Living Catechisms

burne-jones-timothy-lois-749x1024x300Despite all of the emphasis Scripture puts on life together, it’s really common for Christians to see faith individualistically. Of course you can’t believe for anyone else, but it’s easy to overlook the impact your faith (or lack thereof) has on others.

This goes back to the Garden when God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). To be in relationships is to affect each other’s lives. For better or worse, the things we say and do rub off on each other (at least to an extent).

Faith is no exception. Everything you say and do—and not just the overtly religious things—is a catechism lesson to those around you. The question isn’t whether or not you will catechize, but whose catechism are you teaching? Christ’s or Satan’s? Nothing is neutral: every thought, word, and action either proceeds from Christ or from sin. There is no middle ground.

How you live is a confession of faith or unbelief and encourages others to do likewise. Ask any parent if they’d rather their teenager hang out with the kids on the honor roll or the ones in the principal’s office. When it comes to certain things, we understand how profoundly we can affect each other’s lives. The same is true of faith. To those who are watching, everything you say and do is as practical of a catechism lesson as there is.

It’s not that a Christian will always live by faith and an unbeliever will only do harmful things. Some of your actions proceed from faith, but too many flow from unbelief. Sometimes you promote the Gospel, but other times you further the work of Satan. And so the prayer of the Christian is, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22). This is where a lot of thinking about the Christian life goes wrong.

Christians are every bit as wicked as Judas (who, by the way, actually did some good things[i])—but while the pagans live under the delusion that they are good people, as a Christian, you know that you are a Judas at heart and repent.

At the same time, God regards you as every bit as holy as Jesus, not because of what you’ve done, but because Christ bled and died for you, rose again, washed you clean at the font, and continues to absolve you in preaching and the Sacrament. What makes Christians different isn’t that you don’t sin; it’s that you repent of it and have it forgiven.

This is why the Church is so important. If it weren’t bad enough that we live in a culture that is thoroughly pagan, your faith is constantly being assaulted by Satan and your own sinful flesh. You would surely drown in an ocean of evil if it weren’t for the Holy Ark of the Christian Church, where you receive shelter and forgiveness.[ii] As we hear, eat, and confess the Gospel together in the Church, Christ gives you a much needed reprieve from those things that choke out the Gospel.

The men in Mark 7:31-37 knew how badly their friend needed the reprieve that only Jesus can give. Because they believed, eventually their friend believed, too. Not necessarily because of what they said, but because of what they did. They brought their friend to see Jesus.

We could easily fail to appreciate just how extraordinary this was. To us, it’s a no-brainer. If you have a deaf and mute friend and Jesus is around, you go and see Him. But not in the Decapolis! That little geographical note might sound like unimportant detail at first:

“Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis,” (Mark 7:31).

But looking for Christians in the Decapolis would be like looking for masses of Red Sox fans at Yankee Stadium. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen!

The Decapolis was about as hostile to Christianity as it gets. The last time Jesus was there the people actually begged Him to leave. He was bad for business (Mark 5:17). In the process of healing a demon possessed man, He sent about 2,000 pigs rushing headlong down a hill to drown in the sea! Any mention of Jesus in the Decapolis would have been salt in the wound to those farmers. Still, the man Jesus exorcised went ahead and preached the Gospel in the Decapolis anyway (Mark 5:11–13).

Because of this, some believed—including those who brought their deaf-mute friend to Jesus. The faith of the formerly demon-possessed man rubbed off on those who brought their deaf-mute friend to see Jesus, which eventually rubbed off on the deaf-mute himself. These men knew who Jesus was and that He alone could help their friend.

When you care about the Gospel, you don’t appoint a committee to do evangelism or need marketing campaigns. You just bring your friends to see Jesus. What these men in the Decapolis did spoke volumes about what they believed. They were the living catechisms that brought others to the Great Catechist.

You too are a living catechism—or, as St. Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3, God’s letter of recommendation to the world, to be read and known by all (v.1–3). You might think the Church is the only place where God’s Kingdom comes on earth. It is there, to be sure, but Christ also manifests His Kingdom in less likely places—including your life. As we confess,

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.[iii]

That’s how God’s kingdom comes. As the apostle says in 2 Thessalonians 1,

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (v. 11–12).

Christ was glorified in the lives of Timothy’s faithful relatives, through whom he came to believe. St. Paul writes,

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well,” (2 Timothy 1:5).

Notice how St. Paul puts it: Timothy’s faith first dwelt in his grandmother, was passed down to his mother, and finally, took up residence in him.

These women knew that apart from faith, baptism will do nothing for you. They knew they needed to nurture the faith of their children or it would die. They knew that to come to the Lord’s Supper apart from faith would result in judgment. They understood well what Moses taught about the importance of ongoing catechesis, who commanded them to teach God’s Word diligently to their children, both in word and deed (Deuteronomy 6).

When your words and actions promote our Lord’s catechism, you continue Christ’s work of opening deaf ears and loosing mute tongues. Bringing young children to church may indeed be one of the greatest challenges a parent will ever face—but it’s well worth the effort.

While the disciples were off trying to usher them into children’s church, our Lord picks up a baby—probably the one that’s crying the loudest—and says, “Look at this. This is what the kingdom of God looks like,” (Matthew 18:2–3) Christ wants your children to be acquainted with Him from infancy. They might not understand everything right away, but they learn by hearing and seeing. The liturgy with its ceremonies, the church with its adornments, and especially your words and actions, all teach the faith.

A good life can advance the Gospel, but a wicked life dulls its edge.[iv] Holiness begets holiness, but evil begets evil. Satan doesn’t need you to renounce Christ to get you to do his work. All he needs you to do is worry or be impatient with others. When you’re preoccupied with your own concerns, you’re providing a flesh and blood illustration of what Satan’s kingdom looks like, and are encouraging others to do likewise. A father’s sin can be passed down for three or four generations and destroy the faith of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

The farmers of the Decapolis were so preoccupied with making a living that they actually drove Jesus away from them. You’re no different. You’ve become so preoccupied with other concerns, there’s little room for Christ. No doubt you wantto be faithful, but your words and actions fail you more than you would like.

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t have any catechetical value. Even the smallest sin does infinitely more to promote the kingdom of Satan than all of the good intentions in the world do for the Gospel. Repent.

Thanks be to God that Jesus remains the Chief Catechist! He always acts on His intentions, and they are never evil. He shows His love for you in that while you were still sinful, He died for you (Romans 5:6–8). While you were still sinful, He baptized you (Titus 3:5). He invites you, a sinner, to hear the Gospel (Luke 10:16), have your sins forgiven (John 20:21–23), and eat and drink with Him at His Table (1 Corinthians 11:25). Everything Jesus says and does is a catechism lesson in His steadfast love for you.

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Mark 7:31–37
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 2015: “Living Catechisms”
Zion, Summit: https://www.facebook.com/zionlcms
Immanuel, Hodgkins: https://www.facebook.com/immanuelhodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies: http://www.whatdoesthismean.org/bible-studies.html

Image: Edward Burne-Jones, “St. Timothy and His Grandmother Lois” (c. 1872), Vyner Memorial Window in Oxford Cathedral.

[i] Judas was sorry he’d betrayed Jesus (Matthew 27:3–4), and, like all people, no doubt displayed a measure of civic righteousness during his lifetime.

[ii] See Luther’s Flood Prayer in LSB’s Baptismal rite.

[iii] Small Catechism, second petition.

[iv] Luther, Sermon for Trinity 12.


Comments

Living Catechisms — 12 Comments

  1. Brother Eric, you wrote, “When you care about the Gospel, you don’t appoint a committee to do evangelism…” But, didn’t Jesus do just that? In Luke 10:1 we read, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”

    I don’t believe that there’s an either/or situation regarding personal witness and organized evangelism. I believe that it’s good, proper, and Scriptural to do both. I know that the LCMS and WELS have had some very good tools and programs for organized evangelism. I’ve used these as both a layperson and as a pastor, and have been able to witness to the Gospel in places and situations most of our laypeople would never be apart from an organized outreach. Formal evangelism training gives people tools for handing common objections and getting the conversation back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for our sins.

    I don’t know what our seminaries are currently teaching regarding formal evangelism programs, but do know that Evangelism was part of the curriculum at CTSFW in the 1980’s. This was under the presidency of Robert Preus–one of the greatest theologians of our Synod.

    In short, don’t sell formal evangelism programs short. They are a valuable tool in Gospel outreach.

  2. Upon some further thought, I forget to add one problem I have with organized evangelism programs–specifically, the concept of some people regarding an Evangelism Committee. Some in the congregation will see the Evangelism Committee as “The Answer” to increasing congregational membership. I tried to instruct people that the purpose of an Evangelism Committee is to share the Gospel, not to “make” new members. What happens after the Gospel is shared is the work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of a committee. The Evangelism Committee doesn’t convert people and make them members of any congregation, let alone ours. Still, someone would speak up in a Voters’ Meeting and ask why the Evangelism Committee wasn’t bringing in more members. Very frustrating. Yet, these committees in my congregations WERE sowing the seeds of the Gospel, and “the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.'” John 4:37.

  3. I don’t remember much about an evangelism course in FW, but I do remember doing Dialogue Evangelism at Pr. Nickel’s (?) congregation, and found it to be a “vent” for releasing evangelism fervor– a hands on activity. After a brief instruction each week, we would just “go out and do it.” Maybe I associate the term, committee/program, with squelching that fervor by pressuring people to participate, and to “Do it this way,” rather than training and practice. Evangelism starts “inside” with the people wanting to do it.
    Your comment reminded me of the mountain top experience at CTSFW, 83.

  4. @Rev. Robert Fischer #1

    Thank you for your comment, but respectfully, I disagree. I don’t see anything in Scripture that resembles the modern evangelism committee/formal evangelism programs. I’m of the opinion that the dangers of such groups exceeds any benefit and we aren’t doing evangelism faithfully when we separate it from the ordinary, daily life of the Christian. A committee would be fine if it were designed to catechize Christians about what it looks like to live by faith before the world (but that could easily enough be classes taught by the pastor, and probably should be addressed regularly from the pulpit), but in the post I was referencing those congregations that appoint committees to do the evangelism for them. I’d recommend you check out Lucas Woodford’s excellent book, “Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession?: The Mission of the Holy Christian Church.”

  5. Eric, you wrote, “…we aren’t doing evangelism faithfully when we separate it from the ordinary, daily life of the Christian” and “I was referencing those congregations that appoint committees to do the evangelism for them.”

    Great! We agree on those things! What we don’t agree on is that there is a place for a well-trained group of people to do intentional evangelism, in addition to the personal witness of individual congregation members in their ordinary, daily lives.

    Dialog Evangelism has been justly criticized by people such as Fred, above, because of the sometimes inadequate and haphazard training provided. A well-run program gives a solid foundation for sharing the faith in both individual and organized situations. The program may be found at: http://sddlcms.org/Forms/Workshops/Dialog%20Evangelism.pdf

    The Dialog Evangelism program isn’t perfect, but it’s the best program I’m aware of for training in intentional evangelism. I’d be happy to hear of other recommendations.

  6. I’m glad to see Lutherans discussing evangelism to a greater extent than “Evangelism is providing the means of grace,” without providing any details of what that looks like.

    Thanks for the link to that ‘training program’. Even if it’s not perfect, it still has to be better than nothing.

  7. I’m surprised that the Doctrine of Vocation wasn’t mentioned in the post by Pastor Andersen. It’s not rocket science after all. As we go about our daily lives, whether it’s as mother, father, sister, brother etc.,etc., we live as Christians. For parents, catechizing can be very intentional like devotions at suppertime, taking the children to church and Sunday school. Remember, Matthew 28:18ff uses the phrase, ‘as you go…’ meaning as you go about your daily life and in I Peter we are to speak about ‘the hope that is in us.’ Dr. Gene Edward Veith wrote a book on vocation titled, ‘God At Work’ and Pastor Woodford’s book that was mentioned in #4 of the above comments also speaks of vocation.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  8. Can the doctrine of vocation be abused by prioritizing lesser vocations over greater vocations? For example, if I were to prioritize my vocation as a friend to my golf-playing beer-drinking buddies over my vocations as a husband and a father. As a hyperbolic/theoretical example, I could play in golf and softball leagues every night of the week and not catechize my children except on Sundays and punt to vocation. In all honesty I haven’t read much on the topic of vocation, but does the discussion of prioritizing vocations ever occur?

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