Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Reformed Catechism Classes: A Calling

 

1. The Key Thing in Life

The key thing in life is to understand that our chief end and that of our children is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 1).

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33).

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:37).

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field (Matt. 13:44).

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it (Matt. 13:45-46).

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul (Matt. 16:24-26)?

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding (Prov. 4:7).

Blessed is the man that heareth me [i.e., Christ, the wisdom of God], watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death (Prov. 8:34-36).

This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise (Isa 43:21).

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. 3:1-2).

 

2. The Calling of Covenant Children

The calling of covenant children, baptized into the name of the Triune God, is to follow Jesus Christ, to whom they belong in both body and soul (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 1), by believing and obeying His Word according to their capacity. Some of the most pertinent Scriptures are the following:

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God (Prov. 2:1-5).

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding (Prov. 23:23).

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth (Ecc. 12:1).

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth (Eph. 6:1-3).

Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord (Col. 3:20).

This biblical calling of covenant children is expressed in our "Form for the Administration of Baptism:"

Whereas in all covenants, there are contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.

… that they may daily follow him, joyfully bearing their cross, and cleave unto him in true faith, firm hope, and ardent love; that they may, with a comfortable sense of thy favour, leave this life, which is nothing but a continual death, and at the last day, may appear without terror before the judgment seat of Christ thy Son, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost, one only God, lives and reigns forever.

 

3. The Calling of Christian Parents

As well as supporting the church in its calling with regard to their children, the calling of Christian parents concerning their children is, in brief, to teach them their calling from God’s Word (as above) and to train them in it in love, as the following texts from Holy Scripture indicate:

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons (Deut. 4:9).

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deut. 6:4-7).

And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates (Deut. 11:19-20).

Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life (Deut. 32:46-47).

We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God (Ps. 78:4-8).

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also … And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 1:5; 3:15).

This is summarized in the third question addressed to parents in the "Form for the Administration of Baptism:"

Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?

This is the delight of all believing parents: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (III John 4).

 

4. The Calling of Christ's Church

Besides teaching Christian parents and their children their respective callings before God (and praying for and supporting them in this), the church also has a special calling from Jesus Christ toward the seed of the covenant: "Feed my lambs" (John 21:15).

This is clearly seen in God’s Word to Abraham concerning his instruction of his household, the church of that day: "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" (Gen 18:19).

Note: God’s knowledge of Abraham here is His deep personal knowledge of him in love. God’s knowledge of love caused (cf. "that" or "so that") Abraham as a parent (regarding his "children") and church leader (regarding his "household") to instruct (even "command") them all according to their capacity to "keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment." This way of covenantal instruction is the way in which God realises His covenant with His people in their generations: "that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." Abraham is the father of all the faithful, whether Jew or Gentile (Rom. 4:11-12, 16-18), for the promises to his covenant seed are made to Christ and all the elect New Testament church in Him (Gal. 3:16, 29).

Thus, our "Form for Call-Letter" lists this among the labours expected of the minister: "attending to catechetical instruction."

Church Order 44, which addresses church visitation, requires the visitors to enquire as to the up-building of the congregation and "in particular the youth." This refers especially to catechism instruction as the "Questions for Church Visitation" make clear:

The consistory is asked, "Does the consistory see to it that catechism classes are regularly conducted? Does the consistory determine the material for instruction? And does it see to it that the classes are regularly attended?"

The elders and deacons are asked, "Does [the minister] regularly conduct the catechism classes, visit the sick faithfully, and take part in family visitation?"

The minister and deacons are asked, "Do [the elders] at set times attend the catechism classes to see how they are conducted and attended; and do they assist the minister when the need requires it in catechizing?"

The Westminster Assembly’s "The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government" requires the minister of the gospel "To catechise, which is a plain laying down the first principles of the oracles of God, or of the doctrine of Christ, and is a part of preaching."

The church office-bearers are called to be watchmen and are held accountable by God (Eze. 3:17-18; James 3:1)—for their care of the covenant children too.

 

5. The Benefits of Catechism for Covenant Children

It gives the covenant children a strategic grasp of Old Testament and New Testament history and a solid doctrinal foundation (the latter comes especially through the classes on the Heidelberg Catechism and the Essentials of Reformed Doctrine) to help them learn "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

It does all this at their level, using tried and tested materials and methods of instruction, including personal instruction, discussion and questions and answers.

This enables them to understand the church sermons better.

This strengthens them to testify that Jesus Christ is Lord (Mark 8:38; Rom. 10:9-10; II Tim. 1:12).

All this trains them to become confessing members of the church who can partake of the Lord’s Supper as mature Christians.

By God’s grace, the children grow to become complete Christians and soldiers in the kingdom of heaven, and not be devoured by the world or the departing churches.

In this way and with God’s blessing, covenant children will become pillars and leaders of the church in the next generation.

 

6. Other Benefits of Catechism

Catechism through the week demonstrates that Christianity is far from only a Sunday religion. Catechism fits with and serves a godly family: "as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Josh. 24:15). Catechism is a noble tradition in the history of Christian and Reformed churches for many centuries and manifests our unity with the historic Christian church.

 

7. Catechism in Church Reformation and Deformation

In his address to the reader, before his Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), John Calvin wrote,

It has ever been the practice of the Church, and one carefully attended to, to see that children should be duly instructed in the Christian religion. That this might be done more conveniently, not only were schools opened in old time, and individuals enjoined properly to teach their families, but it was a received public custom and practice, to question children in the churches on each of the heads, which should be common and well known to all Christians. To secure this being done in order, there was written out a formula, which was called a Catechism or Institute. Thereafter the devil miserably rending the Church of God, and bringing upon it fearful ruin (of which the marks are still too visible in the greater part of the world) overthrew this sacred policy, and left nothing behind but certain trifles, which only beget superstition, without any fruit of edification. Of this description is that confirmation, as they call it, full of gesticulations which, worse than ridiculous, are fitted only for apes, and have no foundation to rest upon. What we now bring forward, therefore, is nothing else than the use of things which from ancient times were observed by Christians, and the true worshippers of God, and which never were laid aside until the Church was wholly corrupted.

Elsewhere Calvin declared, “... the Church of God will never preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the seed to keep the good grain from dying out, and causing it to multiply from age to age. And therefore, if you desire to build an edifice which shall be of long duration, and which shall not soon fall into decay, make provision for the children being instructed in a good Catechism, which may shew them briefly, and in language level to their tender age, wherein true Christianity consists” (Selected Works, vol. 5, pp. 203-204).

Apostasy leads to the decline of catechism, which leads to further apostasy. Through their neglect of catechism, many churches are failing their young people and families, and proving unfaithful to their Christian and Reformed heritage. Scripture repeatedly warns of the bitter consequences of failure to instruct the children of the covenant properly. The out-working of this is evident in the ignorance, and departure from the church, of so many young people in our land today:

And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel (Judg. 2:10).

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt. 18:6).

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children (Hos. 4:6).

On the other hand, faithful catechism instruction and reception (along with other biblical means) brings great blessings.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen (II Peter 3:18).

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (II Tim. 3:16-17).

 

Appendix

For the catechism materials used in the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in N. Ireland, the Protestant Reformed Churches in the US and Canada, the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore and the Berean Protestant Reformed Church in the Philippines, click here.

For more on the history, method and development of catechism instruction in the Reformed tradition, see these three Standard Bearer editorials on "Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way" by Prof. Barry Gritters:

Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (1)
Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (2)

Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (3)