Saturday, September 09, 2006

Living Catechesis

God speaks and we listen. Then we say back to Him what He has first said of Himself. This is catechesis, or teaching. It is the church confessing or “same saying” what is most holy and true.

A child learns what he lives. Suppose a child is brought to church for Baptism and then is taken home where the words of faith are seldom if ever heard from the lips of his parents. It would follow that the catechesis he received would be very shallow. Certainly one hopes he would be brought to church every Sunday, but what is an hour of faith-talk in the ears against the plethora of learning received elsewhere?

Catechesis happens. Little ears are open and receptive. This sort of ditty, and this one, filling the ears of the baptized are also catechesis. What does he hear most often? What then is the fountain and source of his catechesis? Where that is, there his worldview will take shape. And there his certainty will be.

Luther’s Small Catechism was written to be a prayer book for daily use by everyone. Each of the Six Chief Parts begins, “As the head of the family should teach … in a simple way to his household.” In plain, simple words the Catechism teaches and feeds hungry souls the Living Bread of Life. It is primary theology. Luther viewed it not as his Catechism, but as God’s, and so it is. For, it is a correct explanation and confession of what God has first spoken to us in His word. Therefore, writes Luther, God himself is not ashamed to teach it daily, for he knows of nothing better to teach, and he always keeps on teaching this one thing without proposing anything new or different.” He continues, “We think we can learn in an hour what God himself cannot finish teaching, though He were to teach it from the beginning of the world until the end! All the prophets and all the saints have had to learn it, but they have always remained its pupils, and they must continue to be so” (Large Catechism, Preface, 16.) Therefore, to be a student of the Catechism is to be nothing other than a Christian; for, it is the practice of Christ’s command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Mt 28: 29-20).

Court battles are waged whether images of the Ten Commandments can be placed outside public buildings, as if paying homage to God’s Law in this way makes of us a Christian nation. This is the deadness of the Law. Simply paying homage to a symbol while not knowing their application keeps us dead in the Law.

We confess in the Third Article that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. Without knowing specifically how we are sinners, without confessing our specific sins, we become smug in our self-righteousness. Knowing the Ten Commandments and applying them daily to specific acts teaches children (and adults) to confess sins, and to confess them immediately. A litany of apology followed by forgiveness in Jesus name reinforces the fact that there can be no forgiveness except through the Savior who died on the cross. The daily invocation of God’s Triune Name is a remembrance of Baptism. Encouragement to keep the Commandments is a reminder that the devil is lurking about like a roaring lion (1Pe 5:8). It is also a reminder of Baptism. For, to be in the Law is to be in Christ, the one who kept it for us. This is to be in Baptism, which is how His righteousness is delivered to us. The only way any of us keeps the Law perfectly is to be in Christ, so the repentance of the Law is always a return to the Gospel.

The Catechism is wet with Baptism, dripping with Gospel. Why would any parent want to keep it from his child? To memorize this precious jewel from infancy is to be armed with the best defense against the greatest enemy the parents have set loose against the child when he was baptized, Satan himself.

If that's not enough, the explanation of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism states

For if we want capable and qualified people for both the civil and the spiritual realms, we really must spare no effort, time, and expense in teaching and educating our children to serve God and the world. We must not think only of amassing money and property for them. God can provide for them and make them rich without our help, as indeed he does daily. But he has given us children and entrusted them to us precisely so that we may raise and govern them according to his will; otherwise, God would have no need of fathers and mothers. Therefore let all people know that it is their chief duty—at the risk of losing divine grace—first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and, then, if they are so gifted, also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed. (Large Catechism: 1, 170)

In another place Luther writes,

Now we must devote far more care to educating the children in order that we may find people who are capable of serving a country in its secular government and the cities in spiritual government as preachers and lectors. You see what murderous harm you do to the sovereign prince and the fatherland when you keep gifted boys away from study. The same applies to you, the mother of a family, if you train your daughter or your maid badly. It is a commandment which is laid upon you, not something which is merely given to you. For if you are able to rear your daughter well and do not do so, you are the one who has ruined her. AE 51, 151.

Christian parental catechesis involves training children to speak the words of the apostolic faith so that they are lived in their daily lives. This is training children to be good citizens not merely of the church, but also of the nation. In this way every hour is a sacred hour and church work is not the only or most sacred of all vocations.

1 comment:

Ron said...

Very nice, very timely. We are preparing (like most Lutheran's) for the start of catechism. It is good to be reminded on the importance of God's Word, and that there is no more important thing to teach our children. My first child of four is starting this year.