Thursday, February 21, 2019
The function of the catechism. . .
A catechism is not, and has never been in history, seen as, an instrument for introducing new doctrine. In Roman terms this would mean that a catechism is not a tool for the “development of doctrine” but is, in effect, just the opposite. When a catechism is used to advance change, even rather deliberate change, the catechism betrays its purpose and history. Although some would describe the catechism’s function as humble, that is, to pass on, simply and accurately, the pre-existing teaching of the Church, this is in reality not a humble task at all. To pass on the faith is the most basic and essential function of the faithful and the catechism is a tool of this noble purpose.
For Lutherans, the Small Catechism of Martin Luther has been the glue that binds the generations together and the common identity that spans geography as well. Given that we live at a time when confirmation instruction is more varied and diverse than ever before and the very purpose and goal of this instruction is often up for debate, the Small Catechism has been a very effective agent in slowing the progress of change and transcending the diversity of method and content of confirmation instruction. That is why the role of the Small Catechism at the center of the curriculum is so important and the abandonment of the Small Catechism in favor of other curricular material is so profound.
In the same way, periods of confessional and liturgical renewal have always come as the fruit of a time of catechetical renewal. The catechism actually does function just as it is intended. It preserves the faith and in this work of preservation sparks a renewal of that faith as the people of God are confronted with what was believed, confessed, and taught as a living voice and even a corrective one. But increasingly the Church has grown restless with the past and impatient with the work of God and has determined to use the catechism for an alien work of introducing change and a disconnect with the past.
While this is certainly obviously truth with Rome as it struggles with the CCC and what to do with its words on homosexuality and the death penalty at a time when the public mood has moved away from the old positions (born of Scripture and tradition). Not incidental is the role of Pope Francis to bring question if not disdain for those positions. At the very least, this has introduced confusion -- something the catechism was designed to confront and resolve. In this Lutherans should be paying attention. Changing the catechism IS changing the faith. It is one thing to make linguistic changes that reflect the change in vocabulary but it is quite another to change words because the intent is to change the meaning.
Some words to consider as we survey the chaos that appears to be the catechetical tradition of a church once united as much by that catechism as by the Lutheran symbols.