The full text of the Apostles’ Creed has been found almost completely intact all the way back to the third century. So for well more than a thousand years it has been used to explain the basic tenets of Christianity. But is it something we should teach to our children? Can they even handle it?
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Training and instruction of the Lord, what a great gift to pass onto our children. The Six Chief Parts of the Small Catechism have an order: The Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar. Theologians and scholars debate whether this order is theological in nature or pedagogical. Let’s not dive into that debate but instead look at what Luther had to say about the Creed in his opening paragraph in Part 2 of the Large Catechism:
So far we have heard the first part of Christian doctrine. We have seen all that God wants us to do or not to do. Now there properly follows the Creed, which sets forth to us everything that we must expect and receive from God. To state it quite briefly, the Creed teaches us to know Him fully [Ephesians 3:19]. This is intended to help us do what we ought to do according to the Ten Commandments. For (as said above) the Ten Commandments are set so high that all human ability is far too feeble and weak to keep them. Therefore, it is just as necessary to learn this part of Christian doctrine as to learn the former. Then we may know how to attain what they command, both where and how to receive such power. For if we could by our own powers keep the Ten Commandments as they should be kept, we would need nothing further, neither the Creed nor the Lord’s Prayer. But before we explain this advantage and necessity of the Creed, it is enough at first for the simpleminded to learn to comprehend and understand the Creed itself.
“Therefore, it is just as necessary to learn this part of Christian doctrine as to learn the former.” I don’t think Luther could have been any more clear. Whether theological or pedagogical in order, we know that Luther held the Creed as important to learn as the Ten Commandments. “To state it quite briefly, the Creed teaches us to know Him fully [Ephesians 3:19].” What a great tool to help us bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord.
So how can we teach this text to our preschoolers? Let’s look at some practical tips to help you help your little ones.
Focus on each section separately.
In your intentional teaching of the Creed, focus on each section separately. Now this does not mean that you should not confess the entire Creed with your children around. What I am talking about is when you are intentionally teaching your children. Focus on one article at a time. In fact, Luther talks about the three chief articles divided that way to make them “most easily and clearly understood.”
In the first place, the Creed has until now been divided into twelve articles. Yet, if all the doctrinal points that are written in the Scriptures and that belong to the Creed were to be distinctly set forth, there would be far more articles. They could not all be clearly expressed in so few words. But to make the Creed most easily and clearly understood as it is to be taught to children, we shall briefly sum up the entire Creed in three chief articles, according to the three persons in the Godhead [Colossians 2:9]. Everything that we believe is related to these three persons. So the First Article, about God the Father, explains creation. The Second Article, about the Son, explains redemption. And the Third, about the Holy Spirit, explains sanctification. (Large Catechism)
Chunk your teaching when appropriate.
To a preschooler, the Apostles’ Creed is not short. Compared to the Lord’s Prayer (70 words in length), the Apostles’ Creed is 111 words in length. When you spend time teaching your preschooler the text, think about chunking each of the sections. This will accomplish a few things:
- It will allow you to teach the text in a managable quanity for you child.
- It will allow you to teach the text as it comes in its natural cadence and rhythm. Think about when we confess the Creed corporately, you can feel the cadence and rhythm especially in the Second Article. Think about it: And in Jesus Christ, (pause) His only Son, our Lord, (pause) who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, (pause) born of the Virgin Mary, (pause), etc. Use the natural rhythm of the Creed to help you decide what amount of chunking you want to use.
- It also allows you to teach your child about the Godhead and what we receive from Him and why. It will allow you to explain tough concepts. Trying to explain crucifixion and ascension in the same setting may be overwhelming. You will know what is right for your preschooler, so keep it manageable.
Add the Creed to your routine.
Most of us will pray the Lord’s Prayer daily with our children (no wonder a lot of children will know it by the time that they are two years old!). Consider adding the Apostles’ Creed to your routine. Hearing the words and the rhythm over and over will help place the words on your child’s lips and heart for the rest of his or her life.
Say the Creed with your child at church.
When the congregation stands to confess our common Christian faith, pick your child up with you so he or she can hear you say it with the congregation. Hold your child so he or she faces forward and sees everything that is happening in the congregation.
Consider using some helpful resources as you teach.
There are a lot of helpful resources to help teach your young child the faith. Here are some resources that are specifically made to help you teach the Creed.
- Follow and Do: The Apostles’ Creed—The Follow and Do series teaches young children about the Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith, combining the teachings in the catechism with practical application for all aspects of daily life.
- Sing & Wonder—Sing praises with forty original songs that help kids learn more about the God who created us, loves us, and cares for us every day. In addition to musical arrangements, Sing & Wonder includes a variety of “I Wonder” questions, song actions, song mats, and reproducible activities such as matching, search and find, coloring, and more. Ideal for use in preschool to early elementary classrooms, Sunday School, home, and in the car! It also has a CD set for the songs!
- Sing the Faith CD—Words paired with music are more easily learned and remembered. With Sing the Faith, the words of the Small Catechism are set to original tunes in order to teach and aid memory of these important words.
As in everything that you do with your children, take your time! Whether your children learn the Creed in two weeks, or two years, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are teaching them the faith and what God has done for them and all of us.
This is not a comprehensive list, just some thoughts and ideas. What are your ideas? We’d love to hear from you below! God’s blessings as you teach your children the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3 ESV).Click Here to Download Small Catechism Flash Cards