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Books on the Heidelberg Catechism for Children

Heidelberg

What are your favorite comfort foods? On a chilly winter day, I crave a steaming bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, a heaping plate of beef bourguignon over rice, and a generous scoop of warm apple crisp topped with melting vanilla ice cream. Comfort foods nourish our bellies and warm us up from head to toe.

Just as our physical bodies require comfort and nourishment, God has made our souls crave comfort and nourishment too. Many people feed their souls with temporal things— possessions, relationships, and financial success. But temporal gifts cannot deliver 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 our great responsibility and desire 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?

A catechism summarizes biblical doctrine in the form of simple questions and answers. Questions build incrementally on one another and provide a basic understanding of the Christian religion. During the Reformation, many pastors and theologians wrote catechisms to instruct God’s people. In fact, rigorous catechizing in the Protestant church was so effective in teaching the Bible to children and adults, that the Roman Catholic church copied the Reformers and created their own catechisms.

But, aren’t catechisms old-fashioned? Won’t children think catechizing is too strict for our 21st -century lives? For our children to know true biblical comfort in this fallen world, we must train them diligently from Scripture. Catechisms provide a systematic method of biblical 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: “Q1: 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 is meant to strengthen us to persevere and to grow in Christ through the hardships encountered in life. Put another way, God’s comfort is not the removal of pain, but instead, the strengthening of his children to mature under fiery trials and to be transformed into “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

The Story Behind the Heidelberg Catechism

As we consider the richness of this comfort from God, what Christian parent wouldn’t want to impart this biblical comfort 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.

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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 30 pages filled with outstanding content and pictures, Pastor Boekestein tells the story of why the Heidelberg Catechism was written.

Although a 7- to 10-year-old could read the book in 20 minutes, this is one you will want to read aloud to your child. Set aside time, prepare steaming cups of 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:

As a father of four children, Boekestein knows how to engage young minds. He provides highlights from the lives of the three men, Frederick III, Caspar Olevianus, and Zacharias Ursinus, that young readers can grasp. He emphasizes their courage amidst hardships encountered, and shows that these difficult experiences and their deep knowledge of the Bible enabled them to write a catechism on comfort.

Each page of this book features illustrations that mimic the appearance of wood-carvings and fit the time period of the story. With comic-book graphic quality, the pictures help tell the story and capture this tumultuous period of history.

Children learn significant facts about the Reformation in the context of an exciting story. Boekestein seamlessly incorporates historical facts, such as the writing of the Belgic Confession, and he introduces the basic three-part structure of the Heidelberg Catechism.

This hardcover picture book is a great starting point for elementary-aged children to become familiar with the catechism. Learning the catechism’s back story helps children become personally connected to it and ready to study the catechism with the entire family.

Studying the Heidelberg Catechism with a Family Devotional

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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. In addition, as a mother of three grown children and grandmother to six, her life experience shines through in the biblically rich and substantive content of each devotional reading.

The Heidelberg Catechism consists of 129 questions and answers, distributed over 52 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 anywhere from one to five questions. Because the questions are arranged into 52 Lord’s Days, the catechism can be completed in one year.

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

Final Thoughts

Written during the Reformation by two pastors, the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes basic biblical doctrine in a pastoral and personal tone. In this catechism, Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus teach that true Christian comfort is experienced only by those who belong to God. When we are 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 for life in this fallen world and equip them with God’s Word to be salt and light. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle, set aside time to 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.