The Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) is taught throughout the school year on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-7:30 PM to all youth (preschool through 12th grade). A children's version of the WSC is used for all youth up through grade 4.
Adults study the Westminster Larger Catechism.
Explanation of Catechesis
Catechesis is simply teaching by way of asking good questions and expecting good answers. The word “catechesis” comes from the Greek word katecheo, meaning to sound down; katecheo itself consisting of two Greek words – kata (“down”) and echeo (“to sound”). Echeo is where we get our English word “echo” from. So, to catechize literally means to sound down with the objective of getting something back as an echo. It is the sounding down of a question and expecting the right answer in return.
This word katecheo happens to be used several times in Scripture. For example, in Luke 1:3, 4, Luke explains why he wrote his Gospel, "it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." That word "taught" in the Greek is word katecheo – [literally catechized], so Theophilus was catechized!
Consider as well Acts 18:25, where in describing one of the most powerful preachers in the days of the Apostles, a man by the name of Apollos, Luke writes, “He had been instructed [katecheo] in the way of the Lord.” Apollos too was catechized!
Furthermore, think about Jesus in the temple when he was twelve years old. We read in Luke 2:46-47, "After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers."
Thus, catechesis was definitely practiced during biblical times and seems to be the primary method of instruction that was used. Why was this the case? Simply because back then, people did not have access to many books or writing utensils, so they had to rely upon oral communication; and because they did not have any of the memory aids that we have today, such as computers and desk calendars, they had to rely upon memorization. Thus, it was only natural for them to use the catechetical method of instruction.
Catechesis is also greatly attested to throughout the history of the church.
Origin (2nd C.) and Augustine (4th-5th C.), for instance, two highly important church fathers, are known to have placed catechesis first as an effective means of instruction. Also, the Reformers and Puritans all strongly promoted catechesis. Martin Luther, for example, said “every child under catechetical instruction ought to know the truths of the entire gospel by the time he is nine or ten years of age.” John Knox said, “The young children must be publicly examined in their catechism.” The Council of Trent (council of the Roman Catholic Church from 1545-63), which convened specifically to arrest the progress of the Reformation, observed, “The heretics (by that they meant the Protestants) have chiefly made use of catechisms to corrupt the minds of Christians.” And John J. Murray (church historian) states, “No one who loves Scripture can justifiably ignore a means of instruction which has honored Scripture and enforced Scripture throughout the centuries of the Church’s history. In addition, those who have prized Scripture most have usually been those who have valued catechisms (Augustine, Anselm, Erasmus, Calvin, Luther, Knox, Henry, Baxter), and those who have ignored catechisms have generally been those who have fallen into unscriptural teaching. A misguided reverence for the Bible has prevented some from forming a systematic outline of the main doctrines of the word, and consequently when confronted with a systematic challenge to their faith, which also alleges Scripture for its authority, they are ill equipped to defend their position. As we are so painfully discovering today, such people are an easy prey of Romanism and false cults.”
Now it needs to be said that catechizing is no easy matter. To do it right and well requires much work on the part of everyone involved - teachers, parents, and especially students. The 17th-century Scottish preacher, Samuel Rutherford, said, “There is as much art in catechizing as in anything in the world.” This is because catechizing involves not just memorizing words but understanding their meaning. Luther made the point that teachers must make sure their students not only know what the catechism says but know what it means. So, hard and diligent work is necessary for catechesis to be successful.
Is it worth it? Well, consider the words of Rev. Donald Van Dyken, author of "Rediscovering Catechism": “Catechisms, properly written and used, never replace the Bible. On the contrary, they direct our attention to the Bible, excite our interest in its glories, and bring together its truths. As a catechism charts the main features and outlines the grand themes of Scripture, we are led to an orderly understanding. Thus our reaching and study of the Bible are more profitable, our life is more fruitful, and our praise and thankfulness to God are more intense.” (p. 23)