Historically, the meaning of
these two words has often coincided, but in today's usage they are
very different. Understanding that difference can help us analyze why so
many young people in the Western world have been lost to our faith, and
can assist in preparing a new generation to be valiant in faith,
commitment and effective Kingdom life.
The word indoctrination was once a positive term. It simply meant
passing on a teaching or doctrine to another a person.
The central "Sh'ma" passage describes exactly this kind of
intentional, repetitive dissemination of God's words: "You shall
teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you
sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when
you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:7).
In Christian history, children were taught to memorize catechisms.
Catechisms were based on questions and answers that children would learn
by heart. By the time of confirmation, young people had memorized a
significant body of material and were ready for their first communion. I
believe it is very important to provide a solid religious education
which includes memorized verses and answers to key doctrinal questions.
I developed a Messianic Jewish guide for this called Growing to
Today, in the Christian world, the idea of catechism and indoctrination
are perceived as rigid, mechanical, and impersonal. Yet, no one has
replaced catechism with anything similarly effective in imparting the
body of basic biblical teaching to the next generation. Even among those
who remain in the Church, the ignorance is often appalling. Surveys show
a level of ignorance that is unprecedented. In my early teens
(1960-1965), we did not use a classic catechism, but we did have very
clear Bible lessons and memorized verses that were categorized according
to different biblical themes providing us with a lot of important
content. We learned it!
Many of the world's religious movements and cults - such as
Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Scientologists - engage in levels
of indoctrination. It appears that the level of continuity, the
percentage of those who remain within the group and are able to retain
their children within the group, is proportional to the degree of
indoctrination used. Interestingly, the world of radical Islam seems to
be the most effective in indoctrination. Many Islamic families teach
their children to chant and memorize most of the Koran. They teach them
the responsibilities of Islam including prayer, pilgrimage to Mecca, and
jihad, as well as hating Zionists, Jews and all infidels. Islamist
schools are powerful centers of rote memorization. All of these things
are abhorrent to the free styles of Western education. However, we have
to admit that these children do get indoctrinated and do follow the call
to be loyal Muslims according to their interpretation. The children of
jihadists are also jihadists.
Muslims training the next generation
(Photo - Wikipedia)
Indoctrination has taken on the meaning of robotic processes that
produce unthinking people who do what they have been indoctrinated to
do. Indoctrination is a key mechanism of control and, some would say,
manipulation. Yet when we criticize indoctrination, we have to ask a
question of our own faith communities: having given up indoctrination,
having chosen fun things for our children and hoping for the faith to be
imparted by osmosis, what are the results? The results are terrible.
Our young have little clarity on what or why we believe other than that
Yeshua died for our sins and that if we accept His death for our sins, we
go to heaven. They also learn that we are to be nice to each other.
So with today's definitions of indoctrination, how do we distinguish
it from discipleship? First of all, we have to recognize that
discipleship as well as indoctrination seeks to impart a body of
information that should be known well enough to be recalled in an
instant. I consider that a memorized body of material is helpful and
even essential for growth and effective living - especially memorized
passages of the Bible. This body of material to be fully learned includes
the basic teaching of the Bible concerning what to believe, how to
behave, and how to be empowered to live according to Scripture. With
regard to a body of learned material, Yeshua said we are to disciple the
nations and "Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you"
(Matthew 28:19-20). The commandments of Yeshua are important,as is the
content of the Torah since He commanded us to teach and apply the Torah
(Matthew 5:17-19). Indeed, much of the New Testament was written in
patterns for memorization!
However there is another element. We are seeking to raise
people who can think, who can ask and answer questions. In Islam,
asking questions is a sin. We are seeking to train people to know the
Holy Spirit and to recognize His voice. We are seeking to raise mature,
intelligent people, who are submitted to the Spirit first, and who are
able to ask and answer questions as part of deepening and growing faith,
without mind idolatry. The ability of our faith to face and answer
difficult questions deepens our credibility among those who have
questions. Writing to the Corinthians Paul states, "We demolish
arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge
of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to
Messiah" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Discipleship has many dimensions. One
is being able to face contrary worldviews and values - and respond in a
convincing and consistent way. It also is to lead people into a direct
experience with Yeshua and the power of God, just as Yeshua did with the
Twelve. He demonstrated this when He sent them out to heal and cast out
demons. They were able to ask questions and Yeshua gave convincing
In feedback from our young adults gathering held a few months ago, many
said that for the first time they found a place where they could freely
ask questions and hear answers. This is part of discipleship. In this
and other ways, congregational life is to be a school of discipleship.
Our young emerging leadership couples want this kind of community, where
there is deeper discipleship and where questions are discussed.
Making this a key priority will help in transmitting our faith to the