Category Archives: Martin Luther
Review of Martin Luther’s Catechism
By Mark Sooy
My Christian upbringing was one that was full of church activities and events. My parents sang in the choir, and included me as early as Junior High age. There were various meetings during the week and work parties on the weekends (particularly the copying and folding of the bulletin for Sunday). And, of course, there were Bible studies and youth meetings along with Sunday Services and Sunday School classes.
I recall during my young teenage years spending time during a series of Saturday mornings attending a membership class. We studied basic Christian doctrines and the history of the church and denomination of which we were a part. At the end of it all, though my memory is somewhat cloudy, we answered some questions about what we believed and about our relationship with Christ. Once complete, I was a member of the church.
Missing in this short story of my life was the use of a Catechism. That is, a concise and direct synopsis of the most important of Christian beliefs. Something I could hold onto and take with me. Something I could refer to later, and reflect upon day by day. Somehow I think there are many modern Christians who have missed the benefits of a Catechism, and I would like to heartily recommend the one penned by Martin Luther.
Luther actually wrote two Catechisms commonly referred to as the “Shorter Catechism” and the “Larger Catechism.” Although varying in length, they both cover the same material. The shorter of the two was written with the intent of simplicity and memorization, for teaching children and new believers. The longer one was written more broadly for Fathers to use in teaching their families and for Pastors in teaching their congregations. It had more commentary than the shorter. (These are readily available in many versions.)
Luther’s intent can best be summarized in his own words, from his own preface in the Larger Catechism. Note his intentions for both knowledge (faith) and daily life (faithfulness): “Being a faithful, earnest exhortation addressed by Luther to all Christians, but especially to all Pastors and Preachers, to diligently exercise themselves daily in the knowledge of the Catechism, which is a short summary and extract of the whole Bible, and to continually put it into Practice.”
The structure of the Catechisms is basic. Luther desires to cover the “three most important parts of Christian instruction.” These three parts are (in order): The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. Once complete, he also spends time covering the two sacraments that he recognized: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper.
Luther makes the point that these teachings of the Bible are so important that even he, a Doctor of Theology, must study them daily by meditating and praying through the various portions of the Catechism. This was Luther’s heart – to hear the word of God!
Although I would never want to call into question the methods of my teachers and parents, for they did lead me to Christ and teach me His ways, I have still found this to be a welcome addition to my own devotional life and often find myself yearning to sit with my Catechism and drink of the richness found within. Maybe you will too.
Worship can often be a one-dimensional affair. What I mean is that churches and individuals sometimes fall into the trap of assuming they know best how to worship. The mix of songs and styles, the length of the sermon, videos or not, prayers of piety or prayers of audacity, the Bible (in the correct version!), along with any number of other elements that can be part of a typical worship service. They’ve figured it out, and there is nothing else to learn or know.
In my experience, however, I have found that pulling elements from other traditions can be quite enriching. In fact, by looking around at how other traditions and denominations worship can allow you to go deeper in your understanding of worship, and more importantly, a deeper encounter with the God that we worship!
For example, I have worked with several churches that did not regularly quote the Apostles’ Creed. By introducing the Creed into a worship service, and explaining its significance, these congregations were able to sense their connection to Christians throughout the centuries. Our community of believers is beyond those that sit around us in the pews. It spans the globe, and in Christ it also spans time itself!
After this introduction of the Creed, one small group of believers spent time together studying the Creed more directly and found its richness and simplicity to be life-changing. They also found how it deeply confirmed their faith. They studied the Trinity in unexpected ways, and discovered elements of the story of redemption that they had never considered. All of this from a group that had seldom, if ever, heard or said the Creed at all.
You will note that the ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian) are each built upon the three-fold structure of Trinitarian Doctrine. Basically, we see each section of the Creeds reflecting truth about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are not random thoughts, but statements built upon the foundation of Scripture and carefully worded and summarized in each of the Creeds.
The Creeds have been a vital part of worship for centuries. So important were they, that both Luther and Calvin constructed writings upon their outlines. For Luther, both his Shorter Catechism and Larger Catechism utilize the Apostles’ Creed for his commentary. For Calvin, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, as a primer of theology, was built upon this same structure.
Worship can reflect this same outline. I have found that centering the worship service on the Trinitarian aspects of the Creeds can be uplifting and encouraging. It gives us a holistic view and perspective for life and worship. The following example is admittedly short, but is meant to serve as a basic sketch that can be both expanded and amplified. I use a basic pattern of declaration, response/reflection, and prayer.
God the Father
Read the first section of the Apostles’ Creed
Respond with singing: All Creatures of our God and King (St. Francis of Assisi)
Pause for Prayer
God the Son
Read the second section of the Apostles’ Creed
Respond with singing: In Christ Alone (Townend & Getty)
Pause for Prayer
God the Father
Read the third section of the Apostles’ Creed
Respond with singing: They’ll know we are Christians by our Love (Scholte)
Pause for Prayer
So look around and go deeper. Even introducing one new element on occasion into the worship of your church will bring a new level of appreciation for the wonder of God and how we can express our praise to Him.
(Original Post on July 10, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20135-learning-to-worship-from-other-traditions)
I would encourage any believer seeking to live a life that pleases God (a life of worship) to find a copy of Martin Luther’s small treatise called “The Freedom of a Christian,” or in some translations, “Christian Liberty.” You will find in this writing an excellent source of wisdom in regards to what it means to live a truly Christian life. A short quote will suffice now, which reads:
“This is the truly Christian life. Here faith is truly active through love (Galatians 5:6), that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a man willingly serves another without hope of reward; and for himself he is satisfied with the fullness and wealth of his faith.” (Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian” in Martin Luther’s Basic Writings, ed. by Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 617.)
In the context of his treatise Luther is showing how one might serve God and thank Him in life—by serving the neighbor and the person in need. Luther reiterates the concept that worship is a response of thankfulness to God for what He has given us in Christ, and that response works itself out in life as we love God by loving our neighbor.
We can examine the goal for living the Christian life in the worship of God in Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:13. Paul indicates that the point of the lifestyle of worship within the Church is to “attain to the unity of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Although we find this concise phrase describing the results of a healthy Church life in Ephesians, we also find this end goal for our worship described in Romans 15:1-7.
In Romans 15 we discover Paul using worship terminology to discuss the fellowship of Christians loving and serving one another. He is expecting the combined Christian effort of living godly lives to issue forth in a unity of purpose and voice. “That with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6). Obviously, from the perspective of the larger context, our unified “voice” is not necessarily vocal, but a reflection of our daily lives of obedience and service (i.e., faith). As Vigen Guroian observes,
“The word liturgy [i.e., the service of the people] derives from the Greek leitourgia. The Greek connotes an action through which persons come together to become something corporately which they were not as separate individuals. It means a gathering whose unifying purpose is to serve (minister to) the world on behalf of God.” [Vigen Guroian, “Seeing Worship as Ethics: An Orthodox Perspective” in The Journal of Religious Ethics 13 (1985), 334.]
In this pattern of the worship life, we are to be others focused. Paul refers to our “neighbor” (15:2) and his or her needs as that which determines our activity. He even points to Christ as an example of this outward focus (15:3). It is clear here, and in other places, that the life of worship is one of actively serving God by serving others.
Consider this: As the church gathers corporately for “worship” it may be more appropriate to consider it as the primary opportunity for God to communicate Himself to us through His word, the preaching of Christ (“God with us”), and prayer. As we experience His self-revelation we will respond with song and thanksgiving, as we well should, along with many other public expressions. Yet our response should not—cannot—stop at the end of the worship service.
Our response to God’s communicating to us flows out of the “worship service” into our lives. We take His revelation to others in caring for them, serving them and loving those around us. By doing so, we continue our worship activity (see the “present your bodies” idea from Romans 12:1-2) as a thankful expression of love to Him.
In Romans 12, Paul explains some of the basics of the proper functioning of the Body of Christ. There are many members (individual Christians, vs. 4) and yet only one body (the church, vs. 5). Each individual has been given a measure of faith (vs. 3) to serve others (vss. 5 and 6). The grace and faith given, however, is not in equal measure for some have more, some less, but just as much as is necessary for the individual (see vs. 6), and each member has a different function, or a different job to do (vs. 4). With these differing and numerous functions, or gifts, we serve one another, and the gifts Paul lists are set in the context of use within the community of believers, for he uses the phrase “one another” three times before the end of the chapter.
This is the full circle of worship in Romans 12. We are to present our bodies for service to the community of believers based upon our renewed and transformed minds. In so doing, we worship individually by exercising our spiritual gifts, and we worship corporately as the community works together to serve each other and the people around them. When a local representation of the Body of Christ functions in this way it is a marvelous thing—and it is extremely effective. Paul says, in Ephesians 4:16, that “the proper working of each individual part (i.e., the Christian serving in his or her giftedness), causes the growth of the body (i.e., the Church) for the building up of itself in love.” Of course it would be this way: God thought of it after all!
(Original Post on June 5, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19850-worship-as-serving-others)