In the Preface of his Large Catechism, Luther states substantive reasons why the Christian faithful should continually use the catechism. Both the weighty reasons and the urgency remain today, Luther was concerned with the lack of teaching of the faith that he saw in the churches of his day. I believe that we face a similar crisis today. Churches are full of activity, but may often fail to ensure quality teaching, especially for the young. The Church continues to struggle against the prevailing winds of the culture …. While the culture pushes toward a conception of faith lacking in distinctions, faithful Lutheran pastors, DCEs, teachers, and, most importantly, parents seek with much prayer to impart the unique claims of the Christian faith into the hearts and minds of young people. … Catechesis is an educational practice of the Church that provides a portion of the pushing back against the tide of our culture. Through the sounding again of the truths of Scripture, one generation bequeaths to the next the essential core of Christianity.
Pastors, do you relate to these statements by Rev. Terry Cripe, president of the LCMS Ohio District? What are your thoughts when you read this?
If parents have found themselves inadequate, pastors have not been the best equipped teachers either. When I was in seminary, I had one course in parish education. I did not learn how to teach anything from that one course, except why the then new Mission: Life curriculum was deeply flawed. From the number of conversations I have had over the years, I have learned that many pastors would rather have a boil lanced than teach seventh and eighth graders the catechism. We have rationalized that it must be the age; we should teach them when they are in 10th or 11th grade instead. We have said it must be because the children are distracted by a plethora of after-school activities, Saturday sporting events or the onrush of hormones. Or else it is that they are raised by uncommitted parents. We have convinced ourselves that divorced families are the culprit. We have tried Concordia Publishing House (CPH) materials, Australian curricula, Don Ginkle or Abdon workbooks and who knows who else. Perhaps we have tried to write suitable materials ourselves when, like the fabled princess and the pea, we couldn’t get comfortable with anyone else’s materials.
Finally, in a fit of desperation, we have even tried to rationalize the children’s boredom by comforting ourselves with the theology of the cross. If the children find learning the catechism challenging or exciting, the pastor must be doing something wrong. The children are supposed to suffer through it, an attitude often reinforced by parental remembrances of their own catechism experiences.
Brothers of John the Steadfast, aaka (also affectionately known as) Steadfast Lutherans and BJS, is publishing an important article by the late Rev. William E. Thompson, “Catechesis: The Quiet Crisis” Concordia Theological Quarterly 56 (1992) No. 2-3: 99-121. The series will be published in 3 parts. The first installment is here.
Part 1 is the Introduction to the article. There, the young Pastor Thompson suffered shock and disappointment concerning the state of catechesis in the congregation:
To my shock, only two out of a group of about twenty-five had been catechized with the Small Catechism. The common reference-point which I naively assumed would be there in any congregation to which I was called was not there.
Part 1 is a short read. Take about 60 seconds to sense his plunging surprise at the crisis, and wonder, how many more pastors today are we plunging into this crisis. Read Part 1 here.
A valuable article by the late Rev. William E. Thompson, “Catechesis: The Quiet Crisis,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume: 56 Number: 2 in 1992, p. 99-122. He begins:
Like many young pastors upon their ordination and installation, I had a firm confessional resolve and a definite direction for ministry which were mandated by my ordination vows. Because of this confessional resolve, I chose to begin my Sunday-morning Bible class with a study of the Augsburg Confession. I felt that it would offer an opportunity to deepen the understanding of the faith which was known through Luther’s Small Catechism as well as expose the congregation to another of our church’s confessions. It did not take long for me to realize that the faithful members of this study-group did not have Luther’s Catechism as a basis on which to stand. They had either forgotten through disuse what they had learned of the Catechism or they had simply never been taught the Catechism in the first place. I then asked for a show of hands by those members of the class who had learned the Catechism before confirmation. To my shock, only two out of a group of about twenty-five had been catechized with the Small Catechism. The common reference-point which I naively assumed would be there in any congregation to which I was called was not there.
Since that time I have struggled to answer why this state of catechesis exists in our church. …