In its mission, the church always has run up against some recurring stock errors in the world’s thinking. These errors have a strong hold on the minds and hearts of people, and they are obstacles to people hearing or believing the Gospel.
From the fund of stock errors, a subset ascends and is vogue at one time, and another subset ascends and is vogue at another time. Lies are recycled. In North America today, there is an identifiable subset that is vogue now.
Outside of Scripture itself, nowhere is the truth put more succinctly and accessibly than in Luther’s Small Catechism. Therefore the Small Catechism is the most succinct and accessible tool we have for outreach to our communities. One of the most strategic things we can do for mission is to map passages of the Small Catechism to the stock lies of the enemy of our neighbors’ souls.
As the church militant, we should show as many of our people as we can which parts of the Small Catechism teach Scripture’s truths against each of today’s vogue lies. This will prepare believers to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15
Many authors have contributed to a good body of literature about the stock lies. A current and good example for use with lay people and especially the young is Broken: 7 Christian Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, by Pastor Jonathan Fisk. From a work like this and others, we can key in on that chronic handful of lies and map the Small Catechism against those cruel weapons of the enemy.
From Broken, here they are:
- Counterfeit Christianity (You Find God)
The belief that direct knowledge of God can be attained through your subjective experiences of God or something godlike. Mysticism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your emotions.” Broken, p. 29.
Mysticism’s lie: “You can find God in your heart.” Broken, p. 32.
The Lutheran confessions have much to say about this lie, often in reference to the Enthusiasts, who believe that God commonly speaks to the saints apart from the means of grace – apart from the Word and Sacraments. Look how vital a matter this is, for Luther says:
Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments. [Smalcald Articles, III.VIII.10-11]
In Mysticism and Enthusiasm, the Devil masquerades as the Spirit. Could anything be more vital than the truth against a lie like this? Shouldn’t saints be ready to give an answer about Word and Sacrament being part of our reason for the hope that lies within us? Shouldn’t saints be ready to point to Word and Sacrament as the means by which God deals with us and keeps us in contrition and faith?
To map the Small Catechism’s truth against this lie means to identify its passages that are most especially about Word and Sacrament. Those are the passages that refute the lie of Enthusiasm and Mysticism and lead a person into truth and life, to contrition and faith.
Somebody better at this than I should identify the passages, but to illustrate the strategy of mapping the Small Catechism to the lies, here is a selection of passages this could include:
The Third Commandment
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
The Third Article
What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.
The Second Petition
How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word.
The Third Petition
How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He … strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.”
Who receives this sacrament worthily?
That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
What do you believe according to these words [in John20:22-23]?
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness? Yes, dear confessor.
Then let him say:
Let it be done for you as you believe. And I, by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace.
Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45). Let the hearts of the saints be abundant in these catechetical truths, and then when fit moments arise in their vocations, their mouths can speak. No more of this, “I don’t know what to say” monkey business that leaves our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers in the enemy’s murderous lie. That leaves them Word-less, sacrament-less. It leaves them without the means by which God wishes to deal with them.
The belief that access to God can be achieved through your personal efforts or attempts to improve yourself. Moralism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your works. Broken, p. 54.
Moralism’s lie: “You can find God in your hands.” Broken, p. 54.
This lie devalues the holy and precious blood of Christ and his innocent and bitter suffering and death for us. It disdains his righteous that God imputes to us and displaces it with false righteousness of our own. It speaks as if both original sin and particular sins were not really sinful, or not condemning. It vaunts itself as good enough for communion with God by its own virtues and without need of the Savior.
Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.
To map the Small Catechism’s truth against this lie means to identify its passages that are most directly about the sacrifice of Christ and the Law’s exposure of sin. Those are the passages that refute the lie of Moralism, and lead a person into truth and life, to contrition and faith.
These could include:
What does God say about all these commandments?
What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.
The Second Article: Redemption
What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ … has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.
The Third Article: Sanctification
What does this mean? … In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
The First Petition
How is God’s name kept holy? … Anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us.
The Third Petition
How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.
The Fifth Petition
What does this mean? … We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.
How do you know this?
From the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.
Are you sorry for your sins?
Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.
What have you deserved from God because of your sins?
His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. See Rom. 6:21, 23.
Do you hope to be saved?
Yes, that is my hope.
In whom then do you trust?
In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.
16. Why should we remember and proclaim His death?
First, so that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.
20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need 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.
As small as the Small Catechism is, see how much it says about these stock lies of the enemy. Just this one little pamphlet is sufficient for outreach that answers lies directly and gives the Word of truth.
In similar fashion, we can map the Small Catechism to the rest of today’s vogue lies, and thus be ready to offer the reasons for the hope that lies within us.