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So Much To Learn From The Large Catechism—So Much to Learn!

One of the preconceived ideas about me, the ULC, and others who promote new methods of reaching our communities with the Gospel is that we care little for “deep theology.” Nothing could be further from the truth.





I have had so much fun reading Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications published this year by Concordia Publishing House. It sparked quite a bit of controversy when released. I’ve not heard much about it since President Harrison reinstituted distribution. President Matthew Harrison was right. It “is a literary and theological treasure for all matters of apostolic faith” (p. xv).


This blog will delve into two points taken from the LC. First, I will focus on Martin Luther’s “Preface to the Large Catechism.” Second, I will comment on Charles P. Arand’s essay on the third commandment, “Word, Worship, and Adiaphora.”


I am always struck by Luther’s harsh tone in his preface. He was so frustrated that pastors and parents did not understand the basics of the Christian faith as especially found in the historic Creeds, The Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. He was shocked at how “little impact his calls for reform had made both on the common people and the village pastors” (p. 54).


Luther was super critical of pastors who acted “for their bellies’ sake” and were “more fit to be swineherds and dog tenders than caretakers of souls and pastors” (p. 56-57). Luther prays that they will buy and read his catechism, yet he is skeptical as to whether or not they will receive it and apply it. Said simply, Luther is calling readers leaders, or pastors. If a pastor is not humbly reading God’s Word, and God’s Word as exegeted and applied by other learned men, then how can he be equipped to help his flock grow? Even Luther prays that he “remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so” (p. 58).

In this day and age, for the life of the church, leaders, and pastors must commit themselves to daily reading of the Scriptures and Confessions. The Large Catechism is a wonderful place to start. Finally, Luther heard the excuse from some pastors that they had read the catechism in an hour and therefore fully understood it. Luther retorts, “Can we finish learning in one hour what God Himself cannot finish teaching?” (p. 61). What a call for leadership humility! Yes—the Word of God is alive. We need it like the body needs air to breathe.


For the second point, I would like to consider Dr. Arand’s essay, especially the topic of adiaphora as connected to the Third Commandment. “We should fear and love God so that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it” (p. 208). Luther wrote about how God’s Word not only sanctifies a day but us right along with it. “Faith trusts God to keep His promises.” Dr. Arand identified in his essay how Luther redefined the Church and its worship life. “Instead of defining the Church in terms of polity and rituals, Luther defined the Church in terms of Word and faith” (p. 209).


Dr. Arand then described how a Christian was a “member in good standing” in the late medieval church. You were a member in good standing as long as “one followed the laws and various regulations of the Church” (p. 209).


Pause here. I am concerned that the LCMS leadership, especially around the topic of pastoral formation, is speaking more about “laws and various regulations” than we are about Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Granted, we choose to organize and unite based on our constitution and bylaws. Nonetheless, we should be leery as a church body of heading down a Romanist road that justifies “why we do the things we do” and neglects the clear teaching of Scripture and the Confessions.


To be clear, we all agree that the Word of God must be rightly taught, heard, and confessed by those rightly called by a local congregation. The Sacraments must be rightly distributed. We need more Word and Sacrament ordained workers in the LCMS. We all agree that these workers should be deeply trained in Lutheran theology. Yet, disagreement arises with how to train pastors. I firmly believe this how is adiaphora—a humanly established ceremony neither commanded nor forbidden. The Scriptures nor Confessions have written that “residential education,” as we know it today in our two seminaries, is the primary (or only) means to raise up pastors.


Dr. Arand was not necessarily speaking about pastoral formation in his essay, nor in his writing about the topic of adiaphora. Nonetheless, people must gather to receive the Word and Sacrament from rightly called and ordained servants of the Lord. Dr. Arand defines adiaphora as “established by the church to convey the Gospel within a particular context.” Adaiaphor does not “belong to the essence (esse) of the Church (as does Word and faith) but to the well-being (bene esse) of the Church (for promoting the Word)” (p. 210).


Let’s bring the conversation to the present day in the LCMS: does a hard-line stance on residential being the “gold standard” of pastoral formation truly serve the “well-being” of the church in her various contexts in desperate need of pastors to fill pulpits? How many pastors are needed to sustain existing congregations and start new ones? Once this data is known (which is not clearly displayed in the LCMS convention workbook), I would love to see LCMS leadership’s intentional strategy to meet the local church’s pastoral needs.


Our various routes toward ordination in the LCMS display that various methods for deeply Lutheran pastoral formation are, in fact, adiaphora. The how of pastoral formation has evolved. Therefore, Dr. Arand’s question must be asked, “Is it possible that adiaphoristic ceremonies can eventually overshadow, distract from, or even get in the way of the Word?” (p. 210). On the topic of pastoral formation, I believe the answer is “yes.”


Case in point, the pastoral formation committee outrightly disregarded, without explanation, the local churches and district’s numerous resolutions asking for exploration of more routes toward ordination.


In summary, I pray all leaders (myself included) maintain Martin Luther’s hunger and thirst for the Word. I pray we stay deeply rooted in our humble commitment to deep catechesis, both for pastors and their flocks.


I pray this deep humility leads LCMS leaders to clearly define what is not adiaphora (Word and faith), and then lovingly debate what is. Why? All for the well-being of the Church.


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Unfortunately, current LCMS leadership seems to view “legitimate” pastoral formation as a byproduct of membership in an exclusive club. This exclusive club is nothing more than those men who are fortunate enough to be able to spend four years at St. Louis or Ft. Wayne. Quite frankly, we should be asking ourselves if encouraging fathers and husbands to default, however temporarily, on their vocational obligations to their wives and children is in keeping with God’s Will for the order of His creation. I remain unconvinced that learning Greek and Hebrew in a residential academic setting is more important than the properly ordered relationships of our pastors during their formation process.

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