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

Most Certainly True

If you’ve read or been trained in the Lutheran Catechism, you’ll be familiar with the phrase, “this is most certainly true.”  It appears at the end of each of Luther’s explanations, a reminder that although most of life is uncertain, the things of the faith are not.  Recently my husband and I were vacationing near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where we were visiting with our daughter and our grandchildren.  We attended a Presbyterian Church one Sunday and I loved their confession of sin, because what it told me is most certainly true:

 From the Westminster Confession of Faith 15.4 (Of Repentance Unto Life).                                                                                                                                                      No sin is so small that it does not deserve damnation.  Nor is any sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.

Romans 8:1

“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

(If you’re unfamiliar with the Westminster Confession of Faith, it is a systematic exposition of Calvinism, written from a Puritan viewpoint. It was originally drafted to reform the Church of England and to unify the various Christian sects in England at that time.  It addresses a variety of church doctrines).

Often people feel uncertain about whether their sins are really forgiven.  Maybe they have trouble forgiving themselves; maybe they are afraid that something they have done is so bad, it just isn’t forgivable. Martin Luther himself suffered from this anxiety.  He confessed over and over again without feeling absolved.  On the other hand, some are convinced their sins are so small, they don’t need forgiveness.  They are “good” people, at least in comparison to others. Neither attitude is correct.  We all need forgiveness, and through the atonement of Christ, we can all receive forgiveness.  Of that you can be certain.

For more on forgiveness see  these posts:

The Opportunity of Forgiveness

Forgiveness for Ourselves

Forgiveness: It Does a Body Good