The Most Neglected Part of the Small Catechism

father-and-children-on-a-walk-1145736-mAs is my custom, I was wasting time on Facebook one day, and I came across a post from a friend that posed this question: “What is the most neglected part of the Small Catechism?”  I thought about it for a moment, and a few answers came to my mind very quickly: the table of duties and confession and absolution (even though it is right there in the 5th chief part!).  After letting my mind think on these texts for a moment or two and my own experience growing up in the LCMS, I read the answer the original post gave: “As the head of the family should teach it.”

Boom.  That hit me like a ton of bricks.

If you thumb through your 1986 Small Catechism (the actual catechism: Commandments, Creed, Our Father, Baptism, Confession/Keys, Lord’s Supper, Daily Prayers, Table of Duties, and Christian Questions with Their Answers), this phrase (or a form of it) appears seven times by my quick count.

“As the head of the family should teach it…”  It appears at the beginning of five of the six Chief Parts and in two other places.  If a man considers himself to be a confessional Lutheran, this phrase really ought to shape the way he practices his Christian faith.  In the words of the Small Catechism, what does this mean?

First and foremost, this means that the Small Catechism is a book for the home.  If the first time a young man sees the Small Catechism is at his congregation’s confirmation class informational meeting or at the first session of said class, this part of the Small Catechism has already been neglected.  In this example, the head of the household has abdicated his God-given vocation of the bishop of the home and abdicated it to the bishop of his parish.  Now, we certainly pray that all our Lutheran pastors are capable teachers of the faith as contained in the Small Catechism, especially since bishops are supposed to be “apt to teach (II Tim. 2:24).”  But if the first time this young man see the catechism, he’s already behind.  Our young children need these texts, just as much as 12, 13, and 14 year olds need them (just as much as heads of households need these texts).

Now, you might think, “Here’s a pastor looking to make his job easier when it comes to confirmation.”  Admittedly, you’d be right to think so.  It would be easier to approach the task of teaching a class on the catechism if the texts were familiar to the student (in a perfect world, they’d already be memorized, so more and in-depth instruction can replace the threatening and cajoling pastors often have to do to get students to do their memory work).  Yes.  I will admit to this.  However, it’s also a Scriptural idea, too.

In Deuteronomy 6, God commands the people, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

As if that’s not enough, a few chapters later, God says again, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Now, when God says something, it’s important.  But when God says the same thing twice—truly, truly—we should be listening.

All of this has made me feel incredibly guilty.  In fact, since I’ve been a pastor, I’ve been to two conferences that have had some focus on at home catechesis that have induced this feeling.  My children are young (4, 2, and 8 months), and it’s hard to do what God commands me to do—not as a pastor, but as a husband to my wife and father to my children.  It’s hard, and I fail miserably.  I am certain I’m not alone in this.  How easy is it to forgo family devotions because of a busy day or week?  Vacations are especially tough, because it’s hard for us to justify bringing a stack of books with us on the road.  If you have small children, you know how much “stuff” they need.  How easy is it for a week of not doing devotions turn into a month?  Oh, wretched father that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  We (including me!) need to repent and believe the Gospel.

Now, what I’m going to advocate isn’t a magic bullet.  I don’t claim to think by my doing (or your doing) that we can save the Missouri Synod or the Church catholic—that’s Christ’s job.  I can’t even promise that it will keep your children in the one true faith—that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  I’m also certainly not unique in my recommendations—I don’t like innovation; it’s too much work!  But I will promise that by doing these things I’m going to recommend, the Holy Spirit will be at work in the midst of your family, because the Spirit works through the Word (Romans 10 and AC V).

  1. Do devotions with your family—your whole family—every day.  Set a time to do it.  Stick with it.  Shut off the TV.  Don’t do anything else while you’re doing your devotions.
  2. Use a set form with your devotions—a liturgy, if you will.  Lutheran Service Book has some good options on pp. 295-298.  Routine with kids is important.  Heck, routine with adults is a good thing.  When you can’t lug all your devotional books with you, if you have the liturgy with you in your mind, you don’t necessarily need a book.  This is a good thing for parents on Sunday mornings, too, who can’t hold a hymnal while wrangling their children in the pews.
  3. Sing a hymn.  Don’t just skip it because you don’t have a pipe organ in your home.  There are some options for music in CPH’s catalogue, but this isn’t necessary, either.  My family sings a capella (without music), and it usually works pretty well.  Nothing leads a human voice better than a human voice.  I’d also suggest that you try to memorize hymns.  Again, if you know hymns by heart, you don’t have to bring your hymnal with you when you travel!
  4. Read the Scriptures and talk about them.  Right now, we use CPH’s Story Bible, which comes furnished with questions.  This even helps kids with reading comprehension!  Most importantly, though, faith comes by hearing (Romans 10).
  5. Pray the catechism.  President Harrison recently translated Martin Luther’s “A Simple Way to Pray” and put it in a booklet, and this is a good place to go.  With children as young as mine, praying the catechism right now means that we simply says the 10 Commandments, Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  At the end, we also say Luther’s evening prayer.  We do this every night, and the repetition has paid off.  My kids know these primary texts.
  6. Teach your kids to make the sign of the cross and fold their hands.  Little hands are busy.  If they learn to do these things, there will be less fidgeting and poking and hitting of siblings (well, that’s my hope).

This may seem intimidating at first.  It may seem disorganized.  For us, we’re trying to figure out what works best for our kids.  I have plans to work up to perhaps praying Vespers at home, but we aren’t there yet.  Devotions with your family will change shape as your family grows and ages.  Like I said, though, these are suggestions.  But teaching your kids the faith isn’t a suggestion.  It’s necessary.  Not because you, by your doing, are able to work up your faith into perfection, but because it’s God’s Word.  He’s the One at work.  As St. Paul reminds young pastor Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (I Tim. 4:16).”  And what a joy it is to sing, pray, and confess together as a family.  I rejoice that God has given me this task of teaching the faith to my children!


imageAssociate Editor’s Note:  With this post Pastor Jordan McKinley joins the regular crew of writers at BJS.  There will be some more changes in authors over the coming months.  Here is a little more about Pastor McKinley.

Rev. Jordan McKinley is the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bennett, IA, and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Stanwood, IA.  He’s a 2012 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN, and a 2006 graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, IN.  He is the husband of one wife, Andrea, and the father of three (Naomi, Collin, and Theodore).  Though he has a deep and abiding love of all things Star Trek, he will not likely be writing any theological treatises in Klingon.

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