Teaching Them to Observe All Things, Whatever I Have Commanded You

October 27th, 2012 Post by

This is a guest posting from Rev. Jesse Jacobsen of the ELS.

 Where have you seen the words in this post’s title? If you were confirmed as a child, then you memorized them from the Small Catechism, where it cites Matthew 28:18-20 as the word and command of God concerning baptism. You may not have recognized the title right away, though, because this excerpt from that passage doesn’t mention baptism. In the full quote, Jesus says:

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things, whatever I have commanded you.

This command has several facets. Jesus is commanding His apostles (and through them, His Church on earth) to “go.” There is one main thing He tells them to do: “make disciples of all the nations.” That includes every human being. But there are two sub-parts of this, or perhaps two steps in the process of making disciples. First, it’s “baptizing them.” Since it’s baptism in God’s name, the power behind it is really God’s power, yet He commanded His Church to do this as one of the two steps in making disciples. The other step is equally important: “teaching them.” How much should we teach? “All things” that Jesus has taught and commanded Himself. There is no minimum satisfactory requirement (like the catechism or Sunday school), beyond which all other teaching is optional. We are to teach it all.

These things are the business of the Church. It’s not meant to be entertaining or diverting. It’s not even meant to be particularly uplifting, though that’s usually a nice side-effect of the teaching. It’s meant to make disciples. That is, to make students of Jesus out of people who were His enemies. These disciples, of all ages, are the ones who live daily in repentance and forgiveness, and who have the God-given certainty of eternal life.

If you’d like to be a disciple of Jesus, then you need to consider this passage. It’s not enough to be baptized. You must also be taught. Lutherans do that in a number of ways. Three of these ways are urged upon us in God’s word: the preaching of the Gospel, formal catechesis or instruction in the faith, and the instruction of children in the Christian home. It is the church’s responsibility to see that these accompany baptism, so that Jesus’ command is followed as He said.

Baptism saves, but not magically, as though the act itself were powerful. Baptism saves because Jesus made it so, by connecting the divine name and God’s word to simple water. The power to save is in the word, not in the water, the outward motions, or any traditions that mortal man has attached to it. The same word is what Jesus has commanded us to teach, “whatever I have commanded you.” If we fail to teach the word to those who have been baptized, then we have neglected – or even despised – the very power in baptism that saves.

Among Lutherans, that teaching begins in the home, and continues through formal catechesis, or instruction connected with a congregation. When the youth in a church are ready to learn, we take advantage of their learning ability by having them memorize the chief teachings of Christianity, as summarized in the Small Catechism. It’s meant to be quite challenging, and since many schools no longer challenge children as much as in the past, catechism class is often the first time our youth must exercise such discipline and perseverance. Parents must also persevere, as they are the only ones providing the daily discipline their children need to complete the course and excel. It can be difficult for everyone involved, but the end result is worth the effort. When youth are finished and confirmed, they have a solid foundation for understanding our faith, their baptism, and the world around them. They are also prepared to receive holy communion together with the rest of the Church. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” This is what it looks like among Lutherans, and it has been a blessing for generations. Once confirmed, our youth are expected to continue learning as they regularly attend the Divine Service and take advantage of other opportunities with God’s word, such as Bible classes.

When adults come to our churches, drawn by the gospel to become disciples of Jesus, they must also receive baptism (if they haven’t already) and instruction in the word. Their instruction includes the same Small Catechism, as well as other resources. As part of their instruction, they are expected to demonstrate their genuine interest through regular attendance at the Divine Service. Adults are not required to memorize the Small Catechism, though it is certainly encouraged. They tend to find memorization harder than children, and since they often carry the responsibilities of providing a home for their families, it would be unreasonable to demand the hours needed every week for memorization. However, adults cover the biblical teachings in more depth than children do, and they more readily understand the importance of continuing to learn on their own as disciples of Jesus.

In these ways, the Lutheran Church has honored the command of Jesus. May they bless you as generations have already been blessed.

 

Rev. Jesse Jacobsen is pastor of Bethany and Concordia Lutheran Churches in The Dalles and Hood River, Oregon, and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. He and his wife Erica have been blessed with five children, the most recent of whom were twin girls born last December. He graduated in 1994 from Northwestern College in Watertown, Wisconsin, and in 1998 from Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota. Before moving to Oregon, the Jacobsens lived in Madison, Wisconsin, where Pastor Jacobsen acquired the BMW K75 motorcycle that he now finds so useful in his weekly travels through the picturesque Columbia River Gorge. Besides preaching and teaching God’s word, he enjoys finding cheap-but-effective solutions to the technical needs of churches and ministers.


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  1. Momof3inTenn
    October 27th, 2012 at 22:44 | #1

    Pastor Jacobsen – Thank you for your article. I agree with most everything you wrote, except I think that formal catechesis should begin sooner. You wrote:

    “When the youth in a church are ready to learn, we take advantage of their learning ability by having them memorize the chief teachings of Christianity, as summarized in the Small Catechism.”

    As a home educator who uses and has studied the classical model, I think we wait just long enough for our children find it harder to memorize before we begin confirmation. Children have an innate ability to memorize from preschool thru about 11 or 12 years old. This “theory” was born out in our homeschool last year when we decided to begin memorizing the catechism. The 5-year-old had the easiest time memorizing, hands down. The next easiest was the third grader, then the fifth grader, and I won’t even mention my abilities. With confirmation starting in many churches at 6th or 7th grade, we do not capitalize on their abilities early enough. Granted, children younger than about 12 do not have the reasoning capabilities to understand all of the lessons encompassed in confirmation, but I believe we should start teaching them the Small Catechism much sooner with the understanding that the first step is memorization.

    Another point on which I disagree:

    “When youth are finished and confirmed, they have a solid foundation for understanding our faith, their baptism, and the world around them. They are also prepared to receive holy communion together with the rest of the Church. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”

    I do not believe we should be waiting to commune children until they are 13 or 14 years old or older. In my humble opinion, these are not the “little children” about whom our Lord was speaking. Children as young as 2nd or 3rd grade are completely capable of understanding Holy Communion, and I believe they should be instructed and be able to partake in the sacrament. If the sacrament does what we say it does, why would we want to keep it from our children? Last year my third grader said to me, “If communion is for the forgiveness of sins, why don’t they give it to kids, since we are sinners, too?” No Wesleyan or Baptist that one.

    As I said, I believe in lifelong catechesis. I just think that formal catechesis should begin sooner.

  2. Jack K
    October 28th, 2012 at 00:43 | #2

    Didn’t Martin Luther say that the Small Catechism was as the head of the household should teach? Certainly, a pastor is head of no household, other than his own.

    Why should family pass on to the pastor and congregation that which is theirs to do?

    Were I a pastor, I would be glad to present to the congregation a child under the age of confirmation who is able to demonstrate that the head of the household has taught that child properly.

    Let’s not pass on to the church that which is ours.

  3. Dutch
    October 28th, 2012 at 10:16 | #3

    Interesting article. However, when I see those in Her, do said same, that is preached & taught, even with discipline, then maybe.

    If we aren’t willing to do the hard bits, why ask it of sheep?

  4. helen
    October 28th, 2012 at 17:16 | #4

    @Momof3inTenn #1
    I think we wait just long enough for our children find it harder to memorize before we begin confirmation.

    Why do you assume that memorization of the catechism needs to wait until confirmation class? It should be done by then, if the home/Sunday School is doing its job.
    The Pastor should be able to explain, expand and add to the basic knowledge already attained.
    Children also learn quite a bit by being in church regularly, especially if the service is not changed every week!

    [However, our Pastor expected a great deal of memorization in addition to the Small Catechism, in confirmation class.]

  5. ralph luedtke
    October 28th, 2012 at 17:33 | #5

    should not some dp’s need to be taught as these children!!!!!!!

  6. helen
    October 28th, 2012 at 19:37 | #6

    @ralph luedtke #5
    should not some dp’s need to be taught as these children!!!!!!!

    If they ever were, it would appear that they’ve decided not to believe it. :(

  7. Momof3inTenn
    October 28th, 2012 at 20:17 | #7

    Helen – I agree. Until this year, our Sunday School required little if any memorization. I was not raised Lutheran, so I never had to memorize the catechism, and honestly, it didn’t occur to me to have my children do it until we started homeschooling. Now we are learning it together. My son is also required to do other memory work in confirmation, so he has double duty.

  8. helen
    October 29th, 2012 at 09:49 | #8

    @Momof3inTenn #7
    I was not raised Lutheran, so I never had to memorize the catechism, and honestly, it didn’t occur to me to have my children do it

    You are “doing it as soon as you could” and I congratulate you.

    Would that thousands of “LCMS born” parents had been as interested in their children’s eternal welfare as they have been in Little League soccer/softball/dance class/”you name it” in the past decades!

  9. October 29th, 2012 at 11:17 | #9

    @Momof3inTenn #1 – Your comment brings me joy, because I agree with both of your points. My own family is schooling at home using the classical model, and we’ve found the same things to be true that you have found. Our oldest is now in catechism class at church, and I find that she has similar advantages to those found among Christian day school-educated 7th graders. Part of this comes from our use of good resources in our home school, and part from her diligence. (By the way, here’s an online tool using a technique you probably already know, but anyone with a web browser can use at their convenience. Homeschoolers and catechists unite!)

    This has influenced the way I handle catechism class at church, so that we admit students as soon as the parents and I agree the right time has come. The instruction takes as long as the student needs to master the materials, though the rule of thumb is still two years with a trip through the catechism each year. Several times we’ve continued class through the summer or into the third school year, when the student’s motivation tends to increase. I lament that this doesn’t permit time for Bible history teaching as we are able to do in our home, but at this point at least I try to make such things available to the parents, who bear the primary responsibility for the education of their children.

    On that point, I agree with @Jack K #2, but for several reasons, I would still defend the choice of those parents who wish to have the pastor teach the catechism directly to their children. Rather than an abdication of their responsibility, it can be seen as an exercise of their responsibility, if they contribute to their children’s catechesis as I described in the post.

    We hope to start a Lutheran elementary school here in The Dalles, which would also use the classical model as recommended by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It would start too late for most of my children, but the youngest might be able to attend. While homeschooling is also an excellent choice for those who can do it, I believe that the school would be the best opportunity for all of our families to educate their children in the best way possible, especially in Lutheran catechesis.

    @Helen #1 – Your comment on teaching the Catechism in Sunday School also strikes a chord. By God’s grace, we’ve managed to incorporate voluntary memorization of the Small Catechism into our Sunday School openings, and have found that the students are generally very proud of their accomplishments, and excited to do more. It helps when they see some of their peers doing very well, based upon the advantage of several years of memorization already under their belts!

  10. November 4th, 2012 at 21:02 | #10

    @Jack K #2

    The internal headings of the Small Catechism direct that it be taught by the head of the household. The Preface to the Small Catechism directs that it be taught by the pastor. It’s both/and, not either/or.

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