How are Catechisms Organized?


Even though there are many catechisms, most of them teach the same basic topics:

  • God
  • People
  • Sin
  • Ten Commandments
  • Jesus Christ
  • Repentance
  • Justification
  • Prayer
  • Lord’s Supper
  • Baptism

The order of the topics in different catechisms vary. I started this series with the Ten Commandments because I expected the answers would be similar in different catechisms, and well organized. Now that I’ve finished that section, I have to decide how I want to organize the rest of the series. To me, starting with God seems obvious, but most catechisms don’t start with Him. The list below shows the first question in each of the catechisms I’ve been referencing:

  • A Puritan Catechism – What is the chief end of man?
  • Baltimore Larger Catechism – Who made the world?
  • Baptist Catechism – Who is the first and best of beings?
  • Episcopal Catechism – What are we by nature?
  • Geneva Catechism – What is the chief end of human life?
  • Heidelberg Catechism –  What is your only comfort in life and death?
  • Luther’s Small Catechism –  What is Christianity?
  • Westminster Larger Catechism – What is the chief and highest end of man?
  • Westminster Shorter Catechism – What is the chief end of man?

As you can see, most of these catechisms start with man. I still feel God should be at the beginning.

I did find some catechisms are loosely organized according to The Apostle’s Creed:

  • I believe in God, the Father almighty,
  • creator of heaven and earth.
  • I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
  • He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • and born of the virgin Mary.
  • He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
  • was crucified, died, and was buried.
  • He descended to the dead.
  • On the third day he rose again.
  • He ascended into heaven,
  • and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
  • He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  • I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  • the holy catholic Church,
  • the communion of the saints,
  • the forgiveness of sins,
  • the resurrection of the body,
  • and the life everlasting. Amen.

I didn’t feel this order was quite what I’m looking for. There’s no direct reference of man, faith, repentance, grace, the church and some other topics that many catechisms address.

The list of topics at the beginning of this article are in somewhat chronological order: God existed before people; people existed before sin; the Ten Commandments are given to people because of sin; etc. My intent is to generally follow this same order, but I’m not sure how successful I’ll be. Some topics are closely related and perhaps should be grouped together, even though they’re chronologically separate: Jesus is part of God, but His birth, death and resurrection occur after man, sin, faith and grace. 

I’m not sure how well organized the rest of this series on catechisms will be, but I have put some thought into it.

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