Teach Your Children Well

As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

– Luther’s Small Catechism

And all Fathers, Mothers, Masters, and Mistresses, shall cause their Children, Servants, and Apprentices, who have not learned their Catechism, to come to the Church at the time appointed, and obediently to hear and to be ordered by the Minister, until such time as they have learned all that is here appointed for them to learn.

– U.S. Book of Common Prayer, Catechism, 1928

The duty of the head of the household is to teach the family the catechism of the church.  The catechism is not important in and of itself but is only insofar as it reflects the teaching of Scripture.  Fortunately, both Dr. Martin Luther and the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer are firmly rooted in Scripture.

Both catechisms focus on the ancient requirement that catechumens learn the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  The Ten Commandments are learned first to announce the law by which we have all fallen short.   The Apostle’s Creed and Lord’s Prayer are taught next to proclaim the good news that Christ has accomplished what the law requires.  In other words, law and Gospel.

It is important that fathers or the head of the household raise their children in the faith:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

– Deuteronomy 6:4-7

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

– Ephesians 56:4

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

– Proverbs 2:6

At first glance, the Book of Common Prayer may appear to rest the responsibility of catechesis on the church, but let’s reexamine the wording of the relevant rubric more carefully:

And all Fathers, Mothers, Masters, and Mistresses, shall cause their Children, Servants, and Apprentices, who have not learned their Catechism, to come to the Church at the time appointed, and obediently to hear and to be ordered by the Minister, until such time as they have learned all that is here appointed for them to learn.

The requirement that children learn from the local minister is not a universal command, but is contingent on those who have failed to memorize and understand the contents of the prayer book catechism.  When the father or head of household neglect their duty to catechize their children only then are they are required to send their children to the church to be taught the catechism by the resident clergyman.  This implies that the preferred and expected scenario is one in which the father has taught his children the catechism.

Unfortunately, many Christian parents neglect their duty to God, the church, and their own children by failing to teach them the faith.  The Book of Common Prayer’s catechism can and should be used by families to train their children to become disciples of Christ.  Additionally, the 1928 U.S. Book of Common Prayer contains several flexible and easy-to-use condensed daily offices to teach doctrine, encourage Bible reading, and teach the faith.  This section is known as the “Forms of Prayer to be used in Families” at pages 587-600 of the 1928 BCP.  (I have submitted my slightly modernized version with expanded content from Bishop Edmund Gibson to the ACNA Liturgy Task Force for their consideration in including in the 2019 ACNA BCP project.  If this proposed text is beneficial, please let the Liturgy Task Force know by contacting them.).

Reviewing the catechism provides a solid Biblical and theological foundation for children.  Additionally, teaching the catechism ensures that the children can be confirmed as members of the church and begin receiving Holy Communion.  The catechesis of children provides them with a library of information they can rely upon as they grow in faith.  Likewise, when asked about their faith, such as “what is a sacrament,” they will have a ready answer: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.”  In theory, they will be able to draw upon the wisdom of the church and have an answer regarding the basic facts of Christianity.

Teaching the catechism can be tailored to suit a child’s age and learning level.  Beginning with regular family prayer and including the memorization of one of the Ten Commandments, reciting the Apostle’s Creed, and praying the Lord’s Prayer is a great start.  Over time, the Ten Commandments will be memorized and the Creed and Lord’s Prayer will become second nature.  After learning the Ten Commandments, the Creed and Lord’s Prayer provide more than enough material to review in detail.  The bite-size theology within the Creed and Lord’s Prayer can easily be expanded upon when explaining to children, much less adults.  Eventually, the theological meat of the rest of the catechism can be broached as children advance to school-age.

It is our duty to discipline, or disciple, our children in our faith.  If we truly believe that God has revealed His love for us sinners through His Son then we not only need to share this good news but raise our children to know and understand these facts.  The catechism is not merely a tool to disciple our children but also a requirement for those of us within Anglicanism.  As parents, we would not fail to educate our children as to hygiene, nutrition, or the sciences.  Why then should we neglect to teach them the riches, depth, and joy of God’s mercy in providing for our salvation and the redemption of the world?

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Catechesis through singing

Advent.  The season of the year in which singing resurges in religious and secular homes alike.  Songs such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “Joy to the World” (yes, it is an Advent hymn), and “O Holy Night” (okay, a Christmas hymn) are staples this season of the year.  They are easily memorable tunes and verses.  Additionally, these songs are chock-full of incarnational and Trinitarian theology that can be reflected upon while singing.

Singing hymns with the family is immensely more fun for young children than teaching the catechism (at least in my experience!) and results in quicker memorization.  Granted, the deep riches of the verses of these songs and the meaning of the words may not be fully grasped by young children, but learning these songs will provide foundational doctrine that can be drawn upon at a moment’s notice.  My own understanding the incarnation has been enriched through the verses of traditional Christian hymnody.  Singing hymns can capture one’s heart in a manner that reading and listening to another simply cannot.

Teaching children classic hymns provides them songs directing them towards Christ and His work.  It is a natural educational tool for younger kids to draw upon.  My three year old daughter regularly belts out the classic African-American spiritual, “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and is excited to sing from our family hymnal.  It brings her such joy to sing hymns that she now asks to see the family hymnal and flip through its pages while singing what she thinks is on the page.  Another added benefit is she now wants to participate more in Sunday worship as the pew hymnal is familiar to her.

Although she has not learned a whole hymn to sing by heart, she can join in at various portions of several songs.  Additionally, during our evening devotion we discuss a verse and its meaning to explain the hymn.  Discussing a hymn’s content quickly becomes a lesson on why the wise men traveled to see Jesus and present Him gifts or and why Christ is called Emmanuel.

On a similar note, I commend the Reformed Episcopal Church in their new hymnal, Common Praise, for including several annotated sections of the Book of Common Prayer.  It would be wise for Anglican churches globally to sing portions of the prayerbook as families could teach the words of the BCP to their children through singing.  Indeed, it is a long-term goal of mine to learn Anglican chant and to incorporate it in our devotions.  REC’s Common Praise includes a short section on Anglican chant – a noteworthy addition that I greatly value and hope to utilize.

Practically speaking, I encourage families to begin with simple, short songs for their very young children.  We began with “Jesus Loves Me” and eventually progressed to more familiar traditional hymns, typically Advent and Christmas themed due to my own familiarity.  There is no right or wrong way to begin such a practice – just dive in!

Our custom is to sing one or two songs, share a Biblical story or parable of Christ, and conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and/or Apostle’s Creed.  As an Anglican, I use this pattern in order for my children to learn the requirements for confirmation: the Creed, Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, and eventually the catechism.  See 1928 Book of Common Prayer, Rubric at end of Office of Instruction.  This pattern is easily amendable to Trinitarian Christians across the theological spectrum of Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic.  Start early with your children and no matter their age, starting today is better than beginning tomorrow.  Family devotionals are messy, but necessary to build up catechized and well-discipled members of the Church.