Luther’s Small Catechism – What is it good for?

When asked what is the best resource for teaching the Christian faith and way of living to youth today, a doctrinal book written in 1529 that was designed for fathers to use to instruct their children in proper Biblical beliefs and living probably doesn’t pop into most people’s minds as their go to source.  I’m of course referring to Martin Luther’s, Small Catechism.  He wrote it after a shocking visit to the congregations of Saxony in which he found that not only the laity, but also the pastors, didn’t know the basic tenants of the Christian faith – most not even able to say the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer.  In terms of their Christian living, you wouldn’t even recognize that they were Christians with the license to sin at will approach they took that abused their Christian liberties afforded in the Gospel.  To rectify this situation – ASAP – Luther wrote his Small Catechism and Large Catechism.  The Small Catechism was designed for parents to instruct their children in the home. The Large Catechism was designed as a resource book, explaining the doctrines of the Small Catechism in further detail.  His instruction worked wonders in Saxony and it can still do the same today.

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The Small Catechism is so effective for teaching the Christian faith because it names and explains the meaning of all the doctrines necessary for one’s salvation in succinct, easy to remember and recite statements.  In the first section of the Catechism, Luther wisely used three critical texts as the means to accomplish this goal: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Presented in this chronological order, Luther set-up a sequential flow from Law to Gospel to Christian living.  Luther presents the Ten Commandments as the accusation of the Law.  This accusation charges us as having broken God’s will for our lives and places us in a state deserving of God’s eternal wrath.  The Apostles’ Creed is presented as our confession of what God does for us – namely saves us through the work of God the Father in Creation and sending his Son Jesus who redeemed us and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us through gifting us with faith and preserving that faith through the Word and Sacraments of the Church.  The Lord’s Prayer is taught as our prayer for God to do these things through us – namely do the work of salvation.  Next, in this section, Luther gives instruction on baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, means by which God presents himself to us today in the Church, giving sinners his grace.

Sections two and three of the Small Catechism pick up on the points of section one to address how we should live in our day to day lives as members of society.  Section two contains daily prayers that focus and guide our everyday activities to be sanctified by God’s Word and prayer.   Section three contains the Table of Duties that lists and explains our various callings in life to serve our neighbor as God’s priestly people.

Again, all of these sections present these doctrines in succinct and to the point language, while directing readers to clear Biblical passages from which these teachings arise.  And again, all of these teachings cover the definitive doctrines of the Christian faith for believers to be found in a right relationship with God and their neighbors, and Luther’s presentation is such that anyone can take these truths and share the faith with others.