Catechism—A Means for Learning and Teaching God’s Word by Dan Boulton

You have most likely heard the term catechism, but have you ever wondered what it is and how you could use it? Many Christians today are using catechisms to establish themselves and their children in the truths of God’s Word. The purpose of this article is to explain catechism and to encourage your consideration of using this wonderful tool.

What is catechism?

A catechism is a short book giving a brief summary of basic Bible doctrine using a question and answer format. Nearly everyone is familiar with catechism as a teaching method whether or not we know the meaning of the term. Most of us learned our addition facts and vocabulary words using this time tested method. Our teacher would ask us, “What is 2 plus 2?”, and we would answer, “4″.

In the context of Bible study, our teacher might ask, “What is the first commandment?”, and we would answer, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (NKJV) A catechism is a proven way to transfer important, foundational doctrines into our minds and hearts.

What is the history of catechism?

The formal use of catechisms goes back through the centuries. Our church fathers such as Augustine made use of catechisms as did the reformers. Knox, Calvin, Luther and many others saw the great value of catechisms for teaching God’s Word and the doctrines of the church. Priests, rabbis and parents may have used a catechetical method of instruction in Old Testament times as well. Catechisms would have been of great value to both children and adults in times and places of illiteracy.

Why is catechism valuable?

  • It provides a setting for the teaching of the Scriptures and doctrines of the church.
  • It helps children build a biblical vocabulary.
  • As children mature intellectually, a catechism can aid them in thinking and reasoning through the Bible by doctrine and subject.
  • Catechism helps to link parents, teachers and children in the common task of Christian education.
  • It helps to retain the standard of the Word of God.
  • It focuses on the God of the Bible and helps avoid moralizing the Word.

What is included in a catechism?

Among Presbyterian churches, three catechisms are in very common use. The First Catechism is designed for preschool through middle elementary children. The Larger Catechism and its abridged version, the Shorter Catechism, are the other two catechisms. All three of these catechisms have similar content which includes such teachings as:

  • The doctrines of God including His nature and attributes.
  • The doctrines of man.
  • The doctrines of grace, sin and salvation.
  • The offices of Christ as prophet, priest and king.
  • The Ten Commandments.
  • The Lord’s Prayer.
  • The meaning and place of baptism and communion.
  • The doctrines of resurrection, judgment and the Lord’s second coming.

How can you utilize a catechism as a family?

If you are a parent or grandparent who wants to use a catechism with children, there are some helpful things to keep in mind:

  • Be age-appropriate. I would suggest starting young children with the First Catechism published by Great Commission Publications. The colorful, children’s booklet is written in large type for easy reading using a child’s vocabulary. The booklet is also of such a size that the child can apply stickers as he learns or even add his own notes. Susan and Richie Hunt have an excellent read-to-me catechism book called Big Truths for Little Kids. This excellent book can serve as a child’s first introduction to catechism.
  • Go slow and review often. Rote learning is only the first level of learning. We should work toward application and retention. The First Catechism has 150 questions and answers, the Larger Catechism 196 and the Shorter Catechism 107 so recognize that this is not a short-term project.
  • Teach the Bible not just the catechism. We all need to keep in mind that the catechism is not the Bible, but has grown out of the Bible. Therefore, it is essential to know the biblical basis for what is in the catechism. Catechism is simply a tool to help us remember and apply the Scriptures. Having a catechism that includes Scripture references can be of great value in this regard. The Westminster Confession of Faith published by Free Presbyterian Publishing is an excellent resource for these purposes.
  • Lead by example. Learn the catechism with your children or grandchildren. This will be beneficial to everyone.
  • Have a plan and work it. Most everyone has a difficult time getting started and persevering. Starr Meade has written a wonderful book, Training Hearts-Teaching Minds, published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing. The book divides the Shorter Catechism into a daily devotional format. She covers one question and answer per week with excellent scriptural supports. It takes two years or longer to go through the book, but it is easy to know where you are in the process. Great Commission Publications produces Shorter Catechism Memory Cards if you like that type of format.
  • Do not expect instant learning or retention. Mastering the catechism is a long term project which will require much review and perseverance.


How can you teach the catechism in a class or home school setting?

1. If you are teaching adults or teens, you might consider using G. I. Williamson’s, Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing. This helpful study book not only includes the catechism, but also discussion questions, Scripture references and explanations of all the questions. It is ideal for home study groups and Sunday School classes.

2. Great Commission Publications produces a study course for young teens and preteens on the Shorter Catechism entitled, Bible Doctrine. There are two parts each containing 30 lessons covering all 107 questions and answers. This is an excellent way to introduce students to basic doctrine.

3. One of the finest resources available for teaching the First Catechism is Kids’ Quest Catechism Club produced by Great Commission Publications. This is a full resource curriculum with leader’s guides, visual aids, student handouts/worksheets and music. Kids’ Quest is offered in two age-levels, Beginning (ages 4-5) and Elementary (grades 1-4). The curriculum is flexible and easy to modify. Free samples are available from Great Commission Publications.

Many of us have experienced God’s grace to us as children to have been taught the Ten Commandments and in some cases even memorized them. Question 108 of the First Catechism asks, “Of what use are the Ten Commandments?” The answer from the catechism is, “They teach me what is pleasing to God, and how much I need a Savior.” Ultimately, the goal of every catechism is to be God’s means to glorify Himself by drawing us into a deep, personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ and for us to grow deeper in our walk with Him.

Nearly all of the resources that have been mentioned can be purchased from Great Commission Publications at 800-695-3387 or www.gcp.org.


• Dan Boulton is the Field Representative for Great Commission Publications. Teacher, writer, faculty member and family man, Dan conducts workshops on vital topics of children’s and youth ministry. He also provides free training for all Show Me Jesus curriculum.

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