The purpose of the catechism is to teach children to think in biblical categories and to begin to train their minds to organize and to think in doctrinal terms. The proof text should always be taught and memorized along with the Catechism so that children do not attempt to learn doctrine without "owning it" through biblical evidence.
Catechism needs to become a regular part of the Christian home's worship experience. Teaching has been a part of the Christian home's worship since the days of old. We know that Moses required the catechising of children when he wrote in Deuteronomy that children are to be taught the ways of God. (Deut. 6)
Below you will find a short history of Catechising from Zacherius Ursinus (the co-author of the Heidelberg Catechism). You will find it to be both encouraging as well as thoughtful. Catechising needs to be seen as a priority in the lives of our children if we are serious about the Reformation of the Church.
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF CATECHISATION, AND HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN PRACTICED IN THE CHURCH?
The same thing may be said of the origin of catechisation which is said of the whole economy or service of the church, that it was instituted by God himself, and has always been practiced in the church. For, since from the very beginning of the world God has been the God, not only of those of adult age, but also of those of young and tender years, according to the covenant which he made with Abraham, saying, “ I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee; “ he has also ordained that both classes should be instructed in the doctrine of salvation according to their capacity; the adults by the public voice of the ministry, and the children by being catechised in the family and school. As it respects the institution designed for the instruction of adults, the case is clear and admits of no doubt.
Touching the catechisation of children in the Jewish church, the Old Testament abounds in many explicit commands. In the 12th and 13th chapters of Exodus, God commands the Jews to give particular instruction to their children and families in relation to the institution and benefits of the Passover. In the fourth chapter of the book of Deut., he enjoins it upon parents to repeat to their children the entire history of the law which he had given them. In the sixth chapter of the same book, he requires that the doctrine of the unity of God, and of perfect love to him should be inculcated and impressed upon the minds of their children; and in the eleventh he commands them to explain the Decalogue to their children. Hence, under the Old Testament dispensation, children were taught in the family by their parents, and in the schools by the teachers of religion, the principal things contained in the prophets, viz: such as respects God, the law, the promise of the gospel, the use of the sacraments, and sacrifices, which were types of the Messiah that was to come, and of the benefits which he was to purchase; for there can be no doubt but that the schools of the prophets Elijah, Elisha, etc., were established for this very purpose. It was also with this design that God delivered his law in the short and condensed form in which it is. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” etc., “and thy neighbor as thyself.” So also as it respects the gospel; it was briefly comprehended in the promises, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” And in thy seed shall “all the nations be blessed.” They had, likewise, sacrifices, prayers, and other things which God required Abraham and his posterity to teach their children and families. Hence it is that this doctrine is presented in such a plain and simple form as to meet the capacity of children and such as are unlearned.
In the New Testament we are, told that Christ laid his hands upon little children and blessed them, and commanded that they should be brought unto him. Hence he says, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” That the catechisation of children was diligently attended to in the times of the apostles, is evident from the example of Timothy, of whom it is said that he knew the holy Scriptures from infancy; and from what is said in the epistle to the Hebrews, where mention is made of some of the principal heads included in the catechism of the apostles, such as repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment which the apostle terms milk for babes. These and similar points of doctrine were required from the Catechumens of adult age at the time of their baptism, and of children at the time of their confirmation by the laying on of hands. Hence, the apostle calls them the doctrine of baptism and laying on of hands. So likewise the Fathers wrote short summaries of doctrine, some fragments of which may still be seen in the Papal church. Eusebius writes of Origen, that he restored the custom of catechising in Alexandria, which had been suffered to grow out of use during the times of persecution. Socrates writes thus in relation to the system of catechising in the primitive church: “Our form of catechising,” says he, “is in accordance with the mode which we have received from the Bishops who have preceded us, and according as we were taught when we laid the foundation of faith and were baptized, and according as we have learned from the Scriptures,” etc. Pope Gregory caused images and idols to be placed in the churches, that they might serve as books for the laity and children. After this period the doctrine of the church, through the negligence of the bishops and the subtlety of the Romish priests, became gradually more and more corrupt, and the custom of catechising grew more and more into disuse, until at length it was changed into the ridiculous ceremony which to this day they call confirmation. So much concerning the origin and practice of catechisation in the church.
-How young should children be before they begin the memorization of the Catechism?
-What advantages/disadvantages do you see in catechising?
-Should one begin with a simplified catechism (childrens, compendium) for toddlers and preschoolers?