To recap the point (loose laces?)... For a number of people, ignorance about Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, and Lutherans in general, is not unlike a loose shoelace. I have heard Lutheranism referred to as Catholic lite and the Reformation called a second Crusade (as though Luther and other Reformers were motivated by a call to war against the Pope). Luther at the start of the 16th century faced more than a degenerate Roman Catholic Church—his church, the church that he loved; he encountered clergy “altogether incapable and incompetent to teach” and laity with “no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine,” not to mention inveterate illiteracy. Luther found himself with more than a few shoes to tie (so to speak).
|Go ahead... Bow your head|
and check those laces!
Derek Landy is an Irish author best known for the Skulduggery Pleasant series of young adult books. The following quote is from Playing With Fire (Skulduggery Pleasant, Book 2): “An untied shoelace can be dangerous,” he said. “I could have tripped.” She stared at him. A moment dragged by. “I'm joking,” he said at last. She relaxed. “Really?” “Absolutely. I would never have tripped. I'm far too graceful.” Far too graceful…there’s a Lutheran pun in there somewhere. Sometimes we move through this world, not being far too graceful, but feeling far too full of grace. As Lutherans, sometimes we wear God’s grace like a pair of Wayfarers, forgetting to occasionally to bow our heads (and look down at those shoes that walk behind Jesus' sandals).
The Reformation left in its wake an epidemic of loose shoelaces; Luther’s remedy was a simplified instruction of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, his Small Catechism. But even after 500 years, we find the Lutheran Church splintered by varying interpretations of God’s Word, an ignorance about our Confessions, and a growing complacency in the face of other Christian denominations and the world at large. Personally, I think everyone who calls himself or herself a Lutheran should dust off a Small Catechism and conduct a shoelaces check…
Luther’s ordering of the chief parts of the Catechism was intended not only to facilitate teaching the faith, but as a diagnostic tool for self-examination. The sequence is driven theologically, from Law to Gospel; Luther uses the analogy of a sick man to illustrate: the Ten Commandments show a man his sickness (sin), the Apostles’ Creed shows him where he can find the medicine (God’s grace offered in Christ), and the Lord’s Prayer shows him how he can appropriate this medicine (through faith which reaches out for God’s grace in prayer). The Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer help the Christian to abide by the Ten Commandments, rather than struggle to keep them; this, in turn, provides a creedal and Trinitarian compass for making one’s way in the world.
The fulcrum of the three chief parts is the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, which is the medicine (redemption) that heals the sick man, and which we Lutherans refer to fondly as the chief article of the Christian faith. This article is the centerpiece—quite literally—of what we confess, teach, and believe as Lutheran Christians.
Luther’s theology, cultivated heavily as a practicing monk and originally steeped in the medieval doctrine and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, evolved from a pursuit of salvation through a faith produced and maintained by love (and expressed in good works) into the recognition of faith alone as the conduit through which God’s gracious gifts are received freely. It is this definition of faith that shaped Luther’s practice of catechesis and permeates each section in the Catechism. The chief parts (Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer) focus on faith in the everyday life of the Christian. The next three parts (Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Lord’s Supper) focus on faith in the sacramental life of the church. The last section (Prayers, Table of Duties) addresses the manner in which the Christian should exercise faith each day through prayer (and meditation).
Luther meant for his Small Catechism to accompany the Christian from the Baptismal font to the grave. For Luther, catechesis was more than just the Small (or Large) Catechism as textbooks, per se, for do-it-yourself spirituality. Catechesis incorporates a life of Word and Sacrament—hearing God’s Word as preached in church and taught at home, living life each day as one baptized into Christ and claimed by God, trusting in God over all else, secure in His grace through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection alone.
Luther calls the contents of the Catechism (in the preface to the Large) “the minimum knowledge required of a Christian.” But they are so much more than that! As the contents are learned and memorized, one’s thought processes change, as does one’s perspective on life and life’s priorities. This is evident from his explanation of the First Commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust God above all things.” The Catechism is not merely a primer, nor is it simply a handbook for better Christian (or Lutheran) living. It truly is a vade mecum, yet it is even more—an instruction manual, a prayer book, a pastoral care companion, a theological roadmap, and a guide to confession, suitable for adults, children, confirmation students, and seekers alike. The Small Catechism, especially, could be called Luther’s blueprint for all other forms of catechesis—preaching, self-study, teaching, evangelizing, etc.
Whether newly baptized and growing in the faith or a seasoned believer, Luther reminds us of the necessity to bow our heads daily before God. And to keep our shoelaces tied.
Until next month, may the Lord bless you and keep you!