Luther’s Small Catechism is a required reading for the confirmation class that every Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod teen needs to take (against their will) in order to be a confirmed adult member of the LCMS church (which I am, unfortunately). It’s included in the Book of Concord, which is a complete collection of the confessions of the Lutheran Church; everything in the Small Catechism is to be taken as true (or at least the student should say they believe it) in order to be confirmed. So let’s take a look at what my entire family and I (and my fiancé) agreed to when we became members of the LCMS! (I just picked out the worst bits and pieces to actually discuss, but feel free to read the whole thing here.)
“And make it very plain to [parents] what an awful harm they are doing if they will not help to train children to be pastors, preachers, clerks . . . and that God will punish them terribly for it.”
Having been a child that was “trained” not even to be a pastor (women can’t be pastors anyways) but a member of the LCMS at all, I would say the opposite is true. I feel as though being raised in such a narrow-minded and dogmatic lifestyle and worldview has been at least mildly harmful in several ways. I was raised to understand that evolution was not only wrong, but that it was made up by Satan to draw us away from God. I was raised to believe that gay people were choosing to sin irreconcilably and trans people were disgusting, and that both groups should be avoided. If knowing, and teaching my own children, otherwise is an awful harm, and God will punish me terribly for it, then so be it.
“We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
When my fiancé was taking a one-on-one confirmation class during his college years, he pointed out to me how peculiar it was that using witchcraft was forbidden on the same plane as swearing and lying. It was as if Luther wanted to mention it but wasn’t sure quite how to fit it in, so he decided that if he put it in the middle of this list, no one would notice how it stood out.
“God threatens to punish all that transgress these commandments. Therefore we should dread His wrath and not act contrary to these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all that keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him, and gladly do [zealously and diligently order our whole life] according to His commandments.”
Threatening us with hellfire to believe in ridiculous things and follow ridiculous commandments in the first place is pretty far-fetched, but the idea that, knowing this, we should do them gladly? That’s unlikely.
“We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor deny such petitions on account of them; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So will we verily, on our part, also heartily forgive and also readily do good to those who sin against us.”
If after reading my post that deals with total depravity you didn’t believe that there are Christians who really believe that we are “worthy of none of the things for which we pray” and “deserve nothing but punishment,” well, here is your proof. This probably disgusts me more than anything else, especially when we are still urged to pray for what we want, even after being told that we don’t deserve to have our prayers answered. At the same time though, this teaches that no matter how bad we are, God will still give us everything we pray for (because of grace), which to me sounds like we will never learn how to be better, if we are constantly forgiven and never punished. Finally, we’re told to do good unto others, when, after all, we can’t be good, only God can. So why try?
“What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.”
This is just gross and weird. I don’t have anything else to say about it. (Being able to take this sacrament is your reward for reading this book and being confirmed. Congratulations!)
Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered. And be not bitter against them.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord, even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
I don’t want to be too critical of this male-dominance situation as seen here, because I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt of being reflective of the time and social norms in which this was written. Of course, the extreme unbalance between the sexes here is disturbing, and my real problem is that teens, still today and continuing on into the future, are being forced to read this. Young teens, just starting to date, are learning that women are the weaker vessel and should submit to their husbands and call them lord! Is there really no way that they could have done something, edited it out, added a footnote, to specify that we have moved on from the archaic thinking of Luther’s time and that it’s no longer acceptable?
“20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need [for God to save us from our sins] and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”
I just included this because it actually makes no sense at all. Basically what it says is “If you’re not a Christian (or more specifically, a Lutheran), then are you even real? Are you sure you’re a person? Yes? Then you should be a Christian.” Checkmate, atheists! Right?
12 thoughts on “A Look at Luther’s Small Catechism”
A good friend of mine is a Lutheran, his church is so Lutheran (being located in Germany and all) that he just calls it the church and doesn’t think of it as a Lutheran church. He says that nothing about his church has changed in four hundred or so years (give or a take a few years) and as a result, there’s only two kinds of people that show up to church, the older population looking for comfort before they die, and the younger kids being raised in the Church until they’re old enough for confirmation. After that point, people just tend to not show up unless it’s a major holiday (Easter, Christmas.)
Theologically speaking, some of Lutheran teachings are quite similar to the evangelical teachings I know. We have “worm theology”, it teaches that we are all such horrible, terrible sinners, unworthy to the core of our being, that we’re just lucky that God happens to like some of us enough in order to save us while the rest of us will get the eternal condemnation that we rightfully deserve.
And the rise of complementarianism really cements the idea of the authority of the husband over his wife and the duty of the wife to submit to her husband as timeless as marriage consists of a husband and a wife only, so they still expect spouses to exist in that inequality; stopping short of telling wives to call their husbands “lord”, but teaching that in just about every way a wife should act as if her husband is her lord.
I guess it makes sense, technically my church was a cousin, not descending from Luther, but from Calvin, so some of their ideas are rooted in the same family history / time / context.
Your church demographic sounds about the same as mine: a majority of old people, and any young couples that we have with kids are just the children of the old people. They were raised in the church and it will stay that way for generations.
His Lutheran church, I used to attend Southern Baptist churches – though they were pretty much the same, come to think of it. The last one I attended, I was the only one my age and the old retired crowed had a super-majority. That’s why I don’t get why so many in the church feel threatened – if four hundred years of not changing a thing hasn’t completely shut down the church, why are they so fearful that they’re going to lose what’s left any day now?
I think what many are ultimately mourning is the loss of power. Decades ago, Blue Laws basically show down every business on Sundays. Church was a social expectation, too – it was just as much about being seen and networking with the more powerful members of society. I think that they miss how much power that gave them over others … and they want it back.
It’s interesting how you have a similar sort of angst-chip-on-the-shoulder as I do and I’m 60 yrs old. God’s wisdom that believers must just accept unverified is expected as a normal thing. Check out my post on “Theology’s Gaslighting Ethos” …about how US citizens are told something’s true, even though everyone looks somewhere somehow to really see what the true is…proven experientially….God’s wisdom…which is really no more than a promise issued with unexplained orders to follow……anyway…keep at it.
One of the touchstones in the Catholic faith is the ‘body and blood of Christ” at communion. We all took/take it for granted that this is a metaphor, nothing else. But it creeps Protestants out no end, and Catholics are occasionally called vampires or flesh eaters.
It would appear that Lutherans, who were the first to break away from Catholicism, would borrow the body and blood thing for communion. Amazing what a bit of wine and unleavened bread can do, innit.
It does sound as if, along with much of Europe, Germany takes its religious duties far less seriously and rigidly than we do, here. Perhaps since we are actually the new kid on the block, we feel we have to prove something to someone. Not sure why, though.
Beyond all that, this is a horrific document, isn’t it. Right out of a Sin and Salvation (if you’re lucky) movie.
It is truly gross. And we are supposed to be believing that we’re really eating our master’s flesh! The worst part is that I was raised to accept this all as normal…
This illustrates the difference between liberal Christianity and conservative Christianity.
Liberal Christians believe in a grand god (roughly the god of Genesis 1), who can come up with a brilliant system such as evolution, to maintain the biosphere.
Conservative Christians believe in a bumbling fool of a god (roughly, the god of Genesis 2-6), who poofs things into existence, but gets it wrong and has to go back and fix up after those mistakes.
What tends to urk me is the notion that you can get away scott-free into paradise. If Justice is so valuable to a God such as your family believes, I’d rather go to Hell. How am I supposed to go against the truth? How could Christ literally die for my sins without it ending in appeasing the hatred of a loving God? How could a God such as he hate a man’s sin as to count him as worthless?
The entirety of the women being weaker vessels goes right back to Genesis – the point just before they eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Recall it was mother Eve who was tempted by the serpent. Talking snakes I know. Fast forward to Chapter 4 – after Cain slay Abel and God is getting all righteous saying his brothers blood cries out. Yeah right.
Afterward Cain goes out of the garden, to the east and the land of Nod. There he knows his wife. So who were the other people in Nod?
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Point number one is a traditional brainwashing / compliance technique. Comply or your family will be hurt. You have to go along with this nonsense or your parents will burn in hell.