Luther’s Perspective on Using the Catechism

This excerpt is from p. 40 in the same book, the words of Gerhard Friedrich Bente, who served as the editor for the most noteworthy edition of the Lutheran Confessions in the last century, the Concordia Triglotta.

In his German Order of Worship, 1526, we read: “For if the parents and guardians are unwilling to take such pains with the young, either personally or through others, Catechism [instruction] will never be established.”

In this he was confirmed by the experiences he had while on his tour of visitation. If the children were to memorize the Catechism and learn to understand it, they must be instructed and questioned individually, a task to which the Church was unequal, and for the accomplishment of which also the small number of schools was altogether inadequate. Parents, however, were able to reach the children individually. They had the time and opportunity, too, morning, noon, and evening, at the table, etc. Furthermore, they had the greatest interest in this matter, the children being their own flesh and blood. And they, in the first place, were commanded by God to provide for the proper training of their children.

The fathers and mothers, therefore, these natural and divinely appointed teachers of the children, Luther was at great pains to enlist for the urgent work of instructing the young. They should see that the children and servants not only attended the Catechism-sermons in church, but also memorized the text and learned to understand it. The Christian homes should again become home-churches, homeschools, where the housefathers were both house-priests and house-teachers, performing the office of the ministry there just as the pastors did in the churches.

With ever-increasing energy Luther, therefore, urged the parents to study the Catechism in order to be able to teach it to their children.

Church Membership and the Church’s Children

It’s a joy to be a member of the Church. Church membership is one metaphor, a figure of speech, for the idea of being part of the body of Christ. It’s a biblical metaphor, used in several places, like 1 Corinthians 6:15, Ephesians 4:25, and Ephesians 5:30. Another common metaphor is that the Church is our mother, even as God is our Father. We, then, are the children of the Church brought forth through the watery womb of holy baptism.

No matter how you describe it, Church membership is a joyful thing. Here we mean the so-called “invisible” Church, also called the “holy Christian Church” in the Apostles’ Creed. Contrary to the teaching of Rome, it is not confined to a particular Christian denomination. The Church exists wherever people believe the Gospel, so that its outward signs are the pure Word of God and the Sacraments of Christ, administered according to His will.

If you have been brought into the Church, then you may remember words like this from your own baptism or another:

As witness to this Sacrament, you are to assist him with Christian love and faithful prayers. Remind him of the heavenly grace of his Baptism. Give spiritual counsel and aid, so that he is brought up in the true knowledge and worship of God. Teach him the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Place in his hands the Holy Scriptures, and insure that he is brought to the services of God’s house, that he is provided future instruction in the Christian faith, to the end that he may come to the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, and thus, abiding in baptismal grace and in communion with the Church, he may lead a godly life to the praise and honor of Jesus Christ. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, p. 136)

Those words are directed particularly to the parents of a newly-baptized child, and to the sponsors of that child. The tradition of having sponsors is a beneficial tradition, though not required. In a way, those words have always seemed to apply to the entire body of witnesses: every saint in attendance at the baptism. The reason others might attend the baptism is because it’s important. The reason we conduct a baptism when the Church is assembled is partly because the entire church is welcoming a new child of our heavenly Father as he is born again of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5) We all assume a collective responsibility to help carry out the tasks assigned to the Christian parents and sponsors. If that child were to end up orphaned (not out of the question in some circumstances), then it is the Church’s responsibility to provide the care he needs.

What care does a Christian child need? More than anything else, he needs Jesus. He needs to know his Savior. If the time comes soon for him to leave this world (not out of the question either), nothing will be more valuable than faith in Christ. Everything else is secondary, though it may be important. Notice again the requirements of parents and sponsors. Do they strike you as rather challenging? What parents actually live up to all of those things? Which parents could not stand to improve? What are the best ways a parent might go about fulfilling these requirements?

The same exact questions could be asked about the way the Church fulfills its responsibility toward the Christian child. Could we stand to improve? Most definitely. What are the best ways we might go about fulfilling those godly responsibilities? To do so would be another great joy for the members of the body of Christ. Even if the tasks were burdensome, and even if it required some sacrifice of comfort or convenience, the task ensures that a child of God will make it through this world into eternal life. What could be more important, or more satisfying?

Therefore, we should all ask such questions, and answer them in the best way we can. Don’t leave the parents among us to fend for themselves in a world hostile to the purity of our faith. Every member of the Church has a vested interest and a share in the responsibility to provide a solid start for the next generation. Even the secular world recognizes something like this, so it taxes every property owner to support public schools, whether or not there are any children living on the property. But in the Church, we can see that the Gospel, the very same thing that government-run schools must omit, is the thing that ought to come first and overshadow all schooling. If it does not, then the Church and the parents have failed in their sacred responsibility.

If we lack Christian parochial schools where everything is taught in connection with the Gospel, then the need for the Church to act becomes much more urgent. Secular education is not spiritually neutral. Since it’s a product of this sinful world, its spiritual bent is against the Word of God. It can be no other way. Therefore, parents and the Church must work doubly hard and be extra vigilant against the erosion of the saving Word of God in the life of their children. Again, a difficult task. But again, a joyful part of membership in the body of Christ.

The Right Use of the Catechism at Home

The excerpts here were written by Joseph Unseth and found on pages 31-37
in Telling the Next Generation. I’ll point out that we have produced
[a version of an old daily memory work curriculum][memorywork] based
upon the catechism, which makes use of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s
catechism and *Hymnary*. Bound copies of this book can be produced for
the families of our congregations.

Luther wrote his Catechism chiefly for the Christian home, in order
that the Christian homes should again become home-churches, where the
housefathers were both house-priests and house-teachers. It was
intended especially for the home, to be a home book to be used by
parents for their own profit and as a textbook for the instruction of
the young. At the head of each of the five chief parts of the
Catechism stand these words: “As the head of the family should teach
it in all simplicity to his household.” …

It is still true what Luther said: If anything worthwhile is to be
done against the devil and against crime and wickedness, we must begin
with the children. We should strive more earnestly than ever to build
Godly homes, where God’s Word is heard. We must have
home-instruction, family prayers, family worship. Not a day should
pass by when the parents do not pray together with their children,
together meditate upon a Word of God, together seek counsel, strength,
and comfort from God. For such family devotion our Catechism is very
suitable, often being called the “Little Bible” and the “Bible of the
Laity,” because it is a brief summary of the Christian doctrine. A
brief scripture portion, a short lesson from the Catechism, a prayer,
how little time such a family devotion requires! But what great
blessings are involved in them! We must return to the practice of
Luther, namely that we, together with our children, daily meditate
upon and pray the Catechism. According to Luther it is the duty of
every Christian to learn constantly, and he included himself in such
study. …

The Holy Scriptures — the Bible itself — should be read and studied
daily, but when we go to the Catechism we are not leaving the Bible;
for it contains nothing but God’s Word, presenting, in a way easily
understood, the fundamental truths of the way of salvation. Its use
will help us to learn to know the Bible itself and to apply its
lessons of instruction and comfort to our own lives.

Especially should parents whose children are attending school or are
reading for confirmation occupy themselves with the Catechism and see
to it that their dear ones are learning the Catechism well and not only
learn it by heart, but also understand it; above all, that they may
love it. The children are often timid and do not dare to direct a
question to the teacher or pastor, and it may happen that they pass
lightly over a lesson without understanding it. Here the parents can
and should cooperate. They are the natural teachers of the children,
ordained by God Himself. Incessantly, therefore, Luther urges the
fathers and mothers not only to bring their children to church, where
the Catechism was explained on Sunday afternoons, but themselves to
teach the children. He was convinced that without their vigorous
cooperation he could achieve but little. “The Christian Home,” he
insisted, “must become church and school.” Every housefather is a
priest in his own house, every housemother is a priestess; therefore
see that you help us to perform the office of the ministry in your
homes as we do in church. If you do, we shall have a propitious God,
who will defend us from all evil. In the Psalms (78:5) it is written:
“He appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that
they should make them known to their children.” …

Blessed are the parents who in their homes together with their
children diligently occupy themselves with the Catechism, in the fear
of God. they will experience the blessing of the Lord upon their own
hearts; they will learn to understand the Holy Scriptures better,
become more firmly grounded in the truth to salvation, increase in
holiness, and become more rich in good works. And where the truths of
the Catechism are inculcated upon the minds and the hearts of the
children, these will increase in faith, be fortified against all false
doctrines — which Satan scatters about to ensnare people —
strengthened in their fight against sin and evil, and enabled to give
a reason for the hope they entertain. Truly the Catechism belongs in
the home as a book of instruction, comfort, and edification, as well
as admonition and warning. “Let each his lesson learn with care, and
all the household well shall fare” (SC Table of Duties, 15).

A Christian School Serves the Home

This excerpt comes from the same essay as the previous one, farther in.
This seems to be the real meat in what Quill was writing. It comes
from pages 25-27 of the previously mentioned book.

The Christian school *needs* the home. It exists because of the
home. It is born out of the crying need of the home. Were it not for
the home, it would not have been. It is *of* the home. The Christian
school exists *for* the home. It was brought into being for the very
purpose to assist and to serve the home in her endeavors and
difficulties, to discharge her sacred duties, to solve her perprexing
problems, and to increase in Christlike zeal, influence and beauty.
The Christian school is *for* the home.

Since the Christian school exists because of the home, and exists
*for* the home, it should be clear that it must also exist and
continue to exist *by* the home. It is wholly dependent upon the
home. It will be and do according to the interest and support given
it *by* the home.

If the interest and support is half-hearted, the school, as a
consequence, will be found in a weak, sickly, crippled state. How
will the right relation of the home to the Christian school manifest

In the first place, the home will manifest by word and deed that it
realizes the pressing necessity of the Christian school, that such an
institution should exist, must exist, and that the home is in
desperate need of just such assistance as is offered by the Christian

This includes also the homes in which there are no children to be
instructed. Every Christian home will belong to a Christian
congregation, and every such home where the eyes are open to the
crying need and care and special claim of the lambs in the fold and
the express command of the Master concerning them — “Feed my Lambs”
[John 21:15] — will manifest by word and deed that it is a matter
which concerns even their home, and that they also are included. And
hence they will show that the Christian school is an institution which
should and must exist.

Until the home realizes the significance of the Christian school it
will manifest hindrance instead of help, and the precious, priceless
treasures of the home — the child-souls — will be denied the
spiritual light and food and protection which they could have, should
have, and which is rightfully theirs. …

How will the interest and support be shown? By sending the children
of the congregation to the school, by taking the school and its work
to the Lord in prayer, and also by giving it financial support as God

I venture the question: “Is there any money better invested than the
money given to the Lord’s cause for the right instruction and guidance
of child-souls?” Think it over.

But to begin a good work is one thing, and to keep it up is quite
another. Patient continuance, steady perseverance will test the
genuineness of interest and support. Hence — in the second place —
real interest and support will be shown by the constant concern for
the efficiency of the school and by efforts to acquire and maintain a
high standard for the institution.

The Powerful Influence of the Home

Carl Johann Quill wrote this excerpt from Telling the Next Generation
(p. 23) in his 1927 paper, “The Relation of the Home to the Christian
School.” Quill served 20 congregations in both the old and the
reorganized Norwegian synods. (The ELS is the reorganized Norwegian

The home life has the strongest influence on the child. Nothing will
leave such indelible impressions upon the child-soul as will the
things seen and heard in the childhood home. What father and mother
say and do, and how it is said and done, leaves its effect upon the
child, more powerful and far-reaching than most parents realize. The
home atmosphere and training will be reflected in the child’s entire
later life.

How necessary, then, that the child be given an early and thorough
Christian training, that Christ be brought as early as possible into
the child’s life and increasing consciousness.

The first requisite is knowledge. The child must be given to know
Christ — not only to know a little of him, or *about* Him, as is the
sad case with so many children called Christian — but to *know* him.

But knowledge implies instruction. Whose duty is it to give their
child such instruction? First and above all, it is the parents’ duty.
And it is their first and most serious duty to their child. Nothing
else can be compared with it in importance and eternal significance.
“Train up the child in the way he should go and when he is old he will
not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Back to the Basics

Here’s the first excerpt in a series from the newly-published book
Telling the Next Generation: The Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s Vision
for Christian Education, 1918-2011 and Beyond
. This is from an article
by Dr. Ryan MacPherson, introducing the section “Education in the
Christian Home.” Typos are all mine.

To phrase it simply, the Lutheran Reformation was about going “back to
the basics” — back to Scripture, back to salvation in Christ alone,
and back to the vocations “commanded by God,” such as “that a husband
should labor to support his wife and children and bring them up in the
fear of God, [and] that a wife should bear children and care for them”
(AC XXVI, 10-11). But how could parents teach their children if not
only parents, but also the pastors serving them, were ignorant of
basic Bible truths? Recognizing the pathetic state of Christian
education in his day, Martin Luther prepared his Small Catechism
(1529) as a handbook by which parents could instruct their children in
the chief parts of the faith. Each section is prefaced with this
phrase: “in the plain form in which the head of the family shall teach
them [e.g., the Ten Commandments, or the petitions of the Lord’s
Prayer] to his household” (SC, *passim*)

Similarly, Luther’s Large Catechism (also prepared in 1529) began with
a preface stating that “it is the duty of every head of a household to
examine his children and servants at least once a week and ascertain
what they have learned of it [the Catechism]” (LC Short Preface, 4).
In the section concerning the Lord’s Supper, Luther further added:
“let every head of a household remember that it is his duty, by God’s
injunction and command, to teach or have taught to his children the
things they ought to know” (LC V, 87). When children learned from
teachers other than parents, such instruction was to be regarded as
under the auspices of parenthood. Luther identified the relationship
between parents and teachers thus: “Where a father is not able by
himself to bring up his child, he calls upon a schoolmaster to teach
him.” Hence, the command to “honor your father and mother” includes
also a command to honor teachers and civil government, for “out of the
authority of parents all other authority is derived and developed” (LC
I, 141). Recognizing the importance of training children in the
Christian faith, pastors not only taught the catechism personally to
the youth, but also were exhorted to “take pains to urge governing
authorities and parents to rule wisely and educate their children
(SC Preface, 19, emphasis added).