I remember my high school principal once talked about the importance of education. He told my class that we could lose our jobs, our possessions, and even our freedom, but no one could take away what we have learned. He wanted us to understand the value of knowledge. Unlike material possessions, which can be taken or destroyed, our knowledge remains. This is true for all kinds of knowledge, but how much more so when it comes to the knowledge we have of God!

It was at this same school where I memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism with accompanying Scripture verses. The truths I learned from those brief questions and answers have remained with me throughout my life. I recall them when facing uncertainty or trial. I remember them when I read or hear something from the world that is untrue. Even now, I frequently consult the Westminster Confession when I have a question about doctrine or theology. I believe the confessions and creeds of the Church are useful tools in discipleship, not only for our own hearts, but also for our children.

The Church’s Confessions and Creeds

Why confessions and creeds? The Christian faith is creedal. It is based upon what we believe and our public proclamation of that belief. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), they responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). We see this throughout the New Testament. The gospel is proclaimed, a person believes, and then verbally acknowledges their belief. The Apostle Paul wrote what many consider to be an early statement of Christian belief in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7: “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

From its infancy, the early Church developed statements of belief based on Scripture that they recited together. For example, when people were to be baptized, they often memorized a statement of faith about who Jesus Christ is and what He did for His people and confessed it at their baptism. Early Church councils developed statements or creeds asserting what the Church believed about Jesus, who He is, why He came, and how He saves us. The Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed are some of the first of these statements. Today, these creeds set Christianity apart from other religions. Those who assert these creeds are considered orthodox Christians.

During the Protestant Reformation, the Church developed confessions and accompanying catechisms to declare what they believed. These confessions stood in stark contrast to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Some of these confessions include the Westminster Confessions of Faith, The Belgic Confession, The Heidelberg Confession, and The Thirty-Nine Articles, among others. These confessions summarized what the Bible teaches. Unlike the Bible, they are uninspired. They are secondary to Scripture but are helpful ways to learn what the Bible teaches about different doctrines, including that of the Trinity, salvation, the Church, matters of faith, and more.

Using the Confessions and Creeds to Grow in the Knowledge of God

Some churches have an official confession they assert, others utilize multiple confessions. If you are unfamiliar with the confessions, take the time to read through them for yourself. You’ll find that some confessions are more pastoral, while others are more focused on teaching specific doctrines. My own local church rotates through a different confession each year, reciting the catechism question and answer aloud during worship.

The creeds and confessions are useful tools for believers to use in growing in their knowledge of God and His Word. They are also useful in training our children to know what Christians believe and why. In keeping with the truth that what we know cannot be taken from us, what we teach our children about God is always with them. When they encounter falsehood, they can measure it against the truth they have learned. When they face a trial in life, they can turn to what they know about God, who He is, and how He works in their lives. When they forget their identity in Christ, they can turn to the truth of who Christ is for them. When they have a question about a particular doctrine of the Church, they can recall what they have learned from the confessions. These truths will be a light to guide their path through all their days.

Practical Ways to Teach Children the Confessions and Creeds

  1. Begin when they are young: Children are capable of learning the catechism as soon as they can talk. There are children’s versions of various catechisms available. You can start small, teaching them one question a week. You may be surprised at how quickly they retain and memorize things!
  2. Teach them the history behind the creeds and confessions: As you teach your children the creeds and confessions, don’t neglect the history behind them. There is rich Church history behind how these statements of belief came to be. Read to your children the stories and biographies of our early Church fathers. Teach them about the Reformation and those who stood up for the truths we too often take for granted.
  3. Music is a helpful aid in memorization: We often retain things better when they are put to music. Consider those earworms you can’t quite get rid of! Some catechisms and creeds have been set to music. The more you play these songs, the more your children will learn and memorize them.
  4. Use books and other resources: There are books and devotionals available which unpack and explain the confessions and creeds. These are especially useful during family devotional time. We want our children to not only memorize the questions and answers, but to also understand what they mean.
  5. Post what they are learning where everyone can see: Print out the question and answer your child is learning in a place where he/she frequents. Include the question on the memorization work. An answer has not context without its question. In addition, in many catechisms, the syntax of the question is echoed in the answer, so correctly remembering the former will nudge the memory for the latter. Refer to it often, perhaps practicing it during mealtimes.
  6. Have your child write out the catechism question and answer: Writing something down also aids in learning. Have your child copy the catechism question and answer several times each week. Bonus: it also means your child is practicing her handwriting as well!
  7. Use a fill in the blank teaching method: This is another method teachers use to help children practice what they are learning. You can type up the catechism question and answer, leaving out various words, and have your child fill in the words that are missing.
  8. Use flash cards: Flash cards are not only useful for learning vocabulary words in school, but also for any other kind of memorization. You can write the catechism question on one side and the answer on the other. Hold up the question and test your child’s response. You can also use flash cards by writing down the catechism, one word on each card, and then mixing up the cards and ask your child to put them in order.
  9. Consider your child’s interests: If you have an active child, consider utilizing this in learning the catechism. Perhaps your budding basketball player would enjoy dribbling a ball, one dribble for each word of the catechism question and answer. Or perhaps you have a child who is artistic. Consider some creative ways your child could practice the catechism, such as writing it out using bubble letters or cutting out the words from a magazine and creating a collage. The options are endless!

The confessions and creeds of the Church are useful for all believers, both young and old. May we raise our children to know what they believe and why—for what they know can never be taken away from them.

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