These day, I don’t know if many people take the catechism very seriously. Most Lutherans have heard of Luther’s Large and Small Catechism; some have even heard of the Book of Concord. Reformed and Presbyterians know of the Geneva, Heidelberg, Larger, Smaller catechisms, including the Westminister Confession of Faith. But many do not even know what is in them. A while back, I started reading Luther’s Large Catechism and was blown away by it. I love it and have come to really appreciate the richness of teaching in the words of Martin Luther.
The Large catechism was intentionally written for pastors and preachers, who he assumes are supposed to be hard working and studious with the scriptures. “It is highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and make it a subject of meditation and conversation,” says Luther (381). As I started reading his large catechism, I am always taken aback by his strong language he uses to exhort others to live piously.
Then there are also laypeople who think they can do without pastors. Concerning these people, he lays it on them heavy:
“among the nobility there are also some louts and skinflints (cheapskates) who declare that they can do without pastors and preachers now because we now have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves.”
So for churches that don’t think they need pastors: “Eat these words!”
Luther likes to keep everyone on their toes, including pastors. To those who are educated beyond their own good, he pointedly exclaims:
“I beg such lazy bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake to let themselves be convinced and believe that they are not really and truly such learned and exalted doctors as they think. I implore them not ever to imagine that they have learned these parts of the catechism perfectly, or that they know them sufficiently, even though they think they know them ever so well.”
So pastors, we have to keep learning the basics.
Luther takes this so seriously that he encourages us to take a hard stance on knowing the catechism. “Anyone who does not know it should not be numbered among Christians nor admitted to any sacrament” (383). This really hurts a lot of Lutherans.
And for young people, he has these tough words to say:
“Young people should be thoroughly taught the parts of the catechism (that is, instruction for children) and diligently drilled in their practice” (383)…. “The children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily, when they arise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and when they go to bed at night. Until they recite them they should be given nothing to eat or drink” (385).
According to this standard, I think more than half of our children would have to starve every night. This is why I will not take it easy on my confirmation kids. I am going to do my best to encourage them to learn the bible and the catechism, know it well, and not let them off the hook.
Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.