Catechesis and the Art of Tractor Maintenance

IMG_5769In the early seventies my Grandpa bought a 1951 Ford 8N tractor. The “N” series tractor still holds the record as the best selling tractor of all time. This tractor was a true workhorse – however, when it was put away in the shed for a couple decades it no longer had power; in fact, it couldn’t be forced to start!

After my dad rebuilt the engine (“rebuilt” – a word fraught with heavy meaning, but here means just bringing it back to the original specs) it not only runs, but has more strength than it’d had in decades! What a joy to have that tractor that so easily could have been consigned to the scrapyard now working and “pulling its weight!”

You may be saying, “That’s a charming story, Mike, but what on earth does such an anecdote have to do with anything?” You’d be right in asking that, let me now connect it to our spiritual life.

LutheranClergyAll too often we have a feeling that once confirmed, we’re done with study of Scripture and the catechism. But that is analogous to letting the tractor sit, bringing it out once in a while to plow, pull, or mow. Just like a tractor needs maintenance regularly to run and do its intended job a child of God needs the Word and Sacraments to “run well.” We need the catechism not merely as a textbook for some graduationesque ceremony, but as regular maintenance to keep us focused on and in Christ. The Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine encapsulated in the catechism are truly the “layman’s Bible,” and more important than we can ever explain.

So with the tractor, it is easy to follow a schedule and change the oil, check the battery’s charge, and check the fluids, but with the life of people (children and adults) it is a more involved task. Grab your hymnal – not only does it include the Small Catechism, it has hymns that teach the faith in such a beautiful and memorable way. LSBLook at “These Are the Holy Ten Commands” (LSB 581) for the Ten Commandments, “We All Believe in One True God” (LSB 954) for the Creed, “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (LSB 766) for the Lord’s Prayer, “Baptized into Your Name Most Holy” (LSB 590) for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, “Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared” (LSB 622) for the Sacrament of the Altar, and “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” (LSB 607) for the Office of the Keys. Introducing these hymns in your devotional life and that of your family is an excellent way of keeping the truth of the catechism in your memory and will aid in making sure that like a tractor that’s maintained you’ll keep running well.

We wouldn’t ignore the oil level of a tractor, let’s not do the same thing with our spiritual life.

About Mike Borg

Mike Borg is a poor miserable sinner who rejoices in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. He serves as Kantor and is Fifth and Sixth grade instructor at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Cheyenne, WY. Mike and his wonderful wife Michelle have three children and enjoy country living in Wyoming with their goats, turkeys, grapes, and hops.

Comments

Catechesis and the Art of Tractor Maintenance — 20 Comments

  1. Thanks Mike!

    This is a good encouragement for me to memorize the small catechism, since I didn’t grow up Lutheran. Would you encourage adult converts to memorize the small or large catechism?

  2. I’d start with the Small Catechism (there are even some very handy apps for IOS and Android), and then take a look at the Large to explain any questions that might arise.

  3. Love this article, Mike. Title is brilliant. Question about your hymn selection: Half of the mentioned are the original Lutheran catechism hymns, others are more recent substitutes. Any particular reason for these 6? Do you feel 590 teaches Baptism better than 406, or that 622 teaches the Supper better than 627?

    I ask for purely practical reasons. In my new call, our congregation only knows one of the traditional catechism hymns well, and thus we are strategizing to integrate them all into regular use. Curious as to which hymns, if any, you think might accomplish the same catechetical ends more thoroughly, and, be given a musical setting that is an easier sell to the average joe in the pew.

  4. Thanks so much!
    I absolutely adore and love the hymns you mentioned (To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord; and Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior), I listed the ones I greatly enjoy singing to myself whilst working with the tractor. 🙂 If people are more familiar with the older catechetical hymnody I’d be ecstatic! Ease of learning tune/words is very important – our culture now even “thinks” musically different than 300 years ago (thinking now more in a melody/harmony dichotomy instead of point/counterpoint or even plainsong and chant). “What Is This Bread” gets some bad press for a simple tune sometimes, but is also a great start.

  5. We need the catechism not merely as a textbook for some graduationesque ceremony, but as regular maintenance to keep us focused on and in Christ. The Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine encapsulated in the catechism are truly the “layman’s Bible,” and more important than we can ever explain.

    Excellent article.   Many senior citizens like myself prefer the 1943 translation because of its familiarity.   It’s kind of hard to find online but here is one link:

    http://www.lutheranchoralebook.com/resources/catechism/

  6. @backinthefold #8

    Backinthefold wrote, “Yup, the 1943 translation is poetry.”

    Agreed, as is the KJV Bible; but going back to something I wrote on another (now deleted!) thread, we need to follow Luther’s example and communicate in the language of the people. Luther didn’t translate the Bible into an archaic version of German, he translated it into the language of the people of his day. Similarly, he didn’t write his Catechism in Latin or archaic German, but in the German language of his time.

    Our Confirmation Class age kids have a hard enough time grasping theological concepts. We don’t need to hinder them further by teaching those concepts in an archaic version of English.

    So, I agree that the 1943 Catechism is poetic; but it’s not the best means of communicating the Catechism today. Another problem is its translation of the Fifth Commandment as “Thou shalt not kill.” The new Catechisms have the more correct translation of the Hebrew: “You shall not murder.” There’s a big difference between “killing” and “murder”—which is something I explained when I was teaching both kids and adults.

  7. @Rev. Robert Fischer (Emeritus) #9

    A little correction. Luther didn’t translate into “the language of the people in his day” because “German” was horribly diverse and scattered across what is now known as “Germany”. He actually picked a dialect and the various territories grew to adopt it as they used printed materials coming from Saxony. So in a way, Luther was not making it easy for everyone in every place to be taught “where they were at” but he was being quite catholic in getting Lutherans to speak the same language.

  8. @Rev. Robert Fischer (Emeritus) #9

    Pastor Fischer–

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my off-the-cuff remark.

    First, like you, I was thinking of the analogy to the KJV of the Bible when I wrote my very brief little note about the SC. Due to my age, there are things from both the 1943 SC translation and the KJV that will stick in my mind as long as I have a mind. Wonderful, memorable turns of phrase. They are at the core of my belief and my prayer.

    Second, I agree that the more recent SC translation makes some needed and more precise language modifications. The Fifth Commandment is an excellent example. I make sure that we hit that necessary modification in my Bible classes. So, I do concede that point.

    However, I still might make a pitch that sacred things can accommodate special language. Accurate translations? Of course. But I do not think that it hurts a reading and studying audience to see that it is working with something very special. I know that you are not advocating that the SC be turned into a poetry slam or a rap song. Not at all. But I do not think that it hurts to set sacred things off in special, maybe even archaic turns of phrase now and then. We certainly do that in our liturgy.

    Again, though, my disagreement with you is very slight. One way or the other, the SC is a critical building block for us Lutherans.

  9. @Rev. Robert Fischer (Emeritus) #9

    I’ve never met anyone who currently advocates teaching confirmation to middle schoolers using the 1943 translation nor the KJV Bible.  The new translations are much easier to teach, understand, and probably more accurate.

    For us old-timers, the new translations are just a little jarring and distractive compared to what we have absorbed.   Like Mr B, I still appreciate the poetry.  “Put the best construction on everything” was a genuine part of our culture.  I miss those words.

  10. @backinthefold #11

    Backinthefold wrote, “But I do not think that it hurts to set sacred things off in special, maybe even archaic turns of phrase now and then.”

    Again, we have a slight disagreement. Jesus and the apostles spoke and wrote of special, sacred things. The languages they used? Common Aramaic and Koine (common!) Greek—not the archaic, Classical Attic Greek of Plato and Aristotle. The words were common and humble, even as our Lord came in humility. “Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

  11. @John Rixe #12

    John wrote, “I’ve never met anyone who currently advocates teaching confirmation to middle schoolers using the 1943 translation nor the KJV Bible.”

    John, I introduce you to the Lutheran Churches of the Reformation (LCR):

    The congregations of the L.C.R. are well-known for their exclusive use of not only the KJV but also the traditional Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther (1943 “Blue” edition)…
    http://www.lcrusa.org/a-synopsis-of-the-lcr.html

  12. I’m a John Deere guy myself when it comes to tractors, but I gotta admit that Ford does look nice.

    Back to the point: you’re absolutely right. A person, a congregation, a synod well-rooted in the catechism is far more likely to be faithful to doctrine and practice in the long run, and far less likely to be swayed by the false doctrines of the world and the heterodox church bodies out there.

  13. Mike,
    My one and only neighbor had a Ford “N” series which looked very similar to the one pictured. It was a machine built of brawn and beauty. Kinda humbled me sitting on my John Deere 4110. Just cause it’s old doesn’t mean it lacks beauty and muscle – kinda like the ’43 Catechism.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  14. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #10
    A little correction. Luther didn’t translate into “the language of the people in his day” because “German” was horribly diverse and scattered across what is now known as “Germany”. He actually picked a dialect and the various territories grew to adopt it as they used printed materials coming from Saxony. So in a way, Luther was not making it easy for everyone in every place to be taught “where they were at” but he was being quite catholic in getting Lutherans to speak the same language.

    Quite right; they learned to read and write one form of German because Luther’s Bible and other writings were copied widely at a time when most hadn’t learned to read/write at all. [Or they did it in Latin.]

    But they didn’t lose the dialects! Our [insert g’s as needed] grandparents brought those here. To a Waldecker, ‘Pommer’ was near unintelligible!

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