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How to teach our kids Christianity? Start with the BIG 3

As Christian parents we have the desire and responsibility to our children to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). We know that teaching them the content and doctrines of the Christian faith, while certainly not everything, is an important part of fulfilling this responsibility. But where to begin?  What to do?  Books on children's ministry are endless, children's Bible's come in thousands of varieties, and it can all seem overwhelming. How do I know I am teaching them the right things? In an age when biblical and doctrinal literacy are at all-time lows (at least in America), these are important questions.

Fortunately, we don't have to reinvent the wheel. We can stand on the generations of Christians that have come before us, and on the tested and tried methods that they recommend to us. When we look back, what we find is consistent testimony to what I will call the BIG 3: The Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. When previous generations of Christians sought to train their children (and new converts) in the faith, it is to the BIG 3 that they routinely turned.

I recently read several short treatises by some of the early reformers, and it was striking to me how often they highlighted the BIG 3 as being of critical importance in their program for training children and discipling believers. Consider the quote below by Martin Luther along these lines as representative (with added highlights):  

This instruction or direction I know not how to put in a clearer or better way than has been done since the beginning of Christendom and retained to our own day, namely in these three, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father. These three contain simply and briefly, about everything a Christian needs to know, This instruction must be given...from the pulpit at stated times...and repeated or read aloud evenings and mornings in the homes for the children if we want to train them as Christians.  They should not merely learn to say the words by heart, as heretofore, but with each part they should be asked questions and give answer, what each part means and how they understand it...Let none think himself too wise for this and despise such child’s play. ...If we wish to train children, we must become children with them. Would to God such child's play were widely practiced. In a short time we would have a wealth of Christian people, souls becoming rich in Scripture.

Notice that Luther is simply advocating for what we call the process of catechism. Taking central truths of the Christian faith, teaching them to our children through question and answer format, and then dialoguing with them about the meaning of them. Further, notice how Luther understands that we might be tempted to disdain this (seeing it as “child’s play”) approach and look for some bigger, better, or less time consuming way. But, as Luther noted, this practice is well worth the investment and goes all the way back to the earliest centuries of the church.

I share this with you hopefully as an encouragement to parents. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to what and how we can help our children learn the Christian faith. The BIG 3 offers a wonderful starting place, and both the Westminster Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism contain teaching in this format on the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s prayer. This is also why we have a catechesis program in the church and recite the Lord’s prayer and Apostles Creed regularly in Sunday worship.  It’s not just as an expression of our belief (though it is that), it is also a way we teach and disciple ourselves and our children.

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