Here is another guest article on the proposed revisions to the Catechism:
The Second Article of the Creed is the beating heart of the Christian confession. It concerns the person and work of Jesus Christ. Here Christ is revealed in His person as God and man and in His precious, saving work for mankind. Luther says, “We see how He has completely poured forth Himself and withheld nothing from us” (LC II. 26). Therefore, it must present the Christ of the Scriptures to the catechumen in simple and focused ways. Those issues where our culture clouds out the truth of Christ must have the truth shined on them. The following essay will present thoughts on the Second Article in light of Luther’s Large Catechism and the former Explanations of 1912, 1943, and 1991.
The format of the proposed Explanation of the Small Catechism presents an improvement over the format of the previous Explanations. The section of the Creed and Luther’s meaning that will be covered for the one lesson is bolded for focus. The Second Article of the Creed is broken up into three lessons. The lesson begins in with a Socratic question and answer based on a Scripture reading. This makes for a convenient, complete lesson that creates discussion.
The Second Article, Part I: “I Believe that Jesus Christ…is my Lord…”
The Second Article: Part I concerns the language of the Apostles’ Creed itself and the first line of the meaning: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord…” (p. 73). The central thought is “Who do people say that I am?” This central thought will lead into the question of Jesus’ person. There is ample room here for the catechist to consider the a few of the many interpretations of Jesus vying for acceptance in the world (Catechists will certainly be aware of general trends, e.g., Jesus as example (WWJD), Jesus as teacher of the “Philosophia Christi” (Erasmus), Jesus as gender-transcending social activist (liberal American Christianity), Jesus as a revolutionary peasant (J.D. Crossan/Jesus Seminar). The catechumens are led through a reading of John 20:24-29 and are led to confess the fullness of Christ, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).
The central thought leads to “A Closer Reading of the Small Catechism.” This is an improvement in format. This gives the catechist a chance to meditate simply on the words of the Small Catechism with the catechumens. Seven Questions (131-137) fit in this short section. This section helps the catechumen to understand what we are doing when we confess that Jesus is Lord. It also gives an appropriate Bible verse to the topic.
The Explanation affirms that “Jesus is my Lord.” There is a subjective shift in accord with Luther’s personal language in the Catechism’s meaning. The Lord who has become God and man has taken this on to win my salvation. His incarnation has a unique purpose, the salvation of mankind. His incarnation gives way to His work of saving mankind.
Gone are the questions about the “necessity” of Jesus being God or man. This is unfortunate, as those questions are all found in the 1912, 1943, and 1991 Explanations. Instead, Question 134 asks, “What does it mean to confess that Jesus is true God?” The answer given is: “The Son is God in the very same sense that the Father is God – namely, He existed from all eternity and, together with the Father and the Spirit, created the entire universe and everything within it.” (p. 74). This is true. The strange thing about the answer is that it defines the divinity of the Son – an unknown/unknowable concept – with an equally unknowable divinity – the divinity of the Father. It is a comparison (as far as I can tell the language “sense” is from Loehe’s Catechism). Better might be to bring catechumens from the Apostles’ Creed to the language of Holy Trinity Sunday and the Athanasian Creed. “The Son is God of the very same essence as the Father and the Spirit…” Similarly, Question 136 asks, “What does it mean to confess that Jesus is true man?” The answer given is “Jesus is human in the very same sense that we are human, except without sin.” This is the same kind answer. “Sense” is a strange word and insufficient. I think better would be: “Jesus is man of the very same nature as we are, except without sin.”
The closer reading of the Small Catechism leads into a broader section on “Connections and Applications.” The Christology presented in this section has a unique emphasis on Christ as the Creator: “the One by whom all things were made” (Nicene Creed). More precisely, He is the agent of creation (John 1:1-3). A hint of the CTCR’s “In Christ All Things Hold Together” lingers in the presentation of the Christology in the new Explanation. This makes for an answer to the evolutionary and scientifically-driven Zeitgeist. Unfortunately, this novel focus also takes the emphasis off of presenting Christ as the Christ and Messiah who comes “to save the people from their sins” (Mt 1:21) with which the 1912, 1943, and 1991 Explanations all began. Less emphasis is put on the necessity of fulfilling of the law and the Old Testament in the section on Second Article.
As an example of this “Christ as Creator” emphasis, Question 139 asks, “How did the incarnation take place?” The answer “The Holy Spirit fashioned from Mary (that is, from her very DNA) a human body and soul for the Son of God.” Here the language of DNA is brought in. Jesus became man with the very same fabric of life as we have. This is a compelling explanation.
The Christ here presented is uniquely the “Brother” (Heb. 2:11) of man. It is the fraternal Christology of the Easter Gospel. The Christ presented here is the Christ of the New Testament. Scores of Christians have learned this and taken great comfort in its saving truth.
One statement answering the question, “What does it mean for us as human creatures that the Son of God has become our brother?” is particularly disconcerting. The answer is: “Jesus has a human gender” (pg. 76). The language of “human gender” is a uniquely cultural import. It answers the question raised by gender theorists at this waning cultural moment. As fast as this LGBTQ movement has changed in its thinking makes one wonder if this is actually a useful statement to include in the Explanation. More enduring, better substance of our confession would be: “Jesus has a particular biological sex,” or simply, “Jesus is a man.”
The Second Article, Part 2: “…Who has redeemed me…with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death…”
The Second Article, Part 2 considers the redemption that mankind has in Jesus Christ.
The central thought is “Human history has been constantly characterized by hatred and
violence. Despite all our scientific and technological progress, why have we not overcome these deep-seated problems that plague our human race?” This central thought gets at the absolute human need for redemption in Jesus Christ. There is a broad field here for discussion about the depths of the depravity of human nature. Genesis 3 stands as the theological rationale.
The Explanation focuses on explaining “redemption” with the word, “rescue.” The significance of Christ’s work is to rescue sinners lost and enslaved in sin.
The descriptions of Jesus’ work on the cross for sinners are beautifully Biblical and there is persuasive exegesis. Catechists would do well to know the contexts of each of these important sedes doctrinae before teaching on this article. The Explanation of the Catechism always appears as a book of mere “proof texts.” If our catechists are not grounded in the Scriptures, these can become merely that. A catechist who is well-grounded in the Scriptures can explain these sedes doctrinae in their depth so as not to promote a shallow Evangelical proof-text Christianity but a robust presentation of the saving work of Christ.
Christ “fully endured and appeased (propitiated) the wrath of God toward us, thereby reconciling us to God.” (p. 81). “Appeased” is too weak of a verb for what Jesus is doing for poor sinners. The word “propitiate” is the great word of Christ’s work. We must get to the bottom of this word if we are to understand who Christ is and what He has done to win the salvation of mankind.
On page 83, the assertion is made, “as our brother, Jesus was faced with real human dilemmas…” The example that is given is of Jesus at the Wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). The point is that Jesus faced dilemma. The assumption of the exegesis is that Jesus “gave in” to Mary, His mother. This is a weak exegetical point. Surely there are many better examples than this one of Jesus enduring with sinners than this uncertain point. It also makes Him look strangely indecisive in His activity at the wedding.
Question 153 says, “What comfort does the state of humiliation bring us?” The answer is phenomenal reference to the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII. The answer: “Jesus promises us “that no only His mere divinity would be with them (which to us poor sinners is like a consuming fire on dry stubble). But Christ promised that He – He, the man who has spoken with them, who has experienced all tribulations in His received human nature, and who can therefore have sympathy with us, as with men and His brethren – He will be with us in our troubles also according to the nature by which He is our brother and we are flesh of His flesh.” This is excellent use of the Formula as a source for our catechesis. Small snippets like this can introduce younger catechumens to the richness of the Lutheran sources.
The Second Article, Part 3: “That I May Be His Own”
In part three, the central idea considers the “direction and purpose” Jesus gives to man’s
life: “that I may be His own.” The term “purpose” has been used to describe the third part of the Second Article since 1943 and 1991 updates. This “purpose” can easily be used to make the Christian life a merely law-driven matter. Since 1997, “purpose” is also an American Evangelical buzzword, equivalent to a confession of faith for many people indoctrinated by Rick Warren’s infamous, “The Purpose Driven Life,” for which Michael Horton has had to pen a corrective: “The Gospel-Driven Life.”
The 1912 Explanation saw the Christian life of discipleship to Jesus as one stemming from Jesus’ own work in the breadth of the Gospel, “Which words of the Catechism describe the fruit of Christ’s explanation and, likewise, the end and aim of the entire work of redemption?” “That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness…” Short, pithy, Anglo-Saxon-based words are better for the tender ears of the catechumenate. They can grow up to use their Latin and Greek based words. For now we need simplicity: ‘fruit,’ ‘aim,’ and/or ‘end’ are easier terms than “purpose.”
Have we lost anything from the previous Catechisms? This new Explanation has drifted from the specific language of ‘man,’ ‘woman,’ and ‘mankind.’ “Human creatures” has now trickled down from academic writing and into the Church’s Explanation of the Small Catechism. We certainly do ourselves no favors in our teaching of biological sex, marriage, the roles of men and woman in the order of creation by using the gender-neutral language of the academic communities. The American Gnostic specter waits outside the Church doors who can no longer say, “man” or “woman.”
Importing emphases as answers to the LGBTQ movement and the scientific worldview will make for this to be a helpful apologetic tool in some areas. This also will tend to give a shorter shelf-life to the proposed Explanation. As the culture shifts in the next twenty-five years, other questions will come up. The world has no rest. Its knowledge will continue to shift. The question we have to reckon with is: does the Church want to be doing these Explanations every 10-15 years? This is meant to be an enchiridion. That is, literally, “a small dagger,” not a large sweeping one. The proposed Explanation needs to be more focused. As it is now, this is a resource. It should not be thought to be a comprehensive explanation of the Christian faith. It is a help for preparing many different levels of classes in the congregation. As broad as this Explanation has become, perhaps it would be best to print this work as a mid-level “Expanded Explanation” in addition to the old one.
In closing, Luther reminds us about the importance of this Second Article of Christ: “Yes, the entire Gospel that we preach is based on this point, that we properly understand this article as that upon which our salvation and all our happiness (…“Heil und Seligkeit”…) rests. It is so rich and complete that we can never learn it fully” (LC II.33). May Christ’s teaching – His saving life, death, and resurrection be kept pure among us also.
Pastor Travis J. Loeslie
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Lester Prairie, MN