I saw Pastor Philip Hoppe’s graphic illustration of the Table of Duties on Facebook and asked him if he would write an explanation of it for publication here. He graciously went to work and has produced it for us. He is pastor of Peace Lutheran Church, Finlayson, Minnesota and St Paul Lutheran Church, Bruno, Minnesota, an avid catechist, and great friend of LutheranCatechism.com. Thank you, Pastor Hoppe !!
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The Table of Duties Explained
by Pastor Philip Hoppe
The Table of Duties is perhaps the most overlooked of all the parts of the Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. In some catechisms, all that one will see in this section is a list of roles or vocations that one might play in life and then a reference list of Scriptures that one should look up. Others at least include the text of those Scriptures. In order to truly understand why these specific exhortations are given to each person based on their given role or vocation, we must understand that there is an overarching structure that ties all of these relationships together.
As the illustration provided suggests, each of these relationships dwells in one particular sphere or estate of life. Historically, the church has recognized that all our life plays out in three estates: the home, the state, and the church. In each of these estates God has ordered relationships for the good of all involved. (While it may seem strange for an American to see bosses and workers [master and slaves] listed within the home estate, we must remember that for most of the history of the world, people’s work has been done in the economy that exist within their home.
In each of the relationships listed (husband and wife, parents and children, bosses and workers (masters and slaves), government and citizens, pastor and people), God has given one person in that relationship authority over the other(s). Likewise, the other person in that relationship has been called to submit to the authority that God has established. The person that has been given authority is not given authority in order to craft the relationship for their good and comfort but rather has that authority in order to love and serve the other(s) in that relationship. The person who has been called to submit to that authority is not there because of some inherent disability or disadvantage they have in themselves, but submits because that is the role that God has given them to play in that order. Almost all people (except perhaps children) will find themselves at any point in their life in one role or vocation granted authority and yet in another call to submit to authority.
It is critical though to understand the following: Each person must concern themselves only with the words of the Lord given to their role or vocation rather than becoming focused on the words given to the other(s) in the relationship they are considering. For instance, husbands are to concern themselves with sacrificially loving and cherishing their wives as Christ does the Church rather than worrying about trying to make their wives submit to them. Likewise, wives are to worry about honoring and respecting their husbands rather than seeking to make sure their husbands love and cherish them properly. When any one person becomes concerned with the other’s role, conflict and distress is sure to follow. When each person gives attention to their role, harmony is the result.
Most blessed of all, each of these relationships gives us a picture of the relationship between Christ and his Church. Paul explicitly reminds us of this truth in Ephesians 5 in regards to marriage, but it is equally true of all of these relationships. In each relationship, the one given authority is to carry out their role in the way that Christ carries out His role as the Head of the Church. They are again to sacrificially love, cherish and serve those placed under their authority just as Christ has done for His Church. Likewise, the one called to submit to that authority is to carry out that role in the way that the Church is to submit to Christ, with humility, obedience, and respect. When these roles and vocations are carried out in this way, each of these relationships gives us yet another way to teach people about the love that Christ has for His Church in the respect that the Church shows Him because of that love. Ideally, a mother can teach her children how Christ loves them by pointed out that Jesus loves them like her husband loves her, by listening to her, loving her, and cherishing her each day. Likewise, a father can teach his children how the church is to honor and respect Christ by pointing to how his wife’s gentle and quiet spirit brings blessings into the relationship.
Since these relationships are both created in order to bring good order and stability to the world and also meant to serve as a picture of the relationship between Christ and his church, they should not be taken lightly. Rebellion against them should be confessed in order that it might be forgiven. Then the Christian should seek to walk in newness of life by ordering their life according to these Scriptures. May this illustration and explanation serve to that end. Sola Deo Gloria.