The year is 1529, the Reformation is well under way. Martin Luther and his fellow pastors and professors had been teaching and proclaiming the Gospel for nearly 12 years. Now, their influence had spread throughout Germany and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Yet, even as their influence spread, the reformers in Wittenberg possessed little idea of how the Gospel and Scriptures were understood amongst the priests and laity outside of the city. So, Luther and some of his fellows began visiting congregations throughout the country. What they found was incredibly distressing. For all that the unleashed Gospel had spread the people were fairly ignorant of Scripture and their worldview was still largely affected by the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.
The result of these visits is what is probably the most overlooked worldview shaping tool ever devised, the Small Catechism. Yes, the book that has been gathering dust since your days in confirmation is one of the most radical worldview shaping tools ever created.
Sadly, over the years we have created an environment that allowed us to overlook the value of the Small Catechism. It became a text book. Nothing kills a book faster than becoming a text book for a class. Because, what do you do with a textbook after you finish a class? You either put it on a shelf to never look at it again or you get rid of it. As a pastor nothing makes me sadder than to see somebody put their Small Catechism in the for sale pile. But, we did it to ourselves. I must confess, I did it myself. The catechism was just a means for getting head knowledge.
The catechism is so much more than head knowledge. Comprised mostly of Scripture the Small Catechism can be understood as almost as the Bible in miniature. In the Small Catechism we are given the basic frame work of God’s Word and the means to understand what God is telling us. What is more is that we are even given a frame work by which to live and understand our own lives. In short, these 30 some pages (as formatted by CPH’s Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation) contain the greatest tool the average person can have.
What we have been given.
A means to understand the Bible.
The six chief parts of the catechism are set up the way they are specifically. They chart out how we can understand the Word of God by using God’s Word. Most of the Small Catechism is either a direct Scripture quote or a paraphrase of the Scriptures. So, it is possible for us to read the Scripture and see how the various events, songs, and prophesies illustrate the Six Chief parts and demonstrate a fundamental principle of understanding the Bible – Scripture interprets Scripture.
The Ten Commandments
Luther placed the Ten Commandments first because the Ten Commandments identify the problem by showing us our sin. Essentially, they summarize the various statements of God’s Law in the Scriptures. I’d like to point out briefly that the explanations draw heavily on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which is essentially a commentary on the Ten Commandments.
The Apostles’ Creed
There are three main creeds that Luther could have chosen for the Small Catechism, but the Apostles’ Creed serves best because it shares the redemption story. Essentially, we can understand the Apostles’ Creed as the summary of the Redemption story. The creed confesses the Gospel truth that God is our Father and creator and how He as our loving Father restores us through the work of Jesus. Plus, the creed confesses the Scriptural promises of how God makes us His in Christ and sustains us. In doing so, the Apostles’ Creed truly is a summary of the Bible, because the entirety of Scripture revolves around the Redemption story.
The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is God given faith’s response to hearing the Law and the Gospel of the Redemption story. It is the prayer that asks for the very things God has promised to give – forgiveness, what we need to live, and protection from evil.
Baptism, Absolution, and Communion
These three things along with God’s word are God’s answer to the petition “deliver us from evil.” I will be treating these sections individually later but for now they are collectively God’s answer to the Lord’s Prayer. For it is by the means of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion that we are given forgiveness of sins and deliverance from Evil. They give us the very bread that we need to survive the onslaught of Satan and his minions. They bring us out of this dead world by bringing Jesus, the Lord of Life, to us.
Table of Duties
This is the answer to the question, “What does a holy life look like?” Here you will find Scripture verses pertaining to many of the stations of life we will find ourselves in through the course of our lives. And so, it serves as the starting point for figuring out what God would have us do in our life.
All of these Six Chief parts come together into one fantastic tool that can shape our worldview and enable us to pass on the worldview. The first step we take is memorizing it. For many of us that may mean re-memorizing it. I will suggest to ways to memorizing the Small Catechism. The first is to read one of the Six Chief parts each day. The other is this nifty little CD from Concordia Publishing House called Singing the Faith. I highly recommend Singing the Faith because music is a fantastic mnemonic device (a tool to aid memory recall).
You cannot form a worldview unless it is so solidly engrained into your mind that it becomes a natural part of your thinking. And working to memorize something will do just that. When learning a new language, one of the best ways to learn is to be completely immersed in that language. People who have studied abroad have experienced this phenomenon. When we work to memorize something, and I don’t mean the cramming so many school kids do before a test, rather the intentional work designed to promote long term retention, we end up immersed in the work we are memorizing. The shear act of memorization requires regular exposure. For example, Pastor Schlote gets up every morning and does a series of stretches while reciting bible verses. Every day begins with that memory work. Another example, is in my own family we have been using the Singing The Faith CD, music gets into your head. I catch myself singing “The First commandment…What does this mean?…” while sitting in my office or driving around town. At first, it made me laugh, but then it drove home how powerful a memory tool music is. But this is what means to become immersed. You are exposed in such a way that even when you are not actively thinking about it, it comes to mind.
So if you want to start passing on a Christian Worldview begin with the greatest most overlooked Worldview tool – the Small Catechism. I’ll spend the next six or so entries going into each part and how they affect our worldview.