By Ed Vasicek
One of our young people and his friend from another church interviewed a number of pastors in the Kokomo (IN) area. To their surprise, a number of them could not recite the Ten Commandments.
Another one of our young people participated in an after-school Christian ministry where the leader asked if anyone could recite the Ten Commandments. She was the only one who could do so (the leader was surprised, because on other occasions, no one was able to perform that feat). You would think the leader would have changed his lesson plan and taught the kids the commandments then and there (I wonder if he knew them), but his question was merely a jumping point for a lesson about the loss of absolute truth.
We live in a day and age where speakers complain about believers not knowing the basic facts, yet these leaders do nothing to remedy the problem. Complaining about the problem, or revealing it, is not enough: we should, instead, fix the problem. And we should not move on until we have done so.
In the past, I’ve taught the Ten Commandments and Persons of the Trinity during our morning service, conducted a combined Sunday school for grades 1-8 to teach these basics and more, and offered similar material during our Sunday evening service. I have taught much of this material during AWANA or, in recent years, to our summer youth group.
As I was studying 2 Peter (1: 12-13) in preparation for one of my sermons, I realized that I had not properly “reinforced” these teachings in recent years. Peter wrote:
Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.
All Christians need to know and review the basic “facts.” Most of us agree that, by and large, learning concepts is better than mere memorization of information. But not always. Rote memory has gotten a bum wrap: Learning by rote is an excellent way to lay a foundation-especially if you contemplate what you have learned!
I do not want to place the bar too high; instead, I will list what I consider the bare essentials for every Christian to know by rote-basic Christian facts that correspond to learning multiplication tables in math. You might use this information as a list for your own personal achievement, and for instructing your children at home, teaching Sunday school or other classes for children, teens, and yes-adults!
The temptation is to get too deep in analyzing these very important subjects. A superficial rote memorization, though, lays a foundation that can be expanded upon later. Detail-constrained people and the TMI crowd are not the best at teaching these basics!
1. The order of the books of the Bible
Like learning the alphabet before reading, knowing the order of the books of the Bible is foundational to deep Bible study. If you are fortunate enough to have children who have been taught the New Testament and the Old Testament songs, you have an “easy way” to learn the arrangement. Breaking the task into manageable “chunks” is helpful.
Let’s begin with the New Testament You want to be able to think through the order, so here is a list you might use.
- The Historical Books (Matthew-Acts)
- Paul’s Epistles (Romans-Philemon)
- General Epistles (James-Jude)
- Revelation (Remember, it is not Revelations.)
The list of Paul’s epistles can be the most difficult. Remember, all the ‘Ts” are together (1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus); an acrostic for Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians is “Gentiles Eat Pork Chops.”
Learn each section before moving on to the next. Always review from the beginning. (”Matthew, Mark …. “)
We again have some useful divisions:
- The Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
- The Historical Books (Joshua-Esther)
- The Poetical Books (Job-Song of Solomon)
- The Major Prophets (Isaiah-Daniel; note that Lamentations is an appendix to the book of Jeremiah.)
- The Twelve Minor Prophets (Hosea-Malachi)
You can create an acrostic for the twelve Minor Prophets, or you might compromise and look them up in the index if you cannot seem to conquer this challenge. If you know the order of the Old Testament books except for the Minor Prophets, you can get by. Here is an acrostic I use:
- Howard Johnson Ate Olives (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah)
- January May Need Heat (Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk)
- Zoos Have Zebra Mammals (Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).
The book most people cannot locate is Nahum. Odds are if you can locate Nahum without consulting an index, you know your Bible order!
2. The Ten Commandments
These are found in Exodus 20, but they are not numbered. I reduce them down to bare bones paraphrases for easy memory. I am more concerned that people still know their commandments at age seventy-three than I am about perfection of wording at age twelve. The secret is to think through them in three sections:
Four commands relating to God:
- No other gods
- No images
- Do not misuse God’s name.
- Remember the Sabbath Day.
Then the authority we recognize first in life, our parents:
- Honor your parents
Then we think of five sins, from worst to least:
- Do not murder.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Do not steal.
- Do not lie.
- Do not covet.
Thinking through the commandments really helps. When explaining meanings to children, they will often ask about adultery. A kid-friendly way to explain this is, “If you are married, do not look for anybody else.” With coveting, I’ll explain it is wanting something too much-so much that you make yourself unhappy or you are willing to do something wrong to get it.
3. The Three Points of Gospel
These are derived from I Corinthians 15: 1-6. When memorizing this, I encourage folks to emphasize, “for our sins.” The fact that Christ died is history, but the fact that He died for our sins is theology and salvation!
- Christ died for our sins.
- He was buried.
- He rose again on the third day.
4. The Three Points of the Great Commission
These are derived from Matthew 28:19-20. I summarize “teaching all things” as “discipleship.” The points, then, are these:
5. The storyline of the major events in the entire Bible
These include Creation, the Fall, the Flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Judges, King David, Solomon, divided kingdom, Babylonian Captivity, return to Jerusalem under Ezra, birth of John the Baptist, life of Jesus, Pentecost, inclusion of the Gentiles. The best way to get this is by reading through the Bible. Attending Sunday school and attentiveness during sermons over the years helps to refresh these, too. Children’s story Bibles help rehearse the main narratives.
6. Persons Who make up the one Triune God
- Holy Spirit
Please do not teach “God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit” as the Trinity. This is not quite accurate. By calling only the Father “God,” you are implying that the Son and Spirit are something less than God. By naming Jesus as part of the Trinity, you are including His human nature, which had a beginning (remember, God has been triune eternally). God the Son has always existed, but the human nature of Jesus began in Mary’s womb.
7. The importance of the nation of Israel
This is a topic of controversy. Although all Christians would acknowledge the importance of Israel in the past (the nation producing the Messiah, the Bible, and the Apostles), most of Christendom believes that God is done with Israel forever. We disagree and assert that this is an important issue.
At present the existence of the nation of Israel is an indication of God’s faithfulness and thus an evidence of the truth of the Bible. The only thing that makes sense of Israel’s existence is God’s end-time plans for Israel (her future conversion and exaltation during the Kingdom Age). See Romans 11.
8. The Solas
These are the five Biblical “alones” reclaimed during the Reformation. I prefer to condense them to two statements:
Scripture Alone. We are not saying that the Bible is the only authority, but rather, the Bible is the only infallible and thus the final authority. (Other authorities-like governments, parents, or church leaders-are fallible but to generally be respected; clear Scripture, however, can trump these authorities.)
Salvation by God’s grace alone through Christ alone by faith alone to God’s glory alone.
9. Minimal verses every Christian should have memorized and understand
John 3:16, I John 1:9 and the “Romans Road” verses (Romans 3:i0, 3:23, 5:8, 6:23 and 10:9). It might be good to also include Ephesians 2:8-9. John 3: 16 is a simple salvation verse. I John 1:9 is a verse every Christian needs to know-confessing our sins to God and dealing with guilt is an important part of a godly walk. The Romans Road verses can be used for personal assurance but are especially well suited to lead someone to faith in Christ. The Ephesians verses are, in a sense, a clarification of what Romans 6:23 means-salvation is a gift. A gift really is a gift!
We are never done learning as Christians, so please do not stop with the above! This is meant to be a starting point, not an ending one. Just as we learn our multiplication tables and then move on to division, fractions, and decimals, so the basic Christian “facts” are a foundation upon which to build.
For pastors, an addendum: Those of us in leadership (whether lay leaders or clergy) must repeatedly re-lay this foundation. We should never assume our folks have this foundation. I would challenge skeptics (optimists who believe their people know all these facts) to give an anonymous test to their Sunday school class, youth group-or attenders at a morning service. But be prepared for disappointment! I believe the overwhelming majority of Christians do not know their basic Christian facts by rote. They might pick up the Ten Commandments if given a multiple-choice quiz, but can they list them? Not many can.