Saturday, October 1, 2011

Putting It All Together

One thing history shows us is that there have been people who have risen up to make a remarkable impact with their ability to think about things and then to put them all together.

A lot of philosophers and theologians and scientists and many others have tackled the big questions in an attempt to put it all together—as if they were saying, “Here is what it’s all about.”

In October our thoughts turn toward the Reformation. In the time of the Reformation there was a little thing Martin Luther did that in a sense is the thing that puts it all together.

In the early stages of the Reformation one of the things Luther did was to write a catechism. The important thing was not so much in writing it but in attempting to get into the hands of every person a simple thing that is at the same time both simple as well as profound.

Luther didn’t decide one day to write a catechism. What he realized was that the Catechism was being ignored. This was part of the problem in the Church and one of the reasons why there needed to be a reformation.

The Catechism had been part of the Christian Church for centuries and consisted of The Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Since most Christians, including pastors, were woefully ignorant of those core texts of the Christian faith, Luther realized it wasn’t enough just to get them into the hands of people. They needed some guidance.

Thus the famous ‘explanations’ or ‘meanings’ were born that those who have been confirmed in the Lutheran Church will recognize as beginning with “What does this mean?” So Luther didn’t actually write the Catechism, the Church did (except for the Lord’s Prayer, of course—Jesus Himself came up with that one). Luther wrote the ‘meanings’ and coupled them with each portion of the texts of the Catechism.

What we have now, those three core texts (Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer), along with their meanings, as well as the texts and meanings of Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper (and additionally Daily Prayers, Table of Duties, and Preparation for the Lord’s Supper), is what we now refer to as Luther’s Small Catechism.

But really it’s not Luther’s at all. It is in the Book of Concord and therefore one of the confessions of faith of the Lutheran Church. What it really is is a little document that puts it all together.

What it is is a little confession of faith that says it all. What it is is a little book that is our guide throughout our lives. What it is is a little summary of the Scriptures and the Christian faith that can never be exhausted, no matter how great of a thinker you are or strong of a Christian you are.

As Luther himself said in his preface to the Large Catechism (and that is one of my favorite quotes), “As for myself, let me say that I, too, am a doctor and a preacher—yes, and as learned and experienced as any of those who act so high and mighty. Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly.”

May we gladly remain a child and student of the Catechism and meditate on and pray this thing that puts it all together; that thing which instills in us faith and strengthens us in faith in our Lord, who suffered, died, and rose for us and for our salvation.

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