Sunday, September 19, 2010
Some Thoughts About Catechetical Instruction
If you look at the prepared curriculum for catechism instruction, you find a preponderance of time spent upon the Law, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. These seem to be the big three of the six chief parts. I do not think that you can spend too much time on any of them but, given the realities of the time allotted, I suggest that we spend far too little on Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Let me tell you why...
The Law needs to explained not for what it says but for what it means and here the real task of this part of the catechetical instruction is to teach the student, in a rudimentary way, to distinguish Law and Gospel. Here the big issue is not what does it mean to kill but rather why has God given us the Law, what does it do and what does it not do, and how does it apply in daily life (instead of merely a rule book to govern in bounds and out of bounds behavior or surely we are preparing Pharisees).
The Creed needs to explained not what it says but for what it expresses -- the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the work of this Triune God on our behalf, and the faith/trust which meets the mystery but does not break it down into chewable chunks (lest we be preparing Calvinists who will explain and tie up every loose end of God). We are Lutherans. We live in the paradox of what reason says cannot be and what God says it is (like the Incarnation) and it will do no long term good to make God into propositional truth.
The Lord's Prayer needs to be taught not for what it says but for how to pray. If our people are to pray, they must be taught. The Lord's Prayer is not some magical prayer to be learned to be used when needed but the invitation to believe and pray throughout our lives that God loves and cares for us, surrounds us with His grace sufficient for the day, and gives us what is beneficial for us even if it is not at all what we desire. Otherwise we risk setting our people loose in the bookstores of the world and looking at prayer as the Sacrament of getting what you want from an unwilling God or the means to unfolding a higher plane of existence (so we risk creating pentecostals or gnostics).
But in all of this we forget that the three arenas in which our identities as Christians and our life of worship take place are the next three components. Here we fail our people miserably if we teach them a bit about baptism but fail to instruct them on how their baptism into Christ shapes and molds who they are as people, what they do, and how they live. We can teach the doctrine of baptism and fail because we do not teach our baptismal vocation. In the end, without fully investing in this part of the Catechism, we risk losing our people to the believers baptism folks because they fail to see who is acting in baptism and what is happening there or, on the other hand, we teach them that baptism is simply something in your past that has little to do with who you are today (an understanding too often shaped by the Law) and so we fail here, too.
The reason our people do not avail themselves of the gift of absolution is that they have not been taught private confession. We skip over a couple of pages here as if this were an anecdotal nod to Roman Catholic roots which, thank the Lord, we have ditched like the excess baggage it is. Instead, we could offer our children a means to keeping in good conscience the gift of God by the regular private confession and absolution that confronts the sinner with personal forgiveness and aids the guilty conscience so prone to damage us (youth and adults). It might also teach them something about practicing this in reconciliation with others.
Finally, the reason that so very many parishes do not have a weekly Eucharist and so many Lutheran Christians do not see this Eucharist as central and pivotal to their spiritual lives and devotion, is because we gloss over the meal that Christ gave us as if it were an occasional snack instead of THE regular encounter with the crucified and risen Lord in which by eating His flesh and drinking His blood He dwells in us and we in Him. Until we give the Sacrament of the Altar its due, our people will have a largely non-sacramental piety that is too prone to manipulation by the generic spiritualists (Oprah and Osteen) or the evangelical/pentecostals who spiritize the unspiritual and then ignore that which is Spirit and truth as ground and pattern for daily life in Christ. If our people are not knocking on the doors to the Pastor's study demanding more frequent communion, then we are doing something wrong in this area of the six chief parts.
Well, now I feel better.... do you?