Catechism - To Instruct
The word catechism comes from a Greek word meaning "to instruct." It is used in Luke 1:4 ("so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught"), Acts 18:25 ("He had been instructed in the way of the Lord"), and in Galatians 6:6 ("Let him that is taught in the word," KJV). The word in these contexts refers to thorough, formal instruction in the ways of the Lord.
But how did the word catechism come to mean instructing through the question-and-answer method? I can only guess at the answer, knowing that the "catechetical method" was well established in the Reformation and possibly even in post-apostolic times as well. We read in Deuteronomy 6:20-21,
In the future, when your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?' tell him: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt...'
This is the continuation of Deuteronomy 6:10-12, where Moses gave the covenant nation instruction in how to perpetuate the knowledge and practice of the covenant. Could it be that our godly forefathers got the notion that the best way to be catechetical was to use the natural propensity of children to ask questions? But informal catechisms, the method is turned around: parents (and other instructors) ask the questions, to which memorized answers are given. Nonetheless, the question-and-answer format is a most useful method of learning, however it came into use historically.
That brings us to the question, Who are the primary catechizers and the catechized in the context of Deuteronomy 6:6-9? The answer is unmistakable. Parents are the catechizers and their children are the catechized (vs. 7). Nor is this arrangement peculiar to the Law of Moses. The apostle Paul says the same thing:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right, and
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.Ephesians 6:1, 4
Can anyone rebut from the Scripture that the training of children lies with their parents? Certain aspects of this training may be "farmed out" to other institutions, such as schools, but God holds parents responsible for such spiritual, moral, and intellectual training as they receive — an awesome responsibility! Is this not a fundamental implication of the fifth commandment? Moses repeats the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 as the reason for the "Shema" (6:4-5), which precedes the four verses (6-9) from which the elements of catechetical instruction emerge.
Verses 7-9 give us the elements and applications of biblical catechizing. They are:
Formal instruction — "Talk about them when you sit at home."
Informal instruction — "(Talk about them) when you walk along the road." These are the unplanned instances when important lessons can be learned (such as formed the basis of many of our Lord's parables).
Habitual training — "when you lie down and when you get up."
The capstone of all family instruction, not having to do with times and circumstances but with the purpose of it all — "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads." The Word of God must be that which informs all that our children do and think.
Household symbolism — "Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" for all to see who visit and pass by.
Surely our lifestyle is much changed from the simpler way of life in the time of Moses. We don't do much "walking along the road." But the principles implied are easily discernible, and we can do them today!
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 encapsulates the whole of Christian nurture, by which the baptismal promise is fulfilled: to endeavor by all the means of God's appointment to bring (our children) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.