A Minute With Martin
A Minute With Martin
The Small Catechism
Martin Luther was a prolific writer. As a professor of Old Testament, a pastor/preacher and correspondent his collection of lectures, sermons and letters is huge. In English there are 64 volumes published in the collection known as Luther’s Works, with another 19 volumes in the process of being translated (and that still isn’t everything he wrote).
So where to begin? Well, The Small Catechism (http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php) seems as good a place as any. Luther finished this in 1529, in response to discovering on a tour of the countryside how little the average person actually knew about the faith. So he composed this short (“small”) book for religious instruction (“catechism”), that the heads of homes could simply read to teach their families and households. That’s right, this wasn’t written for pastors or theologians to use (although they do, and with great benefit), but for the average person. It’s simple, clear and straightforward—in no way is it “dumbed down”. In fact one former seminary professor I know used to require his theology students to memorize the Small Catechism because it is such a wonderful summation of the Christian faith. This work is what I use (along with the Bible) when teaching Confirmation.
It is divided into six main sections, morning and evening prayers, along with some instructions to use it:
- 1. The 10 Commandments
- 2. The Apostles’ Creed
- 3. The Lord’s Prayer
- 4. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
- 5. Confession
- 6. The Sacrament of the Altar (Holy Communion)
The format is question and answer, which is traditional for catechisms, and makes memorization and learning easier. While the answers Luther gives are quite brief, they aren’t shallow—there is plenty there for one to ponder and pray about.
One last note for those who may read Luther’s preface to the Small Catechism or some of his other work in more detail. When these works were written, Luther was engaged in a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church over matters of faith. The style of argument at that time was very polemical i.e. confrontational and at times quite harsh. So while we aren’t in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church or the Pope on every item of doctrine (if we were we’d be Catholic), we see Roman Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of what Luther might say about the Roman Catholic Church (and to be fair there was a good amount of this in both directions). While recognizing the differences we have, it’s better for all involved to focus on what we do hold in common in our faith in Christ Jesus.