Sunday, July 9, 2023

Have we ruined Luther's Catechism?

I wonder if Luther would be appalled at what we have done to his Little Catechism.  Judging by the current incarnation in the Synod, we have made Luther almost a footnote to the volume that bears his name.  Even worse, we think we are standing right in the line of Luther in doing so.  The reality is that we are using the Catechism in ways that Luther never dreams and I am not should would approve.  The current Small Catechism of 2017 is not small at all.  It is huge.  We seem to think that bigger is always better and we keep taking this lean and concise volume and making it wordy and wordier.  Whatever the intent in redoing the Catechism, the result has been, in my mind, to render this volume harder to use in both youth and adult instruction in the faith.  


Even worse, we seem intent upon placing barrier after barrier between the catechist and the reception of Holy Communion.  If knowing the Catechism means knowing all 400 pages, we have significantly raised the bar over Luther for those who would begin to receive the Sacrament. With 374 questions and 1,142 Scripture references, this new Catechism is more an unabridged volume of teaching than it is the compact and abridged version Luther wrote.  I guess we are more dense than the folks in Luther's day.  Why else would we need to add 3-4 times the number of pages Luther actually wrote?  Or maybe we are just trying to be careful.  Yeah, that must be it.  In any case, it pretty much guarantees that the age of first communion will not drop much more than it has.  But is this what must be known before admittance to the altar rail?

It occurs to me that we might be on course to ruin Luther's Small Catechism by making it bigger than the Large Catechism and by trying to turn it into a one volume compendium when all it needs to be is 30 pages or less.  Furthermore, I am sad to say that some Lutheran pastors are talking as it the sheer volume of information on the work of God is what defines one's communion as worthy when clearly it not that at all.  So perhaps we ought to take our cue from Luther and admit to the rail those who can in good conscience confess with Luther his little set of questions and answers and let the words of Luther's Small Catechism live without so much of our commentary.

Christian Questions with Their Answers

After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the pastor may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions:


1. Do you believe that you are a sinner?

Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.


2. How do you know this?

From the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.


3. Are you sorry for your sins?

Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.


4. What have you deserved from God because of your sins?

His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. See Romans 6:21, 23.


5. Do you hope to be saved?

Yes, that is my hope.


6. In whom then do you trust?

In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.


7. Who is Christ?

The Son of God, true God and man.


8. How many Gods are there?

Only one, but there are three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


9. What has Christ done for you that you trust in Him?

He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.


10. Did the Father also die for you?

He did not. The Father is God only, as is the Holy Spirit; but the Son is both true God and true man. He died for me and shed His blood for me.


11. How do you know this?

From the Holy Gospel, from the words instituting the Sacrament, and by His body and blood given me as a pledge in the Sacrament.


12. What are the Words of Institution?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”


13. Do you believe, then, that the true body and blood of Christ are in the Sacrament?

Yes, I believe it.


14. What convinces you to believe this?

The word of Christ: Take, eat, this is My body; drink of it, all of you, this is My blood.


15. What should we do when we eat His body and drink His blood, and in this way receive His pledge?

We should remember and proclaim His death and the shedding of His blood, as He taught us: This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.


16. Why should we remember and proclaim His death?

First, so we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.


17. What motivated Christ to die and make full payment for your sins?

His great love for His Father and for me and other sinners, as it is written in John 14; Romans 5; Galatians 2; and Ephesians 5.


18. Finally, why do you wish to go to the Sacrament?

That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also learn from Him to love God and my neighbor.


19. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?

First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.


20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?

To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.



These questions and answers are no child’s play, but are drawn up with great earnestness of purpose by the venerable and devout Dr. Luther for both young and old. Let each one pay attention and consider it a serious matter; for St. Paul writes to the Galatians in chapter six: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.”


Carl Vehse said...

"If knowing the Catechism means knowing all 400 pages, we have significantly raised the bar over Luther for those who would begin to receive the Sacrament."

Here's the bar -

When asked at confirmation, "Do you also, as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?", a confirmand's answer of "I do" or "I do so intend, with the help of God" commits the confirmand, in becoming a communicant member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation, to subscribe without reservation to the Holy Scriptures as the written Word of God and to the doctrine exposited in the Book of Concord of 1580, because they are the confessional standard of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and of that individual congregation as specified in its constitution which is required for congregations that are members of the Missouri Synod.

A Lutheran church that permits a baptized member to receive the Lord's Supper before making such a vow has simply lowered the bar to the level of open communion.

jdwalker said...

It seems to be an overall commentary on our approach to education that we no longer learn so that we can apply, but we learn how someone tells us to apply so that we don't have to really understand.

As for participation in the Lord's Supper, I don't quite understand why we don't commune our children? Or why the pastor's individual judgement on why a particular child is ready to commune is a salutary practice? Or why we have confirmation if it isn't some decision theology rite of admission to the Lord's Supper? I haven't yet received an answer that seems consistent with everything that is said Baptism, the Lord's Supper, catechesis, etc.

All that is to say, that I lean in the opposite direction of erecting more barriers to the reception of the Lord's Supper by our children (or even those who may have other cognitive disabilities that prevent them from being top students in their catechetical class).