Category Archives: Mission

Mission: Decline of the Church, Self-Esteem, and the Small Catechism

At the 2016 LCMS convention, a recurring topic was the decline of the church. President Harrison had written about it in his report. Some had criticized one part of what he said, the part about declined birth rates among church people. Our birth rates are below the replacement rate. Other explanations also circulate, and each one has its critics.

The explanations and the criticisms of them are important because they are part of what drives our approach to mission.

I’ll add one more that is not the be all and end all explanation, but should be in the mix. We have had one full generation raised with the doctrine of self-esteem. That generation now is raising the next one with a doctrine whose name has yet to be crystalized, but it follows on from the trajectory of self-esteem.

Why does this matter?

It matters because people are not interested in what the Gospel proclaims when they are entrenched in self-esteem’s denial of sin and judgment. Self-esteem is a temperamental fortress against the witness of the Law about our sin.

This poses multiple challenges for how the Lutheran church is to proclaim God’s Word.

  • How to preach the Law to self-esteemers without turning into legalists.
  • How to preach the Law for the purpose of bringing self-esteemers to Christ without confusing that preaching with the mere promotion of civil righteousness.
  • At the same time, how to promote civil righteousness.
  • How to preach the Gospel in a way that does not become a mere general amnesty, but depends entirely on the sacrificial blood atonement of Christ, and the delivery of the justification of the world Jesus won on the cross through the means of grace.

At first, this does not sound so simple. It reminds me of a juggler, trying to keep several balls in the air without dropping any. To accomplish all this is what we might call the Lutheran art of proclamation. We need to be able to practice this art in the pulpit, at the font, at the rail, and with our neighbors in our vocations.

The Holy Spirit is sovereign over the effect of the preaching of the Word. It would be tempting to just proclaim the Word and then “Let go and let God.” The “Let go and let God” part would work if only the “Just proclaim” part happened. But let’s face it. In the Lutheran church, one arm of the body of Christ is not doing its share of work.

The two arms are:

  • All believers are royal priests and possess the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Laity in this royal priesthood has the right and the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel in their vocations to family, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. The Holy Spirit gives efficacy to this proclamation.
  • God has established a particular office to proclaim the Word, administer the Sacraments, and administer the Office of the Keys publically on behalf of the church. This Office of Public Ministry is to be held only by certain men who possess scripturally prescribed qualifications and who are rightly called into this office.

The priestly work of the people of God and the special calling to the office of preaching and the administration of the sacraments on behalf of the church are complementary. They are not competing. They exist side by side in Scripture and in the life of the church.

The pastors who are examined, called, and ordained into the Office of Public Ministry are practicing the art of Lutheran proclamation, as they have been trained to do. That arm is working.

The other arm – the laity, the royal priesthood – not so much.

Our vocations are presenting opportunity continually. The adage, “Opportunity only knocks once,” of questionable veracity even where it usually is applied, has no veracity at all when applied to the mission of the royal priesthood. Opportunity for witness is like wisdom in the book of Proverbs who calls aloud outside, raises her voice in the open squares, cries out in the chief concourses and at the openings of the gates in the city, and seldom gets an audience.

We actually know that. Whereas some decades ago Christians typically said they were waiting for a good opportunity to be a witness, I seldom hear that any more. What I hear nowadays is that “I don’t know how to present it.” People ask for classes, and even after having classes, the royal priesthood still often is AWOL.

This often is the result of bad experiences people have had in witnessing now that we are speaking to so many people who are sunk in self-esteem. The royal priests of the laity intuitively feel that they don’t have the art for this situation, and they don’t see how they ever are going to acquire the art.

But, this art has been given to us.

This art is in Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism. Here is the Law without legalism. Here is the Law to bring people to Christ. Here is the Law to promote civil righteousness, but without confusion of that with bringing people to Christ. Here is the Gospel that is not a trivial general amnesty but the Word of the cross of Christ and his holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings and death for our sin. Here is forgiveness not because God must be at least as nice a guy as we are, but for Christ’s sake, without which there would be no remission of sin.

The order of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in the Small Catechism shows us the order in which to proclaim the Word. Luther upended the order of the catechism that had prevailed, placing the Law first in the Ten Commandments, then the Gospel in the Creed, and then the Christian life in the Lord’s Prayer.

He made the Gospel predominate. Even in the Ten Commandments, while he explains that each commandment means that we must fear God, he also includes love and trust. The Law commands love, but gives no power to love, so the Law alone would strike dread and despair. Certainly trust would be beyond hope, except that we already are anticipating the Gospel. This is a presentation of the Law that leads to Christ. Learn these words, “fear, love, and trust.” Meditate about why Luther chose them. These words make all of the commandment parts of the first commandment, and these words lead to the Gospel.

At every turn, in the commandments, in the creed, in prayer, in the sacraments, the Catechism is throbbing with genius, already all worked out for you, and distilled into a couple dozen pamphlet-sized pages.

To be a witness for Christ does not require learning something more or different from what you learned to be a Christian confirmed in your baptismal faith. When opportunity to be Christ’s witness arises, simply think catechetically. As you listen to your relative, neighbor, friend, or coworker, think to yourself, what part of the Catechism touches this? Then bring forth that part. The Catechism is small enough and simple enough that you can do it.

It is most gratifying to see that in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Board for National Mission and the Office of National Mission are on to the strategic power of the Catechism for lay evangelism. They have developed a new Every One His Witness lay vocational evangelism program. This program weaves the Small Catechism into every part of its fabric. If you are in the LC-MS, look for your chance to participate in this program. Ask your pastor about it. Call the Office of National Mission.

But that is not the only way you could acquire the art. Here are things anyone can do:

  • Like Luther, read from the Catechism every day.
  • Learn to pray the Catechism.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. We cannot meditate on what we don’t know. We cannot give witness to what is not dear enough to us to meditate on. Get the Catechism into your heart. Meditate on it. When it is in your heart, your mouth will be able to speak it.

While we should learn to pray the Catechism for the value of doing that in and of itself, it also will have a side effect for witness. When you can speak from the Catechism to God, you can speak from the Catechism in vocation to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

Just now, a fabulous new resource for praying the Catechism has been published. Every Christian home should have a copy of Praying Luther’s Small Catechism by John T. Pless. Husbands and wives should read this together, discuss it, and pray the Catechism together. Parents should read this to their children and pray the Catechism with their children. For $9, you can learn to pray the Catechism, and you can learn to speak the Catechism in witness for Christ.

True enough, the Holy Spirit remains sovereign to create faith where and when he wills. But He freely bound himself to the means of the Word, and He has given it to us, the royal priesthood, to speak the Word vocationally. Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism in the layperson’s little Bible. It contains the six chief parts of Christian doctrine, which are enough for anyone to witness for Christ.

People do not believe a Word they have not heard. Let’s open our mouths and speak the Word, and wait upon the Holy Spirit.

Mission and Outreach: Mapping the Small Catechism against the Enemy’s Stock Lies

In its mission, the church always has run up against some recurring stock errors in the world’s thinking. These errors have a strong hold on the minds and hearts of people, and they are obstacles to people hearing or believing the Gospel.

From the fund of stock errors, a subset ascends and is vogue at one time, and another subset ascends and is vogue at another time. Lies are recycled. In North America today, there is an identifiable subset that is vogue now.

Outside of Scripture itself, nowhere is the truth put more succinctly and accessibly than in Luther’s Small Catechism. Therefore the Small Catechism is the most succinct and accessible tool we have for outreach to our communities. One of the most strategic things we can do for mission is to map passages of the Small Catechism to the stock lies of the enemy of our neighbors’ souls.

As the church militant, we should show as many of our people as we can which parts of the Small Catechism teach Scripture’s truths against each of today’s vogue lies. This will prepare believers to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15

Many authors have contributed to a good body of literature about the stock lies. A current and good example for use with lay people and especially the young is Broken: 7 Christian Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, by Pastor Jonathan Fisk. From a work like this and others, we can key in on that chronic handful of lies and map the Small Catechism against those cruel weapons of the enemy.

From Broken, here they are:

  • Mysticism
  • Moralism
  • Rationalism
  • Prosperity
  • Churchology
  • Freedom
  • Counterfeit Christianity (You Find God)

Mysticism:

The belief that direct knowledge of God can be attained through your subjective experiences of God or something godlike. Mysticism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your emotions. Broken, p. 29.

Mysticism’s lie: “You can find God in your heart.” Broken, p. 32.

The Lutheran confessions have much to say about this lie, often in reference to the Enthusiasts, who believe that God commonly speaks to the saints apart from the means of grace – apart from the Word and Sacraments. Look how vital a matter this is, for Luther says:

Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments.  [Smalcald Articles, III.VIII.10-11]

In Mysticism and Enthusiasm, the Devil masquerades as the Spirit. Could anything be more vital than the truth against a lie like this? Shouldn’t saints be ready to give an answer about Word and Sacrament being part of our reason for the hope that lies within us? Shouldn’t saints be ready to point to Word and Sacrament as the means by which God deals with us and keeps us in contrition and faith?

To map the Small Catechism’s truth against this lie means to identify its passages that are most especially about Word and Sacrament. Those are the passages that refute the lie of Enthusiasm and Mysticism and lead a person into truth and life, to contrition and faith.

Somebody better at this than I should identify the passages, but to illustrate the strategy of mapping the Small Catechism to the lies, here is a selection of passages this could include:

The Third Commandment
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

The Third Article
What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.

The Second Petition
How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word.

The Third Petition
How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He … strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word.

What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.

How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.”

Who receives this sacrament worthily?
That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.

What do you believe according to these words [in John20:22-23]?
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness? Yes, dear confessor.
Then let him say:
Let it be done for you as you believe. And I, by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace.

Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45). Let the hearts of the saints be abundant in these catechetical truths, and then when fit moments arise in their vocations, their mouths can speak. No more of this, “I don’t know what to say” monkey business that leaves our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers in the enemy’s murderous lie. That leaves them Word-less, sacrament-less. It leaves them without the means by which God wishes to deal with them.

Moralism:

The belief that access to God can be achieved through your personal efforts or attempts to improve yourself. Moralism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your works. Broken, p. 54.

Moralism’s lie: “You can find God in your hands.” Broken, p. 54.

This lie devalues the holy and precious blood of Christ and his innocent and bitter suffering and death for us. It disdains his righteous that God imputes to us and displaces it with false righteousness of our own. It speaks as if both original sin and particular sins were not really sinful, or not condemning. It vaunts itself as good enough for communion with God by its own virtues and without need of the Savior.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

To map the Small Catechism’s truth against this lie means to identify its passages that are most directly about the sacrifice of Christ and the Law’s exposure of sin. Those are the passages that refute the lie of Moralism, Mysticism and lead a person into truth and life, to contrition and faith.

These could include:

What does God say about all these commandments?
What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.

The Second Article: Redemption
What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ … has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

The Third Article: Sanctification
What does this mean? … In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.

The First Petition
How is God’s name kept holy? … Anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us.

The Third Petition
How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.

The Fifth Petition
What does this mean? … We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.

What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.

What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.
How do you know this?
From the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.
Are you sorry for your sins?
Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.
What have you deserved from God because of your sins?
His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. See Rom. 6:21, 23.
Do you hope to be saved?
Yes, that is my hope.
In whom then do you trust?
In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.

16. Why should we remember and proclaim His death?
First, so that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.

As small as the Small Catechism is, see how much it says about these stock lies of the enemy. Just this one little pamphlet is sufficient for outreach that answers lies directly and gives the Word of truth.

In similar fashion, we can map the Small Catechism to the rest of today’s vogue lies, and thus be ready to offer the reasons for the hope that lies within us.

Mission: Decline of the Church, Self-Esteem, and the Small Catechism

At the recent LCMS convention, a recurring topic was the decline of the church. President Harrison had written about it in his report. Some had criticized one part of what he said, the part about declined birth rates among church people. Our birth rates are below the replacement rate. Other explanations also circulate, and each one has its critics.

The explanations and the criticisms of them are important because they are part of what drives our approach to mission.

I’ll add one more that is not the be all and end all explanation, but should be in the mix. We have had one full generation raised with the doctrine of self-esteem. That generation now is raising the next one with a doctrine whose name has yet to be crystalized, but it follows on from the trajectory of self-esteem.

Why does this matter?

It matters because people are not interested in what the Gospel proclaims when they are entrenched in self-esteem’s denial of sin and judgment. Self-esteem is a temperamental fortress against the witness of the Law about our sin.

This poses multiple challenges for how the Lutheran church is to proclaim God’s Word.

  • How to preach the Law to self-esteemers without turning into legalists.
  • How to preach the Law for the purpose of bringing self-esteemers to Christ without confusing that preaching with the mere promotion of civil righteousness.
  • At the same time, how to promote civil righteousness.
  • How to preach the Gospel in a way that does not become a mere general amnesty, but depends entirely on the sacrificial blood atonement of Christ, and the delivery of the justification of the world Jesus won on the cross through the means of grace.

At first, this does not sound so simple. It reminds me of a juggler, trying to keep several balls in the air without dropping any. To accomplish all this is what we might call the Lutheran art of proclamation. We need to be able to practice this art in the pulpit, at the font, at the rail, and with our neighbors in our vocations.

The Holy Spirit is sovereign over the effect of the preaching of the Word. It would be tempting to just proclaim the Word and then “Let go and let God.” The “Let go and let God” part would work if only the “Just proclaim” part happened. But let’s face it. In the Lutheran church, one arm of the body of Christ is not doing its share of work.

The two arms are:

  • All believers are royal priests and possess the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Laity in this royal priesthood has the right and the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel in their vocations to family, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. The Holy Spirit gives efficacy to this proclamation.
  • God has established a particular office to proclaim the Word, administer the Sacraments, and administer the Office of the Keys publically on behalf of the church. This Office of Public Ministry is to be held only by certain men who possess scripturally prescribed qualifications and who are rightly called into this office.

The priestly work of the people of God and the special calling to the office of preaching and the administration of the sacraments on behalf of the church are complementary. They are not competing. They exist side by side in Scripture and in the life of the church.

The pastors who are examined, called, and ordained into the Office of Public Ministry are practicing the art of Lutheran proclamation, as they have been trained to do. That arm is working.

The other arm – the laity, the royal priesthood – not so much.

Our vocations are presenting opportunity continually. The adage, “Opportunity only knocks once,” of questionable veracity even where it usually is applied, has no veracity at all when applied to the mission of the royal priesthood. Opportunity for witness is like wisdom in the book of Proverbs who calls aloud outside, raises her voice in the open squares, cries out in the chief concourses and at the openings of the gates in the city, and seldom gets an audience.

We actually know that. Whereas some decades ago Christians typically said they were waiting for a good opportunity to be a witness, I seldom hear that any more. What I hear nowadays is that “I don’t know how to present it.” People ask for classes, and even after having classes, the royal priesthood still often is AWOL.

This often is the result of bad experiences people have had in witnessing now that we are speaking to so many people who are sunk in self-esteem. The royal priests of the laity intuitively feel that they don’t have the art for this situation, and they don’t see how they ever are going to acquire the art.

But, this art has been given to us.

This art is in Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism. Here is the Law without legalism. Here is the Law to bring people to Christ. Here is the Law to promote civil righteousness, but without confusion of that with bringing people to Christ. Here is the Gospel that is not a trivial general amnesty but the Word of the cross of Christ and his holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings and death for our sin. Here is forgiveness not because God must be at least as nice a guy as we are, but for Christ’s sake, without which there would be no remission of sin.

The order of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in the Small Catechism shows us the order in which to proclaim the Word. Luther upended the order of the catechism that had prevailed, placing the Law first in the Ten Commandments, then the Gospel in the Creed, and then the Christian life in the Lord’s Prayer.

He made the Gospel predominate. Even in the Ten Commandments, while he explains that each commandment means that we must fear God, he also includes love and trust. The Law commands love, but gives no power to love, so the Law alone would strike dread and despair. Certainly trust would be beyond hope, except that we already are anticipating the Gospel. This is a presentation of the Law that leads to Christ. Learn these words, “fear, love, and trust.” Meditate about why Luther chose them. These words make all of the commandment parts of the first commandment, and these words lead to the Gospel.

At every turn, in the commandments, in the creed, in prayer, in the sacraments, the Catechism is throbbing with genius, already all worked out for you, and distilled into a couple dozen pamphlet-sized pages.

To be a witness for Christ does not require learning something more or different from what you learned to be a Christian confirmed in your baptismal faith. When opportunity to be Christ’s witness arises, simply think catechetically. As you listen to your relative, neighbor, friend, or coworker, think to yourself, what part of the Catechism touches this? Then bring forth that part. The Catechism is small enough and simple enough that you can do it.

It is most gratifying to see that in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Board for National Mission and the Office of National Mission are on to the strategic power of the Catechism for lay evangelism. They have developed a new Every One His Witness lay vocational evangelism program. This program weaves the Small Catechism into every part of its fabric. If you are in the LC-MS, look for your chance to participate in this program. Ask your pastor about it. Call the Office of National Mission.

But that is not the only way you could acquire the art. Here are things anyone can do:

  • Like Luther, read from the Catechism every day.
  • Learn to pray the Catechism.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. We cannot meditate on what we don’t know. We cannot give witness to what is not dear enough to us to meditate on. Get the Catechism into your heart. Meditate on it. When it is in your heart, your mouth will be able to speak it.

While we should learn to pray the Catechism for the value of doing that in and of itself, it also will have a side effect for witness. When you can speak from the Catechism to God, you can speak from the Catechism in vocation to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

Just now, a fabulous new resource for praying the Catechism has been published. Every Christian home should have a copy of Praying Luther’s Small Catechism by John T. Pless. Husbands and wives should read this together, discuss it, and pray the Catechism together. Parents should read this to their children and pray the Catechism with their children. For $9, you can learn to pray the Catechism, and you can learn to speak the Catechism in witness for Christ.

True enough, the Holy Spirit remains sovereign to create faith where and when he wills. But He freely bound himself to the means of the Word, and He has given it to us, the royal priesthood, to speak the Word vocationally. Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism in the layperson’s little Bible. It contains the six chief parts of Christian doctrine, which are enough for anyone to witness for Christ.

People do not believe a Word they have not heard. Let’s open our mouths, speak the Word, and wait upon the Holy Spirit.

Mission: Inreach, Outreach, and the Small Catechism

President Matthew Harrison of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod speaks about 40 years of declining membership in the synod. In his President’s Report, 2016 Convention Workbook, pp. 2-3, he presents information from several demographic studies. As he says, the demographic information dispels myths with facts.

An important piece of the demographic information is that Missouri Lutherans do not have children at even the replacement rate of 2.1 per family. Marriage is delayed. Having children is delayed. The number of children is reduced. He mentions prioritization of education, the expenses of having children, and the strain of debt among the contributing factors.

Some have criticized President Harrison’s use of this kind of information saying, for example, that it is just an excuse. I am not in that camp. These facts are real, and we need to change them.

But once I have said that this demographic analysis has validity (not necessarily to the exclusion of other complementary analyses), then I must realize what goes along with that. I must face what is part and parcel of ascribing validity to the low birth rate. I must face the other demographic fact, our high death rate. Low birth rate, and high death rate.

Our high death rate is not marked by the number of funerals in the synod. Our high death rate goes unmarked.

Three pastors got together for coffee one day and found all their churches had bat-infestation problems. “I got so mad,” said one, “I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to the bats.” “I tried trapping them alive,” said the second. “Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church.” “I haven’t had any more problems,” said the third. “What did you do?” asked the others, amazed. “I simply baptized and confirmed them,” he replied. “I haven’t seen them since.” Reader’s Digest, July, 1994, p. 64.

We do not retain our own children in the faith at a sufficient rate to even go sideways, let alone ahead, and we don’t count the deaths by apostasy.

I see nothing reported from the demographic studies about the number of children we confirm who then depart the faith. In the 6 points of concentration to address our losses mentioned in President Harrison’s report, I don’t see one that addresses the internal weakness of defections by our offspring.

Don’t inject tone into these declarations that I did not put there. I support everything President Harrison said in the report about this. I just want to see one more thing added.

Strong outreach is dependent on strong inreach. We can’t give away what we don’t have. The shortest and simplest confession of our Christian faith is the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in the Small Catechism. If we do not have a grip on this in the family and in the congregation, our outreach to the community will be weak.

The one thing I want added is to strengthen our inreach with the Catechism in the family and in the congregation for their own sakes, and then for the sake of outreach to the community.

What man who cannot so much as read the Ten Commandments and Dr. Luther’s explanation of them to his 7 and 9 year old children is likely to be outgoing to his coworkers, neighbors, and friends when his vocation presents him with opportunity to give an account of the reason for the hope that lies within him? Sure, some here and some there might, but how many are likely to do so?

What’s the hang-up? Why can’t he read that to them? Are his children so intimidating? Is the material so complex? Has he too little time for something that takes about 3.5 minutes to read? Are his coworkers, neighbors, and friends less intimidating for a religious conversation than his children are? Would the discussion with adults be less complex than with children? Does he have more time for them than he has for his children?

Why don’t we know the rate of heads of families who teach the Catechism in the home? Where are our demographics on that?

How do our children view the Catechism? For that matter, how do our adults view it? Was it a stage we had to get through to be confirmed? Is it something for children, but not adults? Is it information, not a confession and not a prayer?

Unless we think outreach should begin with saying something outside the six chief parts of Christian doctrine, outreach should share what the Small Catechism teaches. When we are vague and faint on the Catechism, that debilitates outreach.

We are vague and faint on it because heads of families are not teaching it at home in sufficient numbers. We are vague and faint on it because at the church, we give the appearance that after a class of confirmands is confirmed, stick a fork in those potatoes, they’re done.

There are bright spots. For example, my former pastor used the Small Catechism as responsive reading during the Divine Service. It is remarkably suitable as a responsive reading. This showed everyone that the Catechism is for all ages, and can be confessed as an act of worship.

For another example, my current pastor, upon his arrival, immediately instituted Catechism review class on Wednesday evenings.

For another example, on Palm Sunday this year I visited at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Pensacola, Florida and attended the adult class between the services. The class was studying through Acts. Although the class material for that Sunday was in a chapter of Acts, after the Invocation and opening prayer, the class began with the pastor leading everyone reading aloud one of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine from copies of the Catechism that were placed on the tables at every seat.

There are lots of things like that we can do for inreach with the Catechism in the congregation. If we have strong inreach in the congregation and strong inreach in the family at home, two things can happen:

  • We can become convinced that the Small Catechism is a prime tool for outreach to the community.
  • Being strong in the Catechism, we can be strong in outreach.

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod needs to get more in gear in evangelism and outreach. While much of this is done through the pastoral office, pastoral preaching and teaching, the Divine Service, and the Sacraments, a necessary part of this belongs to lay Christians in their vocations.

For lay outreach, we have a tremendous advantage. Unlike so many Christian denominations, Lutherans have this outstanding tool, this gift Christ gave to us through Dr. Luther, his Small Catechism. This Catechism has so many virtues that distinguish it from any other catechism. These virtues make it effective everywhere. It is effective in the home. It is effective in the congregation. It is effective in the community.

Look how simple and unifying using the Catechism everywhere could be. Want inreach in the home? Small Catechism. Want inreach in the congregation? Small Catechism. Want outreach to the community? Small Catechism.

Yes, to be sure, there are other resources. Many of them have virtues. Many of them can be effective. But let’s face it. If we can’t be strong with the Catechism, how likely are we to be strong with additional things? If we want to use additional things, first be strong in the Catechism, and then, fine, use those other things too. But why give up the advantage of a simple, unifying approach?

How long should it be before that coworker I invited to my church encounters the Small Catechism? How long should he continue his exploratory attendance before he is presented the six chief parts of Christian doctrine?

For outreach, we need to get the Small Catechism woven into everything we are doing.

Mission and the Small Catechism: Aspects of the Connection, and Realities to Face

The connection between mission and the Small Catechism has a number of aspects. Some of them are:

  • state of catechesis
  • marriage
  • family
  • congregation
  • community
  • generations

Some realities we need to face are that:

  • The state of catechesis is poor.
  • We are suffering a death rate among our own offspring who, after being confirmed, depart the faith. This is death by apostasy.
  • The strength of outreach depends on the strength of inreach.
  • Because we are vague and faint on the Catechism, our outreach is weak.
  • We need to strengthen catechetical inreach in marriage, the family, and the congregation for their own sakes, and then also for the sake of outreach to the community.
  • The Small Catechism teaches what needs to be presented in evangelism and outreach. It contains the six chief parts of Christian doctrine. Do we think something else is what outreach should present?

I have been writing a series of articles that make initial rough sketches of these aspects and realities.

State of Catechesis

Marriage

Family and Congregation

Community

Generations

I welcome your feedback, ideas, suggestions, evidences, and experiences in these areas. Please use the contact form to write to me.