Updated: Feb 28
I truly believe the twenty-first-century church needs more catechesis, not less. “Catechesis” simply means “to instruct.” It comes from the Latin word catechizare and is related to the Greek word katechein, referring to “oral instruction.” (Gerard Bode, What is the Catechism? Luther’s Large Catechism, 8, CPH, 2023)
Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue (I Corinthians 14:19). Amen, St. Paul!
We need more oral instruction today centered in God’s Word. We need more preachers boldly proclaiming the necessity of God’s Word for daily life. We need more Bible studies and small groups orienting themselves around God’s Word. They must chew on it, wrestle with it, believe it and deeply trust it.
We need more everyday baptized Christians inwardly digesting God’s Word so that they cannot help but share it with neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. The Word of God is living and active. As the world unravels, only the Word of God can keep us attached to the vine, which is Jesus Christ.
I received my fresh copy of Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications the other day. There has been much controversy around this Concordia Publishing House publication. I am excited to learn from Dr. Luther, and many amazing Lutheran theologians, many of whom I count dear friends.
I have not yet been able to read the entire publication. It is over seven hundred pages long. Nonetheless, I am impressed with what I have read so far. I look forward to reading some of the contemporary application articles that have received critique and harsh criticism. I do not know the hearts of these writers—only the Lord does, but I must believe that their simple goal was to catechize and expound on Martin Luther’s Large Catechism. I also must believe and trust the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), doctrinal review, and the editors and office of the LCMS president would not put before us articles that might lead us further from Jesus, but rather closer to Him.
Granted, we must not blindly trust organizations, or even our pastors, but we should test them according to God’s Word. Many trusted theologians, including President Matthew Harrison, tested these words, so much so that they came to print by Concordia Publishing House. This means a lot to me, and I also will be testing the words in my reading and application for pastoral teaching and preaching.
At the very least, this controversy should grant unity around two topics.
One, we care about deep catechesis for the young and old. This means we will sometimes challenge points of doctrine that are unclear or biblically compromised. We should do this using Matthew 18 as a principle. Go directly to the person so they can defend themselves. I do not believe this takes place well in the virtual space. We must deepen our relationships with those who have deep, or more likely, nuanced, theological opinions. This will help us sharpen one another and grow more and more into our Head, Jesus Christ.
Two, we want to trust our leaders, but we won’t do so blindly. Trust must be earned over time. Trust is easy to lose. Trust is in short supply in the LCMS. This grieves the heart of Jesus.
I recommend this blog by Pastor Larry Beane. Though I do not frequently read his blogs, I’m sure Pastor Beane has written articles with which I have concern. He would probably say the same of me and the Unite Leadership Collective. Nonetheless, I believe this is a balanced blog aimed at putting the best construction on this struggle, helping us to heal and move forward in unity of mission as the LCMS leaders and churches.
Here are two quotes I found especially helpful:
“But synod is not the Holy Christian Church. We have no promise of Scripture that the synod will endure forever.” Amen. The Church of Jesus Christ will endure for eternity. The LCMS may not.
“Moreover, those of us who are parish pastors have the duty of final doctrinal review for any materials we use in our preaching and teaching and other pastoral practice. No pastor or lay person is compelled to accept, buy, or use these essays published with, and under the title of, the Large Catechism if he does not want to. No one is compelled to like them, endorse them, or recommend them. And as they are not the Word of God, we are free to criticize them.”
We are compelled to preach God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions as they stand as a correct exposition of God’s Word. Period. I am not compelled to promote or to believe anything that does not align with God’s Word and my conscience as a parish pastor.
I am responsible for catechesis within my (Christ’s) congregation. This is my calling. I am called to equip God’s people in God’s Word (Ephesians 4:12) to take it into their homes and vocations, as well as raising up other church leaders to do the same (2 Timothy 2:2). I take this calling very seriously, and I know all of my brothers do as well.
I am hopeful the Large Catechism struggles can be a moment for the LCMS to agree on one topic—our church loves catechesis.