Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision — The 1st Article of the Creed

Here is another guest article on the proposed revisions to the Catechism:

 

20161006_143222_resizedThis review is in no way intended to be the final say in a discussion of the Revision.  The intention is merely to begin a conversation that might guide us to a more profitable revision of the Explanation.  As such, more attention will be given to the areas which require more attention than others.  It is not my intention to give a question by question analysis of the revision.  If the tone is overly harsh, this is merely for the sake of brevity.  No offense is intended.

In the Revision, the First Article is broken up into three sections for closer evaluation.  This is a pedagogically good way to analyze and explain the catechism.  However, in many cases the content fails to deliver the intended purpose of explaining the catechism.  In particular, there are a number of questions which require answers that are not merely an explanation of the catechism, but the content of a discursus (e.g. Question 105).

It seems to the casual reader that the intention of the First Chief part is to introduce language that is foreign to our common confession and to jettison the more historical referents to God as many in the Synod have come to know Him.  My primary concern is the overuse of the language defining God as “Creator” rather than “Father”.  While it is true that we live in an age where this doctrine (of creation) is popularly rejected in favor of a deistic or humanistic philosophy (as is excellently defined in question 122), we do not do well to replace our theological definitions.  In fact, we do damage to the truth when we do so.  (As a side note, a more substantial discussion on inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture would likely suffice to defend this doctrine without introducing new language and abandoning Lutheran distinctions.  See Questions 7 and 8.)  If we want to defend creation we ought to defend the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

Again, the concern arises that we must not abandon God’s self-disclosure as Father in favor of language of creation.  The question must be asked, Do we define God primarily by what He has done?  Or do we define Him by whom He has revealed Himself to be in His very essence?  If it is the former, then the explanation has little need to change before printing.  However, if it is the latter, significant changes must be made.

The argument could be made that the Apostle’s Creed itself makes the case for defining God by His actions, but this would be to ignore the title given the First person of the Trinity.  He does not define Himself as “Creator”, but as “Father”.  Jesus never says, “I and the ‘Creator’ are one”, He says, “I and the Father are one.”  In an attempt to emphasize the creative action of God, the writers of the explanation have ignored the self-disclosure which God Himself has given us.

When we understand God to be the creator of heaven and earth, we only understand this in relation to His being the Father.  He does not create because He is a creator.  He creates because He is the Father.  He makes man in His own image, not because He is a creative entity, but because He is the Father to the Son since before time.  How God relates to Himself is not something incidental to His nature, it is His very essence.  Rather than placing the doctrine of the Trinity in a supplement to the Creed (page 108), the doctrine of the Trinity must be front and center of our understanding of who God is.  If we fail to address this, we fail to have a right understanding of who God declares Himself to be.

 

The First Article (Part 1)

The first question asked in Part 1 is “Why does the Creed begin by confessing God as the ‘maker’ of heaven and earth?” (Question 96)  The question itself is flawed in that the Creed does not begin by confessing God as the “maker”.  The Creed begins by calling God the Father Almighty.  It is true that God, the Father Almighty, is then described as “maker of heaven and earth,” but this is only after ascribing to Him Fatherhood.  If we fail to confess the Fatherhood and teach our children accordingly, they will be exposed to the lies of the Jews, the Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all others who call on a god who created but must not be known as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, when we define God according to His Fatherhood, we are defining Him according to His self-disclosed trinitarian nature.  It is true that there are many atheists and agnostics who attack the Christian understanding of a creator, but there are also many (and increasingly) others who are not offended by the doctrine of creation as much as they are by the doctrine of the Trinity.

Questions 99 and 100 address a topic that was insufficiently covered in the ‘91 catechism: the sustenance of creation.  God not only creates, He also sustains creation by His Fatherly hand.  This section is a welcome improvement from the previous edition.

Question 103 finally turns to the topic of the Father in relation to the Son.  But this is given in the “connections and applications” section when it should be the foundational truth with which we begin our understanding of the First Article.

Question 105 is well-intentioned, however, such a topic would be much more readily attained by the pupil if a simpler question and answer were provided, such as “How do we regard competing accounts of how the world came to be?”  Answer: Read the Bible.  If a more substantial appraisal of inerrancy and inspiration were given prior to this point in the explanation, this question would not need any further discussion.

Question 106-113 displays the absurd use of “human creature” and “non-human creature”.  This language is not helpful.  Why would the writer not use the distinctions given in Genesis 1 and 2?  And if a focus on the angelic and demonic hosts was desired, why not simply use the language of the Nicene Creed?  This talk of “non-human creatures” is not in keeping with sound instruction which is found in the language given by Scripture.  God created man in His own image, He did not create “human creatures.”  Biblical language is sufficient, so why introduce such foreign language?

 

Part 2

This section is largely approved, given the language of “human creatures” is replaced with Biblical language (i.e. remove “nonhuman creation” and simply say “creation”).

Question 120 could be improved if a discussion were given with regard to suffering as a blessing from God.  For the Christian, suffering is not evil, but a way in which God joins His children to the cross (Romans 8).  The answers provided fail to acknowledge that God, more than merely allowing suffering, sends suffering for the good of His children.  In such a hedonistic society as we live in today, this must be explained.

Question 122 is pedagogically sound in providing definition of terms for those who fail to recognize God as the provider of all physical and spiritual blessings.

 

Part 3

This was the strongest section of the First Article.  The questions followed one after another in a logical way with answers that were more or less concise and clear.

Question 124 and its answers is particularly commendable.  The third bullet point in the answer is “Life in this world remains a good gift even when we feel that life is more of a curse than a gift, more of a burden than a delight, more tearful than joyful.”  This answer is exceptionally good considering the view modern Americans are trained to have toward beginning and end of life care.  Life is valuable because God has given it, not because it is enjoyed by those to whom He gave it.

 

Closing Thoughts

The discussion given on the First Article in the Explanation succeeds in noticeably changing paths from the previous four editions.  However, the question should be asked, to what end?  While there are certainly ways in which the previous edition could have been, and in some cases, has been improved, what was the intention of the revision writers in starting from scratch and (seemingly) failing to begin with what came before?  The Explanation ought to do exactly as it is titled, explain.  And building upon what came before is the way we teach in the parish, not throwing out everything taught by previous shepherds.  In introducing new language to the catechism, three things will happen.  First, the pupil will fail to learn the language of his fathers in the faith.  Second, the pupil will become distracted by sidebar discussions and “non-human creature” speech (i.e. people just don’t talk that way, so why would we?  It’s just distracting.)  Finally, and most egregiously, the pupil will fail to accurately learn what the contents of the Small Catechism mean.  In this regard, the Explanation has failed.  Perhaps the writers should throw this revision out and begin again, this time starting with the previous edition as a reference.

 

 

Rev. Michael J. Kearney
Saint Paul Lutheran Church
Alden, IA


Comments

Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision — The 1st Article of the Creed — 2 Comments

  1. It seems that no amount of additional elaboration can overcome the fundamental weakness in the words that Luther himself uses to explain the meaning of this article. The difficulty is that, unlike his other explanations, Luther explains this particular article in terms of personal physical circumstances which vary tremendously both among people and within the lifetimes of most individuals.

    God is to be thanked and praised for whatever material blessings we enjoy. But God’s people are not all as healthy and prosperous as Luther describes. On the basis of our own contemporary experience as well as many Biblical examples, we cannot honestly say, “This is most certainly true.”

    This is not a question about the reasons for suffering, but much more simply about what the Christian life may actually look like in terms of material well-being. Why does the Small Catechism say —
    — God “still takes care of” faculties that may be diminished or lost by age or injury?
    — “He also gives me…” when a lot of Christian people don’t have all those things?
    — “He richly and daily provides me…” when at least some Christian people suffer and even die from want?
    — “He defends me against all danger…” when Christian people get into dangerous situations and do suffer harm as a result?
    — He “guards and protects me from all evil” when evil people do bad things to Christians, and Satan even tempts some into unbelief?

    Perhaps the revised explanation could at least recognize the obvious differences between the Catechism’s language and the realities of life, and suggest a reasonable response to the differences?
    _______________________

    FWIW, I’ve tried my hand at an alternative explanation that does not rely on an illustration of an atypically comfortable life but still recognizes God’s provision with a spirit of gratitude:

    I believe that God has made the entire universe of which I am a part, and that he has given me my body and soul and all my abilities.

    Because God loves me and has power over all that he has made, I can look to him to provide me with food and clothing, a place to call home, people who care about me, and everything else that I need to be healthy, happy and safe. He is continually working for my good in ways that I cannot see or even understand.

    Everything that God allows me to enjoy in this life he has provided not because I deserve it, but because of his own divine mercy and goodness. So my best response is to live with gratitude for whatever I have that seems good — whether that amounts to a little or a lot — praising God, obeying him, and using his gifts for the benefit of other people.

    This is most certainly true.</em

    “Choose the form that pleases you….”
    Luther’s preface to his Small Catechism, as published in the Book of Concord

  2. Regarding Part 2 (as referenced above), I would agree that the discussion of suffering seems incomplete without recognizing that God not only allows but may choose to send suffering for His own righteous purposes. We read in the Bible that God sent famines, for example. And we understand that the Lord disciplines those whom he loves. (Hebrews 12:6)

    But I also think we need to be exceedingly careful about discussing this aspect of suffering so that it does not contribute to false guilt in someone who is already in pain (“God must be disciplining you.”), nor does it diminish our own motivation to show God’s compassion generously wherever needed (“God must want them to suffer.”).

    To illustrate, let’s say for example that your Christian teenage daughter has been brutally assaulted by a gang and now lies in the hospital, heavily sedated to help her cope with the otherwise excruciating emotional and physical pain. While you sit sadly by her hospital bed agonizing beyond words over her future, a pastor comes in and says this:

    “Her suffering in this terrible way is ‘a blessing from God … not an evil, but a way in which God joins [her] to the cross;’ God ‘sends suffering for the good of His children’, so he must have sent those men to do this awful thing for her own good.” (Inner quotes drawn from the article above.)

    How would you react? Why?

    Is it more precisely in the outcome of suffering, rather than the suffering itself, where might find blessing? But how can we know what the outcome will be? If personal suffering results in people leaving the Body of Christ in pain and unbelief, is that suffering sent from God? How could it be from God if “a house divided against itself cannot stand”? (Mark 3:25)

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