Note: This article is part of a special Patheos Symposium, Passing on the Faith: Teaching the Next Generation. Read more perspectives here.
Martin Luther's small catechism for children is an invaluable tool for teaching the next generation theology—the study of God. The first part of the catechism teaches the meaning behind the Ten Commandments and the creeds: What did they mean and why are they important? As children grow older they can go deeper in their knowledge by studying the Westminster Catechism and the Nicene Creed. Both helped me to frame a worldview that acknowledged an understanding about my purpose for living.
The first question of the Westminster Catechism runs through my mind often: What is the chief end of man? The answer: To glorify God and enjoy him forever. God should be at the center of my universe at all times. This truth, that I learned as a child, has stuck with me throughout my life—no matter what circumstances I have endured, I had the foundation, the knowledge, the conviction, that God was with me, he loved me, and that he created me for a purpose: to glorify him and enjoy him forever.
The catechisms formed a foundation, a structure, for me to formulate my beliefs and calm my soul. But the reading of literature reinforced what I knew by awakening my imagination to learn about character and virtues to which I could aspire.
Children can learn much from literature. As a child I learned who God was through the eyes of Christian as he battled various temptations in Pilgrim's Progress, and through the eyes of Princess Irene who held fast to her grandmother's admonition during difficult times in George MacDonald's masterpiece, The Princess and the Goblin, and through the eyes of Lucy, who walked side by side with Aslan, as he comforted her during her adventures in Narnia. My imagination and spirit were enlivened by these characters as I saw how their faith guided their lives throughout difficult and frightening circumstances. I also learned the virtues a child should aspire to have: honesty, hope, trust, faith, perseverance, and selfless love, which brought me much joy. I knew that God was good through the lives of these characters and that I needed to trust him. Many children can relate to the struggles the characters face and can apply lessons of character development to their own lives.
Children can also learn, as I did, from reading books about the history of the Protestant faith. I regularly read about people like Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, John Knox, John Calvin, George Whitefield, the Wesleys, and many more, who sacrificed much for the gospel. I wrote synopses and book reports about these leaders' courage and accomplishments. And every Halloween, my father took me to a Roman Catholic church to learn about its teachings and why we were Protestants. We would remember that Reformation Day began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of a Catholic church to protest against the teachings of Catholicism. "Why did this matter?" my father would ask, and then we would recite the foundations of our faith.
Through reading, teaching, and imagination, children can learn much about their faith. At Christian summer camps, I memorized scripture, engaged in Bible studies with peers, and formed community with other believers my age. Growing up, children may feel alone, isolated, or different because of peer pressure at their school. But having the strong foundation of teaching at home or through church, and through Christian camps, their mind and spirit can be renewed.
While clearing dinner dishes at camp, we would sing in a round: "Oh Lord, Oh Lord, how majestic is your name in all of the earth! Oh Lord, Oh Lord, how majestic is your name in all of the earth! Oh Lord, we magnify your name, Oh Lord, we magnify your name, prince of peace, mighty God! Oh Lord God Almighty."
May that ring true for children today. May they love him with their heart, soul, and mind and know the peace that passes all understanding that only he can provide.