March Article

From Pastor Esposito, Associate Pastor

Back by popular demand, a newsletter series on Luther’s Small Catechism and Lutheran Theology.


First, a look at what a catechism is and why catechisms were written. Catechisms have been around since at least the 400’s.  The word comes from greek word kata-echo “to repeat back”.  Latin speaking Christians used it to describe instruction given to new christians where they would learn something and repeat it back.  By the Middle Ages Catechism referred to three things all Christians should know:  The Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed.  Pastors were required to preach on these topics four times a year during weekday services.

What we know as Luther’s Small Catechism started as explanations of the major parts of the Christian faith which were published on individual sheets and sold for a few cents.  Later the sheets were collected and made into handbooks and an explanation for how they were to be used was placed at the beginning; and later, a few more things added to it.  The publishers called this book, “The Small Catechism of Martin Luther”. 

Luther took things further when he added explanations of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism.  In these sacraments God comes to us in very personal ways: combining God’s name and ours in baptism, feeding our bodies with Christ’s body and blood in communion.  By adding this, Luther is reminding us that Christianity isn’t about memorizing rules, prayers, and doctrine, but instead focuses on what God does for us in Christ Jesus.

Luther also switched up the order of his catechisms from that of the others.  The others were based more on avoiding God’s wrath, and Luther focuses on what God does for us.  The Ten Commandments are like a physician:  first he or she diagnoses (Ten Commandments, we are all sinners), then the physician offers treatment the Good News of the Creed (What God has done for us) and the Lord’s Prayer (where to go for help). 

If you look through Luther’s Small Catechism, you will find a question: “What is this?” or “What does this mean?” after each commandment or article.  During the time Luther was writing what became the catechism, his young son was toddling about the house pointing to things and asking “What is this?” This simple question became a great teaching tool. 

The catechism is a tool meant to be used in the home. Luther considered parents to be the bishop of their home and to carry out the ministry of the church there, which means raising a child in the Christian faith. Martin Luther considers homes to be house churches and for this same reason he added in prayers for morning and evening, prayers around mealtimes and so forth.  It is meant to help guide households in the faith and help us live out the promises that are made when a child is baptized.

When a child is brought for baptism, the parents promise to raise the child in the faith: To live with them among God’s faithful people, bring them to the word of God and the holy supper, teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, place in their hands the holy scriptures, and nurture them in faith and prayer, ....” (ELW p228)

Using the catechism in the home can help us do all that and help transform our lives as we live out those baptismal promises and begin to notice God at work in our lives.