For the ordinary church member, however, especially for those who are troubled about their faith and yet come to no conclusions about it, for the innumerable people on the fringes of the church who cannot ﬁnd their way through all the conﬂicting opinions, the almost chaotic confusion in the realm of religion, it is of utmost importance that the substance of faith should be presented to them in a form that lifts out the central thing in a way that it cannot be brushed aside with peripheral ideas and arbitrary objections and assertions.
Herbert Girgensohn, Teaching Luther’s Catechism, John W. Doberstein, trans. (Philadelhia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959), p. 1.
Law, gospel, and prayer are the chief elements of the Christian faith according to the Scriptures. Luther calls the law and the gospel the “arguments,” that is, the fundamentals necessary for an understanding of the Scriptures; they represent the real content of the Scriptures. The law and the gospel constitute the ﬁrst two parts of the Catechism. Only one who knows the law and the gospel knows how to speak of God rightly, knows what God intends to say in the Scriptures. Then comes prayer as the third part. Prayer is the expression of the new situation and attitude of man in the presence of God, the attitude of the man who has allowed the law and the gospel to be addressed to him and accepted them in faith.
Herbert Girgensohn, Teaching Luther’s Catechism, John W. Doberstein, trans. (Philadelhia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959), p. 4.
The purpose of the Catechism is therefore to open the way to the reality of God. But this means that, as the epitome of the Scriptures, it is the Word of God addressed to us.
In the Word of God lies power (authority). Power is the term used concerning Jesus in the New Testament when he drives out demons. He possessed power over the spirits. And the same word “power” (or authority) is used with reference to Jesus in the story of the healing of the paralytic (Matt. 9). He sets himself pon the throne of the judge of the universe and utters the word which determines the ultimate destiny of man: “Your sins are forgiven.” Just as men in those days were exposed to Jesus’ power when he spoke, so men are today also. To hear the Word of God means to be exposed to the power of Jesus, means to enter the sphere of God’s power. “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col.1:13).
This makes it clear why Luther stressed what at ﬁrst may strike us as somewhat strange: the need for making the Catechism – Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and other elements – the subject of daily devotion. We must read and say the Catechism daily, as Psalm 1 says of the law: “On his law he meditates day and night.” In the chief parts of the Catechism taken from the Word of Scripture the encounter with the Word of God takes place. A power goes out from the encounter which “gives the devil extreme pain, and strengthens, comforts, and helps us beyond measure.” The encounter with the Word of God gives us entrance into another world where we may dwell as Christians. “If you had no other proﬁt and fruit therefrom, for this reason alone you ought gladly to read, speak, think of, and practice these things, viz., thereby to drive away the devil and evil thoughts.”
It is the concern of the church, which teaches the Catechism, that this should be happening.
Herbert Girgensohn, Teaching Luther’s Catechism, John W. Doberstein, trans. (Philadelhia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959), p. 6.
Quotations from John T. Pless speaking at the 2016 Brothers of John the Steadfast Conference in Tomball, Texas, as reported by Cafe’ Sola on Facebook.
“The small Catechism has been influential in bringing whole congregations into the Lutheran faith.”
“Even non Lutherans were using the Small Catechism for mission work!”
“A full 1/4th of the Lutheran pastors were dismissed after the (Saxon) visitation.”
“There is rhyme and reason to why Luther structured the Catechism the way he did, starting with the 10 Commandments.”
“Where is the faith transmitted? In God’s own small group, the family!”
“The antinomian controversy … it started in 1520, and it hasn’t ended yet!”
Luther deliberately reorganized the creedal material, without altering the wording, by reducing the twelve articles (corresponding to the twelve apostles) common in the late Middle Ages to the three articles common in the early church. More than a desire for historical accuracy on Luther’s part accounts for this rearrangement. He wanted to concentrate the catechumen’s attention on the saving work of the triune God and further emphasize the pro nobis character of God’s work “for us” in all aspects of our life.
“Luther on the Creed,” by Charles P. Arand, in The Pastoral Luther, ed. Timothy J. Wengert. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009, p 148.