    A key for me has been face to face time with parents. I schedule a meeting with every child and a parent one to one before starting confirmation. Many parents don’t want to be bothered to even step in the door; and the idea that should come and sit down for an hour face to face is frieghtening. Some families need multiple calls; but I won’t give up easily. I have seen moms and dads come to terms, in just a few minutes time, with their failing of their own kids. It’s tough to see them face the law as their child admits sometimes to not even knowing the Lord’s Prayer; but it’s also the moment to offer them a different way not just for their child but them as a family.

    Most inactive parents aren’t themselves sure why they want their child in confirmation other than “tradition” or its “just the right thing to do” and until I started meeting face to face I never got through to this group. Right now I’m seeing small steps–but there’s still a long way to go.

    Pax, John

  6. In olden days, you learned the catechism in Sunday School, and repeated it each year.
    Confirmation classes learned many other things, Psalms, hymns, sections of Scripture.
    And listened to the Pastor explain all of it.

    Our church didn’t have money or space to do “crafts”… and that was a good thing.
    (We could mess with white paste and colored paper in public school.)

    In not so olden days (my children’s), they may have had “crafts” but they also learned catechism before confirmation.

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