Considering the Small Catechism

LAJ suggests a blog series on Luther’s classic “Small Catechism.” Good idea. Since, as my colleague Sandy observed, Luther Day doesn’t even rate any greeting cards, even from Christian sources, we’ll honor him that way.

Strictly speaking, as a wise pastor once explained to me, the catechism proper consists of the Bible and creedal texts: the Ten Commandments; the Apostle’s Creed; the Lord’s Prayer; the verses on the sacraments; the verses on vocation in the Table of Duties. Accompanying those, following the classical teaching technique that teaches understanding via dialectic, are questions and answers designed to unfold “what does this mean?”

Luther’s catechism follows a distinct order that is different from earlier catechisms. His is structured like this: Law (the 10 Commandments); Gospel (the Creed); Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer); the Sacraments (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession); Vocation (the Table of Duties).

I don’t intend this to be just a Lutheran blog, so folks from other traditions, please bear with me here. In fact, I would greatly appreciate hearing specifically from non-Lutherans. Please go here and read the catechism. It’s short. Yes, there will be things you won’t agree with, especially when you come to the part about the sacraments, and you’ll get thrown off by the different numbering of the Commandments than you are used to. But still, isn’t its explanation of the Ten Commandments a marvel of ethical teaching? Isn’t its explanation of the Gospel in the second article of the creed marvelous? Isn’t it helpful to have such a concise, lucid, and eloquent summary of Christian teaching?

We’ll post excerpts for our contemplation and discussion in the days ahead.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • LAJ

    Thanks for going with this idea! You made my day! The catechism is unique in that we can find all the main teachings of the Christian church explained and backed up by Scripture.

  • WebMonk

    I love those automated blog linking things! Sometimes they make some of the most interesting juxtapositions! I never knew that this blog was so into “herbals shop herbs health benefits”!!!

  • http://Faith-filled.com Stephenie

    My class (Lutheran elementary school) has been discussing the spirit of the Law vs. the letter of the Law. The ten commandments with their explanations are a more concrete way for students to understand that concept.
    I like it when we read part of the catechism during worship (either school chapel or regular church.) It helps us remember what we have learned. Years after having had to memorize all that stuff, I now can see it through adult eyes. It means even more, so I’m glad to review it.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    There was a time when Luther’s Small Catechism was one of the most widely read and studied books in the Protestant Christian world… and not just amongst Lutherans.

    My, how times have changed.

  • http://katiesbeer.piperblogs.org/ Theresa K.

    I consider a KEY point in my family’s life the four-year period in which we each, at differing rates, went through catechism. First, my husband and I in a 6 week one-on-one adult catechism (as we converted from non-denom) followed by a a review of Luther’s Small Catechism in adult bible study each week, and then our kids as catechumen in a two-year, pastor-led, rigorous Christian education program. The holistic way in which we learned scripture and how to interpret scripture has simply stayed with us ever since. Of course it helps that we still regularly attend church, bible study and receive holy communion, along with keeping the Bible and the Book of Concord cracked open at home, but I firmly believe that the Lutheran church has a corner on Christian education.

  • Booklover

    “I firmly believe that the Lutheran church has a corner on Christian education.”

    Dittoes, Theresa. I went backwards from you–Lutheran to non-denom, through marriage. My sons did not learn anywhere near the theology and doctrine that I did growing up. In church now, I don’t think we’ve ever recited the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed or the Ten Commandments. This goes for the both the Bible churches and the Baptist church we’ve attended. The Christian faith in these churches seems to focus more on that moment in time when I accepted Christ rather than what Christ has done for me.

  • http://www.HempelStudios.com Sarah in Pennsylvania (formerly in Maryland)

    Sadly, at least in the ELCA, Christian education is abyssmal. My senior high sunday school kids didn’t know who St. Paul was. :-(

  • http://www.heidelbergcatechismproject.com Reformatus

    The Reformed Church in Transylvania still retains Luther’s Small Catechism among it’s confessional documents along with the Heidelberg Catechism and Second Helvetic Confession! I enjoy reading the LCMS edition of the smaller catechism and especially appreciate the catechetical instruction in Luther’s work you find at peacesussex.org!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy

    So now there are seven chief parts? I always thought it was six chief parts, plus addenda.

    I can’t think of a better “what we believe” statement that fits on a single sheet of paper than the Apostles’ Creed, with explanation.

    With our kids, we use an illustrated children’s catechism from CPH. It’s a wonderful book. Our oldest is only five, but it’s never to soon to learn the catechism. The memorized words are the scaffolding, and the meaning gets filled in over time. That process never ends, as Stephenie (#4) was getting at, and as Luther himself showed by declaring that he had to study the catechism continually.


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