Teaching them to observe all things, whatever I have commanded you

Where have you seen the words in this post’s title? If you were confirmed as a child, then you memorized them from the Small Catechism, where it cites Matthew 28:18-20 as the word and command of God concerning baptism. You may not have recognized the title right away, though, because this excerpt from that passage doesn’t mention baptism. In the full quote, Jesus says:

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 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, and teaching them to observe all things, whatever I have commanded you.

This command has several facets. Jesus is commanding His apostles (and through them, His Church on earth) to “go.” There is one main thing He tells them to do: “make disciples of all the nations.” That includes every human being. But there are two sub-parts of this, or perhaps two steps in the process of making disciples. First, it’s “baptizing them.” Since it’s baptism in God’s name, the power behind it is really God’s power, yet He commanded His Church to do this as one of the two steps in making disciples. The other step is equally important: “teaching them.” How much should we teach? “All things” that Jesus has taught and commanded Himself. There is no minimum satisfactory requirement (like the catechism or Sunday school), beyond which all other teaching is optional. We are to teach it all.

These things are the business of the Church. It’s not meant to be entertaining or diverting. It’s not even meant to be particularly uplifting, though that’s usually a nice side-effect of the teaching. It’s meant to make disciples. That is, to make students of Jesus out of people who were His enemies. These disciples, of all ages, are the ones who live daily in repentance and forgiveness, and who have the God-given certainty of eternal life.

If you’d like to be a *disciple* of Jesus, then you need to consider this passage. It’s not enough to be baptized. You must also be taught. Lutherans do that in a number of ways. Three of these ways are urged upon us in God’s Word: the preaching of the Gospel, formal catechesis or instruction in the faith, and the instruction of children in the Christian home. It is the church’s responsibility to see that these accompany baptism, so that Jesus’ command is followed as He said.

Baptism saves, but not magically, as though the act itself were powerful. Baptism saves because Jesus made it so, by connecting the divine name and God’s Word to simple water. The power to save is in the word, not in the water, the outward motions, or any traditions that mortal man has attached to it. The same word is what Jesus has commanded us to teach, “whatever I have commanded you.” If we fail to teach the word to those who have been baptized, then we have neglected — or even despised — the very power in baptism that saves.

Among Lutherans, that teaching begins in the home, and continues through formal catechesis, or instruction connected with a congregation. When the youth in a church are ready to learn, we take advantage of their learning ability by having them memorize the chief teachings of Christianity, as summarized in the Small Catechism. It’s meant to be quite challenging, and since many schools no longer challenge children as much as in the past, catechism class is often the first time our youth must exercise such discipline and perseverance. Parents must also persevere, as they are the only ones providing the daily discipline their children need to complete the course and excel. It can be difficult for everyone involved, but the end result is worth the effort. When youth are finished and confirmed, they have a solid foundation for understanding our faith, their baptism, and the world around them. They are also prepared to receive holy communion together with the rest of the Church. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” This is what it looks like among Lutherans, and it has been a blessing for generations. Once confirmed, our youth are expected to continue learning as they regularly attend the Divine Service and take advantage of other opportunities with God’s word, such as Bible classes.

When adults come to our churches, drawn by the gospel to become disciples of Jesus, they must also receive baptism (if they haven’t already) and instruction in the word. Their instruction includes the same Small Catechism, as well as other resources. As part of their instruction, they are expected to demonstrate their genuine interest through regular attendance at the Divine Service. Adults are not required to memorize the Small Catechism, though it is certainly encouraged. They tend to find memorization harder than children, and since they often carry the responsibilities of providing a home for their families, it would be unreasonable to demand the hours needed every week for memorization. However, adults cover the biblical teachings in more depth than children do, and they more readily understand the importance of continuing to learn on their own as disciples of Jesus.

In these ways, the Lutheran Church has honored the command of Jesus. May they bless you as generations have already been blessed.

Christ is Risen! Let Us Receive His Word!

We just finished celebrating the resurrection of our Lord this Easter Day. While I’m a bit tired, I’m also energized by the meaning behind it. Jesus gave His holy, innocent life to purchase my freedom, and I can be absolutely sure that He was successful. Now, He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. That means I’ll be with Him eternally, together with all of my brothers and sisters in Him.

The new life we have in Christ flows from His Word and Sacraments, because these are the conduit of the “living water” (John 4) that wells up to eternal life. I’m also pleased to see that our parish is trying some new things. The novelty doesn’t interest me as much as the possibilities for God’s Word and Sacraments.

The Christian Church has always been cautious when it comes to changing things, and rightly so. Yet we have also rejoiced in the freedom that Jesus provides along with the forgiveness of our sins. No longer can the Moral Law (like the 10 Commandments) condemn us, and the Ceremonial Law (regarding Israelite worship) has been fulfilled in Christ. Now the only constraints God has placed upon the way we worship are the Gospel itself, and love for our neighbor. These things determine the way we worship. They are the reason we use the ancient western liturgy, the historic lectionary of Bible readings and prayers, vestments, candles, and the like. They are the reason we generally worship on Sunday.

Yet Jesus would have us use our Christian freedom to adjust these practices when necessary to better serve each other and our neighbors with the proclamation of the Gospel. So I’m very interested to see how our experiment in service times works out. My hope is that we can do more for our congregations and for other community members by allowing more time for receiving and studying God’s Word with the pastor that God has provided. In fact, there should be enough time for some social fellowship on Sunday too. I hope that this helps to make it more convenient for people to receive the richness of the Gospel that our congregations have to offer.

What do we have to lose? Jesus has promised to be with us, and we know He is, because He has died and risen again for us! So let’s make the most of our opportunities, so that we can grow together in our faith.

To begin with in May, our Sunday schedule will have Bible class and Sunday School at each church. At Bethany, it will come before the Divine Service, starting at 9 AM. At Concordia, it will follow the Divine Service and a coffee hour, at 3 PM. The Divine Service at Bethany will begin at 10:30 AM, and at Concordia at 1:30 PM. These times may be adjusted as needed, at least in the month of May. Updates will be announced in church and posted on our web site, both on the calendar and the blog.

Did you notice a coffee hour at Concordia? Yes, a coffee hour, to wake you up again after church! This is a good time to share bars, donuts, or other nutritious finger food, and to catch up with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If I can perfect a loaf of whole wheat bread, maybe I’ll bring that for coffee hour. After coffee hour, we’ll have an opening devotion for Sunday School, then adults will go to their place for Bible class, and children will begin their Sunday School lesson.

Our members at Concordia may wonder how to invite someone to church in the afternoon. I think it provides a few new opportunities. For example, there are some people who like to sleep in on Sunday — sometimes for good reasons. Now, that habit doesn’t have to prevent them from hearing God’s Word! Others like to get some work done in the morning when it’s cooler, or to get out on the river early in the day. Those early risers can get a lot done before washing up, and then come hear God’s Word after lunch.

In August, our plan is to reverse the schedule, so that Concordia will have the whole morning to itself, and Bethany the whole afternoon. But in the meantime, let’s try to make the best use of the time we have been given. Christ will be with us to bless us, for He is risen! He is risen indeed.