Introducing the Heidelberg Catechism to Children

ANN MARIE MO|GUEST

What are your favorite comfort foods? On a chilly winter day, I crave a steaming bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, paired with a hearty chunk of freshly baked bread. Comfort foods satisfy our bellies and warm us up from head to toe.

Just as our physical bodies require sustenance, our souls ache for comfort and nourishment too. Many people feed their souls with temporal things—possessions, relationships, and financial success. But these perishable gifts cannot impart lasting peace or satisfaction, for God has created our souls with a hunger that only he can satisfy. Jesus confirms this in his words: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

For Christian parents, it is a critical task to pass biblical truth on to our children, for them to know that true peace and satisfaction are rooted only in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross. To teach our children the basics of our Christian faith, many excellent catechisms exist.

What Is a Catechism?

During the Reformation, many pastors wrote catechisms to provide a systematic method of teaching the Bible to God’s people. In the form of simple questions and answers, a catechism summarizes key biblical doctrines. Questions build incrementally on one another and provide a basic understanding of Christianity. But aren’t catechisms old-fashioned? Won’t children think catechizing is boring? Providentially, many engaging resources exist today to spark our children’s interest in catechisms and to introduce them to the richness of these works. For our children to know true biblical comfort in this fallen world, we must train them diligently from Scripture and catechisms provide an effective method of training.

The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563 by two pastors, is a compendium of biblical truth that is essentially a book of comfort. While the catechism covers the Gospel, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and other biblical topics, it presents these subjects in the context of the catechism’s first question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”[i] This theme of comfort resonates throughout the catechism.

The English word comfort derives from the Latin word confortare, which means to strengthen greatly. The two Latin roots, con and fortis, literally mean with strength. So, the idea conveyed in biblical comfort is something far more profound than in comfort food. The comfort that God imparts from his eternal Word by the Holy Spirit strengthens his people to persevere and to grow in Christ through hardships. Put another way, God’s comfort is not the removal of pain, but instead, the fortifying of his children to mature under trials and to be transformed into “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Isa. 61:3).

The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism

Considering the richness of this comfort from God, what Christian parent wouldn’t want to impart it to his or her children? How, though, do we begin to explain these deep concepts to elementary-aged children? Pastor William Boekestein’s little book The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism is an excellent place to start.

Immediately, the book’s cover picture captures the vivid imagination of children and invites them to embark on an adventure to learn about the three men who created the catechism. In thirty pages, filled with outstanding content and pictures, Boekestein tells the story of why the Heidelberg Catechism was written.

Although a seven- to ten-year-old could read the book in twenty minutes, this is one you will want to read aloud to your child. Set aside time, prepare hot cocoa, find a quiet corner, and share the story together. There’s no need for me to retell it, so instead, here are three reasons to purchase this book:

  1. As a father of four children, Boekestein knows how to engage young minds. He provides highlights from the lives of Frederick III, Caspar Olevianus, and Zacharias Ursinus that young readers can grasp. He emphasizes their courage amidst hardships and shows that difficult experiences, along with their deep knowledge of the Bible, enabled them to write a catechism on comfort.
  2. Captivating illustrations mimic the appearance of wood-carvings and complement the story’s time period. With comic-book graphic quality, the pictures help tell the story and capture the tumultuous period.
  3. Within an exciting story, children learn significant facts about the Reformation. Boekestein seamlessly incorporates historical points, including the writing of the Belgic Confession, and he introduces the basic, three-part structure of the catechism.

This hardcover picture book is a great starting point for elementary-aged children to learn about the catechism. Exploring its back story, helps children become personally connected and ready to study the catechism with the entire family.

Using a Family Devotional to Study the Heidelberg Catechism

For families with children in the late elementary through high school years, author Starr Meade has written an excellent family devotional Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism. Meade’s time in the classroom, teaching Bible and Latin, is apparent in the way she communicates biblical truth with clarity and precision. Also, as a mother of three grown children and grandmother to six, her life experience shines in the biblically rich and substantive content of each devotional reading.

The Heidelberg Catechism consists of 129-questions-and-answers, distributed over fifty-two Lord’s Days, and organized in three parts:

  • Part 1: Misery & Sin (Lord’s Days 2–4)
  • Part 2: Deliverance & Salvation (Lord’s Days 5–31)
  • Part 3: Gratitude & Service (Lord’s Days 32–52)

Each Lord’s Day section covers 1–5 questions. Meade provides six devotional readings per Lord’s Day. Since a few of the Lord’s Day sections contain several questions (making memorization in one week formidable), she has divided those longer sections into two parts. Thus, it takes a little over one year to complete the catechism using her devotional guide.

Final Thoughts

Written by two pastors, the Heidelberg Catechism communicates biblical doctrine in a pastoral and personal tone. Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus teach that true Christian comfort is experienced only by those who belong to God. Reconciled to God because of the merits of Christ, we are adopted into God’s family and become partakers of his comfort. Whether in fruitful years or lean years, good times or bad times, as his children we are assured that “all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”[ii]

These are the biblical truths we yearn to teach to our covenant children. In a nation growing openly hostile to Christianity, we must prepare our children and equip them with God’s Word to be salt and light. Study the Heidelberg Catechism with your cherished child, and share the true comfort that exists only in knowing Christ.

[i] Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2013), 11.

[ii] Ibid, 58.

About the Author:

Ann Marie Mo

Ann Marie earned her B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has worked as a technical writer in the software industry and currently teaches in public school. With her husband and two children, she attends Grace Presbyterian Church PCA in Yorba Linda, CA. There, she enjoys serving on the Women’s Literature Committee.

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