Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision – Commandments 7-10.

20161006_143222_resizedGeneral comments

The “Central Thought” could be helpful but the questions involved in this section turns the focus on the student’s experience of the Law rather than what God says in the Law.  Perhaps the questions could be combined towards the end of the catechism as an appendix to be used in preparation for confession.

The removal of “forbid” and “require” for the negative and positive commands of the Law is not helpful, especially since now fear and love of God is used for both.  Also not helpful is that there is usually another question before the basic commandments of the catechism.

The “Connections and Applications” section is far too curriculum sounding rather than a simple catechism explanation.  It attempts casuistry at times.  It also veers into confusion about the audience (is this for adults or children?).  This section is far too locked in time to be useful for long.

The inclusion of a hymn and prayer for each section is a nice addition, teaching the usefulness of using the catechism for prayer.


Seventh Commandment

The section on the Seventh Commandment is lacking in a few areas.  First of all, in the “Central Thought” it describes the situation as “God created us” rather than “God commands us”.  The Law is strict, harsh, and absolutely demanding.  We should not lessen that.

The creation language is stuff I have seen in other critiques.  While we should always affirm creation, it should not replace other things (commands; God the Father; etc.).

In question 58 the answer includes that money and possessions are there for the enjoyment of life.  This is not supported by the supplied Biblical passages.  Bringing in the language of enjoyment is highly subjective and very questionable in a society so enamored with happiness.

The language of question 59 is confusing.  “Not denying” is just not helpful.

There are limited proof texts provided in these questions, which also doesn’t help.

The ordering of the answers for the “fear and love” (formerly forbid/require) section does not follow the order of the catechism.  This is confusing.

The revision does not restore how we should rejoice in our neighbor’s success like the 1943 catechism.  That seems a rather practical point which should be made with how “practical” the revision tries to be.

The “Connections and Applications” section of this commandment is just plain bad.  It gets too specific and uses language that is new and just plain requiring explanation (creaturely gifts?; flourish?).  An effort is made to explain the role of vocation which is good and commendable.  Of course there is also the severe stench of the “green” movement.  The earth is not only to be cared for, but used for the good of the neighbor.  The verses used to support the most “green” answer are all from the Pentateuch, including a citation of the civil law of Israel (Leviticus).  Too much flourishing going on.  Too much curriculum attempted when the explanation has historically been something very different.


The Eighth Commandment

Again in the “Central Thought” section it uses different language than “God commands”.  Here “God calls” is used.  We need to set the law in place in all its severity and strictness.  Also some confusing language here “by which a person”.   The usage of “enhance” in the main thought is also confusing.  Again, audience confusion may be at play here.

The “Closer Reading” section first starts to explain why a good reputation is important but fails to tie in anything about what a Christian’s reputation may do to the name of God among us.  They missed an opportunity to tie in other commandments and petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

The explanation again fails to keep the good distinction of the “Forbid/Require” of the previous catechism explanations.  This brings confusion in the application of the meaning of the Commandment and is not helpful.

Utterly missing from most of this explanation is the role the human heart plays in this.  This was in the 1912 and 1943 but already gone by the 1991.  The 1912 also made a good point about our defending our neighbors when others make false accusations about them.  Some good proof texts were also removed including the harshest ones about God punishing violators of this commandment.  Again, let’s let the Law be as strict and severe as it can be.

In particularly interesting in the context of the LCMS was the removal of Matthew 18 from the verses in this section.  Every explanation up until this one has used Matthew 18 as a text to show our duty in speaking about our neighbor.  Also missing is Psalm 50.

In the “Connections and Applications” section there is again the same “curriculum vs. explanation” confusion.  Bullying gets a mention.  Social media makes an appearance.  They do mention that keeping this commandment means pointing out false teachings and false teachers is good, but the Large Catechism here also makes note of vocation having a role in what you can say and to whom.  That is lacking in the revision.  Lastly there is a question which I would largely put in the category of “casuistry” which is a situational question whose answer might depend on individual situations.  In particular this answer leaves it to the person’s judgment to determine if in a case the truth may result in “injustice or harm”.  I would simply leave such considerations to the Christian working with their pastor rather than trying to codify it into black and white here in an explanation.


The Ninth and Tenth Commandments

First of all the new revision groups the Ninth and Tenth Commandments together and doesn’t do much to explain their difference.  I am not sure why this is so.  The 1912, 1943, and 1991 all divide the two up and have a question toward the end of the 10th explaining the similarities.  I think the combining is not a good idea as it tends to lessen each of the commandments.

In the “Central Thought” section again it fails to use the language of “God commands” and instead opts for “God created us to…”  This section also uses that too common phrase “creaturely gifts”.  The emphasis on contentment is good here.  The subjective questions here either would lend toward making confession or just having a subjective curriculum developed.

In the “Closer Reading” section, the first very notable change is that coveting is defined as a desire and not a sinful desire.  This is a change from the previous explanations.  It also includes a question about the distinction between coveting and envying, which is just strangely placed here and does not condemn envying.

In the fear and love section (formerly forbid/require) the explanation omits something that has been in all previous catechisms – the idea that coveting is to be fought against and replaced with “holy desires”.  Instead, being satisfied (again a new word vs. contentment).  The combination of the 9th and 10th here also brings confusion about the commandments.

In the “Connections and Applications” section, this revision just fails.  It talks about peer pressure and advertising as being main things in our temptation to be dissatisfied (or is it discontent or coveting?).  This leaves the catechumen with the idea that they can keep these commandments by removing peer pressure and advertising (not to mention calling into question the vocation of someone who makes advertisements).  The Large Catechism makes it clear that the coveting commandments serve a great purpose of showing the evil of the human heart.  This is lacking in this whole section.  The Commandments and their explanation should tell us what God commands in absolute certainty so that all mouths are stopped and no one can either blame others or come up with ways to fix the problem and keep the commandment.  This is a gross failure in these two commandments.


I have been critical in my assessment.  That is intentional. An explanation of the Catechism is used as the go-to book on answers of Christian doctrine and life by our laity.  We cannot afford to be sloppy here or give answers that are locked away in the fads of our culture or the soapboxes of the committee.  We must simply put what God has said out there.  Situational questions and answers can be helpful but can also lead into great trouble as the Christian deals with the Word of God.  This project is an extremely serious one, demanding more attention than what it has been given.  I am hoping the project is allowed to have a longer development time out of respect for the great task at hand.

I have also been critical because this revision bears all the marks of “theology by committee” including mixed answers and changing/confusing word usage.  Compared to the brevity and clarity of the 1912 it only shows how our Synod has drifted into needing too many words where only a few used to be necessary.  The diversity of beliefs held and practiced in the Synod is now reflected in work that the Synod puts out.  Sadly that means even the most important works of hymnals and catechisms are not immune to our corporate issues.


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