What happened to summer? It seems like just last week the school year ended, but now we are two weeks away from the start of another school year. Believe it or not, the 2018-19 academic year will begin two weeks from today — a statement sure to elicit a mixed bag of emotions from children, parents and teachers alike.
For many, back-to-school means a return to learning after a three-month hiatus. For others, it’s a continuation of the learning process, especially if the student was in some sort of summer school or was simply an avid reader, picking up nuggets of knowledge along the way. In any event, it’s almost time for the school year to begin. Please keep our schools and students in your prayers.
When it comes to the Christian faith, there is a special kind of education that takes place. It’s not something the world offers because it can’t stand God and His Word and has no desire for the holy and higher things. But in church, there is something special going on within her walls — something other-worldly. It is a theological term called catechesis (pronounced cat-uh-KEY-sis), which simply means “teaching” or “instruction.”
In Lutheranism, we employ the term catechesis because the most basic book we use in our teaching, besides the Bible, is the catechism, a book of instruction that follows a question-and-answer format. We use the Small Catechism of Martin Luther, written by the Reformer in 1529. Here’s why:
Back in the days after the Reformation (1517), as Luther preached and taught, he also visited many churches in Saxony. Much to his dismay, he found that the laity were ignorant about the basic tenets of the Christian faith, and he also discovered that the clergy were just as ignorant. Imagine a pastor so ill-educated that his sermon was nothing but a lecture on how to plant a garden (it really happened!). To make matters worse, Bibles were scarce, as the cost to buy one then was roughly two years salary for the average family. However, Luther wanted all Christians to know what their faith was about.
Thanks to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press with movable type almost a century prior, production of pamphlets or booklets that summarized the basics of the faith — based solely on the Bible — was a fairly easy and inexpensive task. The Small Catechism was called the “Poor Man’s Bible” because few people could afford to buy a Bible then (in contrast to today), and every major article of Christian doctrine presented in the Bible was presented in a clear and concise way that could be taught both in church and home. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, Luther also had a Large Catechism, also published in 1529 — a collection of sermons based on his Small Catechism.
Lutherans believe it is essential to use the Small Catechism in our instruction (catechesis) because the truth of Scripture is presented in a simple and an understandable way. We also read the Scriptures to show that what Luther teaches us is true (just as the Berean Christians searched the Scriptures diligently to see if what St. Paul preached was true). We teach the faith — and the language of faith, which is nothing other than language of Scripture, the language of God. Church does not teach what the world teaches, nor does she speak in the ways of the world. Yes, church employs special language (not secret language, for we publicly teach and confess what we believe) to give witness to her members, and to the world, that something special is going on inside the church’s walls. We use this special language in our teaching and in our worship. The introduction to a hymnal previously used in our denomination says in part:
“Saying back to Him what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is His Name, which He put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are His. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where His Name is, there is He.”
A blessing of the Catechism is that the faith can be taught not only in church but also at home. Luther prefaces each chief part of the Catechism with these words: “As the head of the family household [hausvater in German, paterfamilias in Latin] should teach them in a simple way to his household.”
Luther says this because the home is the primary place for catechesis. He follows the example set by Moses, who instructed the people of God five times in the book of Deuteronomy alone to teach the faith to their children, and they in turn would pass the faith along to their children. The church, properly speaking, assists the parents in teaching the faith to their children.
Catechesis, however, is not limited to a specific length of time or to a program. It’s an ongoing, life-long process; to this end we have Sunday school for the children and Bible Class for the adults of all ages. The learning never stops because God never stops teaching His Word to us!
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.