The Catechism Teaches

The book I’ve been using this month for my daily devotional time (Be Thou My Vision by Jonathan Gibson–Book Review) includes a reading each day from one of the Reformed catechisms. I’m finding that to be a good exercise, and one that I would recommend to others. I had my husband (a Lutheran pastor) write an article about the why the catechism is important for teaching us the basics of the faith. It follows below.

A major concern for Luther and other Reformers was the level of ignorance about the basics of the Christian faith amongst lay people. This led to a number of different catechisms throughout the newly established Protestant churches. Luther published his Small Catechism in 1529. It was meant for use in the home where the father would teach his family and servants the fundamentals of the 10 Commandments, the Sacraments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Office of the Keys and the Apostle’s Creed. There was a short explanation of each of these topics.

Luther also wrote a Large Catechism which expands the teaching on the fundamentals and was intended for use by pastors and more educated adults. Both the Large and Small Catechisms are included in the Book of Concord, the Lutheran confessional documents.

Over the years the Small Catechism became the basis for confirmation studies and Luther’s goal of having it taught in the home fell into general disuse. This change led theologians to add more detail to the explanations as a teaching vehicle.

The Catechism itself spurred governments to expand free education so their people could read and understand them. In the 18th century the Danish/Norwegian king asked Erik Pontoppidan to write a detailed explanation of the Catechism which was then used as part of the public education in that realm. Pontoppidan’s work remains the basis for newer issues of the Catechism to this day.

P.S.(a note from Joan) In case you are interested in the origin of words, as I am (probably another English major trait), it comes from a Greek word, which simply means to teach or instruct, especially in a face-to-face manner.

For more about the Reformation see these posts:

How the Reformation Changed the Environment

The Importance of The Reformation

A Book of Questions — Luther’s Catechism

Generous Words

Image result for images of luther's small catechismMy granddaughter is currently in her second year of confirmation classes.  In looking over her copy of Luther’s Small Catechism,  I came across this explanation of the Eighth Commandment:

The Eighth Commandment You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What is this? or What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

I added the bold highlighting of the final words, because they really struck me.  How generous am I in the thoughts I have about others, and the words I speak about them?  I may refrain from telling lies or spreading gossip, but am I generous enough to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when their actions seem questionable or even wrong to me? Do I refrain from speaking about something that may be true, but is still damaging?  I have to admit that no, often I don’t.  This isn’t right and it isn’t how God expects us to behave.  Nobody knows everything about another person.  We don’t know what trials they are going through;  we don’t know if they are dealing with mental or physical distress;  we don’t know what kind of childhood they had or what pressures they’re under.  There is so much we just don’t know, and so we should always try to be understanding and generous in how we judge others.

Here’s another good piece of Biblical advice from the book of Matthew:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”  Matthew 18:15

Instead of stewing about what I think is wrong with someone’s behavior, or mouthing off about him to another person, I need to go directly to him and confront the issue.  Maybe I’ll find out that I’m the one in the wrong because I misunderstood;  maybe I’ll give him a chance to apologize;  maybe he’ll even change.  Maybe I’ll just be glad I gave someone the benefit of the doubt — don’t we all want someone to extend us the same generosity?