Luther’s Small Catechism is a required reading for the confirmation class that every LCMS 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 fiance) 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 exclusive 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 gays 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 fiance 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.”
In case, 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?