Brief Introduction to Catechesis – A Preface to the Catechism
In 1527 Martin Luther, at the urging of his Elector, visited the congregations of his district. What he found utterly disturbed him. He found that those that called themselves Christian had little to no understanding of the basic teachings, or doctrines, found in God’s word. This included both pastors and those they were called to teach! In response to what he found; Luther developed a simple instruction book covering what he believed to be the basics of the true Christian faith. Six teachings, from the Bible, that were foundational for the Christian to know and to use to answer the questions he or she would encounter in life. It was the means for the Christian to do as Peter urges, they could always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (2 Pt 3).”
Who is God? What does he expect from me and all people? What happens if I cannot meet those expectations? Am I still loved? How do I know I am still loved? Will he forgive me? Will he provide for me all I need, body and soul, or forsake me? Will he do the things he says he will do? How do I know he will do what he says he will do? What happens when I die? Does he know that I suffer? Why can Christians have hope in this life? What is the reason for that hope?
Like Luther’s day, we ask these same questions and the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed and our Lord’s prayer work together to instruct us of all that Scripture holds in a simple and understandable way. Add to that the hope found in our baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution and the Christian has sound, gracious teaching to stand on for this life. They are the foundational truths of God for all people passed down from generation to generation. Moses told us to teach this diligently; the apostle Paul encouraged us to bring our children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Deut. 6, Eph. 6).” We might call this catechesis. It is instruction in the Christian faith; truth echoed back and forth among the generations so that they may learn the words, phrases and concepts of God’s heart and language.
This began in the garden with the instruction “do not eat.” It continued with the LORD, Moses, and the people of Israel on Sinai. Jesus catechized his disciples continually. It was undertaken by the Church through the centuries and encouraged by the reformers of the Middle Ages. Today we follow in that same tradition as we open the Small Catechism passed down to us and see the first words, “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.”
But the Catechism is more than an instruction book. In his own preface to his book Praying Luther’s Small Catechism, Dr. John T. Pless, follows suit by encouraging us to “pray through the catechism, for it tutors us in what Paul calls the ‘pattern of sound words,’ locating us within the economy of God’s giving and our receiving.”
God’s giving and our receiving. This little prayer book, the Small Catechism, will direct you to a deep understanding of the gifts God has given us in Jesus. This is a life-long endeavor.
What will follow is a sort of personal, pastoral, prayerful commentary of the Small Catechism. It will be for myself, but also for you. I hope it is helpful and a blessing. Open the Catechism with me, we can pray and learn together.
To God alone be all Glory — Soli Deo Gloria