Parts 1 and 2 of this series “How to Catechize Children” are probably most important. They lay out a catechetical method and plan and should get most families on their feet. Once families get on their feet with this, they will discover other ways in which their family works best with Luther’s Small Catechism. Part 3 we will call “benefits.” Here I hope to persuade you that catechizing your children is worth it, both for reasons which will benefit your children in this life and in the life to come.
The chief benefit of catechizing your children is imprinting the Small Catechism on the heart. They will learn God’s Law in the Ten Commandments as curb, mirror, and guide for them in this life. Learning God’s Law will form a worldview in your children’s minds, teaching them to respect authority, life, marriage, private property, reputation, as well as the art of contentment. They will learn who the Triune God is from the Creed, and this is especially important as the influence of Islam continues to rise even from within our own borders. They will learn the Gospel centerpiece of our faith in Jesus Christ.
It has been said that Martin Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Creed is known as one of the most beautiful sentences written in the German language. There is good reason for this, and it has little to do with Luther. It is such a beautiful sentence because Christ’s love for us was the most beautiful act of sacrificial love ever performed on this earth. Your children need to learn this love of Jesus and have it imprinted on their hearts.
There’s much more which could be said about all the six chief parts: 10 Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. As your children grow older, they will run into competing worldviews and theologies. When you have put the Catechism on their hearts, they will be ready to face these.
As it stands today, young adults are by and large so poorly catechized that Luther’s Small Catechism and the Evangelical Lutheran Church have not been given a fair hearing in the minds of our young people. I would go so far as to say it is more likely that more young folks will leave our Evangelical Lutheran Church rather than stay, their catechesis has been so poor. If you catechize your children, no doubt the temptations will still be many. However, you will have actually given the Evangelical Lutheran Church a chance to be part of your children’s future. Not only is this good for the church’s sake, but your children will be better off for it. With the Small Catechism on their hearts, they will be able to deal honestly with competing opinions. As it stands now, this is simply not happening up and down American Lutheranism, and it needs to change.
While the benefits of knowing the Catechism’s content tend to come out in time, I would like to share with you some more immediate side benefits you will find from catechizing your children. One valuable benefit for your children is that they will learn to speak up. Few things are as contemptible in this world as human beings who do not properly utilize God’s gifts of voice and language. Lazy speech and communication are becoming an epidemic in today’s age of easy electronic communication. Children must learn to speak clearly in the voices which God gave them. Learning to speak up doesn’t begin in small talk. It begins in confessing the faith on which we stake our eternity. If your children don’t speak the Catechism’s words clearly, make them do so. When you catechize your children in this way, you do them a great service, not to mention the world in which they must learn to communicate.
You also teach your children the value of focus. In a day when millions of children are medicated for ADHD, catechesis is a real therapeutic activity. When your children want to lose focus, steer them back. When you want to get frustrated with it yourself, slow yourself down and know the task at hand will finish with time. It isn’t always fun, but catechesis is putting your mind and your children’s mind in a good place. In catechizing our children we put God’s Word first and crucify the impulses of the flesh. This is a real-life skill which will also benefit your children elsewhere.
For parents, I see three main benefits. One, catechesis is quality interaction with your children. Luther’s “What does this mean?” really establishes this interaction. It is a constructive way to know your children. You can teach them many things – good and bad. You can teach your children intentionally and unintentionally. In many cases, you may even fail. But Luther made the Small Catechism in such a way that you can succeed with your children. If you teach them nothing else in this world besides the Small Catechism, you will still have done right by them. Too often fathers teach their children too many frivolous things if they don’t ignore them altogether. The Small Catechism serves as a remedy to this problem.
Two, you come to realize that your role as the parent is vital. The fact that you’re doing it makes a difference. The 4th Commandment establishes many kinds of authority in this world. Besides parental authority, it establishes civil authority. To an extent, it may also establish the pastor’s authority. But make no mistake. The 4th Commandment is rooted in the authority which God gave to parents. The further you radiate out from the authority of parents, the weaker that authority becomes. Your kids will learn this stuff better because you are teaching them. As a pastor, I may have certain advantages when I teach in church. But when I teach my kids at home, I am Dad. I’m a Dad with all the predictable flaws and weaknesses too. If you are of the opinion that the pastor can do this job better than you can since your kids won’t listen to you, you are only outing yourself as a weak parent. Use the authority which God gave you, and know that you cannot be replaced.
And three, in catechizing your children you use God’s Word to establish your rule over your home. When you’re catechizing your children, you’re not using the power of intimidation. You’re not using just raw physical strength, which is so easily abused. As Luther says, with this type of discipline only, your children will only be obedient as long as the rod is on their backs. And if physical strength is all you have on your children, it’s only a matter of time until your children will have the upper hand on you. Instead, in catechizing your children you are using God’s Word to establish your authority in your home. When children are catechized on a daily basis, they remain under your authority. They will tend to be obedient and respectful not only of you but other adults also.
Dads, this is a battle, but it is a battle you can win. Though your children will fight you along the way, you must win, and you can. You wield the sword of God’s Word. Do not underestimate its power. When you catechize your children, you establish a winning attitude in your home. I will tell you the truth. It’s not enough to provide for your children, not even enough to love them. You must also teach as Ephesians 6 tells you, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in this discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). It is the instruction which they need most. Man does not live by bread alone. If you were to die tonight, chances are provision could be made that your children will be clothed and fed, even if you do not have a plan set in place. But will they be taught in strict accordance with God’s Word? That is no guarantee. And so you must understand the seriousness of your calling. The good news is that the blood of Jesus covers all your sins, past and present, and with Luther’s Small Catechism you have been given the tools to succeed.