Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision: The Lord’s Prayer

Here is the first guest article on the proposed revision to the Catechism:


20161006_143222_resizedOf all 6 chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, quite often it is the Lord’s Prayer which is given the most superficial treatment in church catechesis. This happens despite the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is probably the most prominent daily element of popular Christian piety, and the Lord’s Prayer also often raises difficult questions for God’s people as they live out their lives in faith towards God and love towards their neighbor. Therefore we can be thankful that the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has revisited the Lord’s Prayer in its new revision of the Small Catechism explanation.

There is much to commend the new revision. By incorporating a structure consisting of a “Central Thought,” “A Closer Reading of the Small Catechism,” and “Connections and Applications” for each petition, this explanation revision makes itself a more engaging pedagogical tool than previous editions. While the Small Catechism relies on the sturdy, objective question “What does this mean?,” we remember that theology is finally practical. We should be able to draw applications from the Small Catechism, apply them to everyday life, and even answer the question, “What does this mean for me?” While I have found the previous Small Catechism explanation excellent as a reference tool, this new revision’s structure should be at least slightly more valuable in the classroom and for personal devotion.

That said, perhaps the greatest strength of the new revision is that much remains the same. For this third chief part at least, the questions, Bible verses, Large Catechism quotations, and Bible narratives are often a mirror of the 1991 explanation. Since the synodical explanation has been an overall helpful resource throughout our synod’s history, one would hope that its contents have not been radically altered. Thankfully, we find much the same pattern of sound words throughout the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.

However, helpful material is added in many places. For example, in the explanation of the Third Petition, Thy will be done, attention is drawn to the 10 Commandments and Table of Duties. In a day of age where religious individuals tend to internalize their discernment of God’s will, as Lutherans we find clarity in God’s external commands and institutions.

There are also other helpful additions. We can consider the Fourth Petition. As in the 1991 edition, the new revision states that it is God who makes the earth prosper while giving man the command and ability to work. However, the new revision includes this and adds that God has given us certain earthly institutions and authorities by which we receive our daily bread. This is helpful, and it also explains how when these structures fail we find hunger and other unfortunate consequences of living in this sinful world. No discussion of this unfortunate reality is found in the 1991 edition.

Perhaps no petition of the Lord’s Prayer is as often misunderstood or misapplied than the Fifth Petition. In question 251 of the new revision, this misunderstanding is handled excellently, explaining how our forgiveness in Christ is always free, yet we realize that God’s forgiveness also covers those who have sinned against us. We learn that when we refuse to forgive our neighbor, we are also tacitly refusing our neighbor God’s forgiveness. This is an excellent treatment of the Fifth Petition for those pious Christians who may sometimes struggle with it.

One last improvement of the Lord’s Prayer explanation is worthy of note, this time regarding the Sixth Petition. In question 228 of the 1991 Small Catechism explanation, the words “tempt” and “temptation” are explained as heaving two different meanings: one, the testing of our faith which God uses to bring us closer to himself, and two, the attempts of our spiritual enemies to lure us from God. This is not helpful when Luther’s explanation is clear that “God tempts no one” (Gott versucht zwar niemand). In what is obviously a spirit of charity, the new revision takes what is good from this language and improves its clarity throughout the explanation.

To be expected, there are some places where there is room for improvement. Following the 1991 Small Catechism explanation, prayer is defined in part as a “conversation.” While that may be true, Christians also recognize prayer as an act of worship (Gottesdienst). This was the language of the 1912 Small Catechism explanation, and it would do us well to recognize it as such today. Since prayer has God’s command, it is more than mere conversation and essential to the Christian’s act of worship, no matter whether done privately or publicly.

Language could also be tightened in the explanation of the First Petition. The 1912 explanation boils down Luther’s explanation into two clear phrases: pure doctrine and holy life. On the flip side, we ask God to protect us from the antitheses: false doctrine and ungodly life. Every Christian should be convicted to pursue the former while marking and avoiding the latter. The new revision uses a rather awkward phrase, saying that God’s word is profaned “when anyone teaches something as His Word that is in fact not His Word.” While there is nothing false in this statement, it lacks a certain clarity. Christians should be vigilant and savvy to distinguish pure doctrine from false doctrine. Therefore reincorporating the concise phraseology of the 1912 explanation would be a step in the right direction in this case.

As with all previous editions of the Small Catechism explanation, this revision also runs the risk of burying what is the original content of Luther’s Small Catechism under a new sea of explanations. Therefore pastors need to take care in teaching this book, distinguishing for their catechumens what is in fact Luther’s Small Catechism and what is not.
As a common parish pastor, I am not sure yet whether this new catechism revision will offer me any new profound insights into catechesis. There will never be any improvement over a head of the household teaching the simple primary texts of the Small Catechism to his family, along with Luther’s own explanation. However, we can be thankful than an update is being offered at this time, especially in light of contemporary challenges to the Christian faith in our culture. Hopefully small improvements will be made before the final product is put on the market.

Rev. Ryan L. Loeslie
Immanuel Lutheran Church
Merna, Nebraska


Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision: The Lord’s Prayer — 6 Comments

  1. “Distinguishing for their catechumens what is in fact Luther’s Small Catechism and what is not ”
    These are very important words. I was in college before I found out that the whole blue book was not Luther’s Small Catechism. Luther commanded fathers to teach their children the Catechism, not the whole blue book. Then and now it was the pastors who “filled in the blanks”.

  2. It would be wise to memorize all of “Luther’s Catechism”.
    [More was required of us, pretty much the whole book, but I’m being realistic now.]

    Here and there, I assisted a class in that; (the Pastor did the teaching). The book won’t be handy when they really need to remember the lesson!

  3. With regard to the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, here is my comment:
    Second Petition
    Thy kingdom come.
    Your kingdom come.
    What does this mean?
    The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray that it may come to us also.
    How does God’s kingdom come?
    God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

    227. What do we ask and seek from our Father in this petition?
    We ask that the kingdom of God would come among us. And so we pray that
    • God would give us His Spirit so that we may believe His Word and live “under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness”;
    My comment:
    1. When we are baptized, God brings us into His Kingdom. Why should we pray that it should come to us when we are already in it?
    2. When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit, John 14: 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” There is no verse in all of Scripture, either OT or NT, in which we are urged to ask for the Holy Spirit, or where it is recorded that someone received the Holy Spirit more than once.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  4. I had someone ask me once, “Why should we open every week’s service with a confession of sins? Isn’t it enough to do that once?”

    [Well, maybe, if you’ve only sinned before baptism.] ;

    Personally, I believe we need more of the Holy Spirit to understand more of God’s Word, which we also need more of as faith grows (in order for faith to grow).
    No, I’m not going to look up Bible verses for that for you, George; maybe you need that exercise yourself. 🙂

    I also believe Pastors receive a larger measure of the Holy Spirit at ordination; that’s why other Pastors lay hands on them and bless them with the Word. God knows they will need it.
    [I think Paul said as much to Timothy.]

  5. @helen #5
    Dear Helen: I did the work, and it surprised me. Genuinely! As far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, no! The Holy Spirit is not given by measure. Whatever you have of the Holy Spirit in you, He has all of the qualities of the fullness of God: He is all powerful, all knowing, etc. Therefore, He can achieve everything He wishes without a greater presence. So testifies Scripture. Nowhere does Scripture say that anyone ever received the Holy Spirit more than once, or that he received “more” of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere!
    But the surprise came when I looked for Bible verses that show how reading or hearing Scripture increases faith. I always thought it did. Here are the only verses that I found that speak of what needs to be done to increase faith:
    Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
    Romans 12:6, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
    2 Corinthians 10:15, “We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged,”
    2 Thessalonians 1:3, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
    Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
    2 Peter 1:5, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,”
    It would seem that to increase faith, one should exercise it. As soon as I realized what I found, the sayings of Paul about mortifying the flesh, and of James, concerning faith and works acquired new meaning. So faith is like a muscle. You are given it as a gift, but if you do not exercise it in love for your neighbor, you lose it, or, at least it becomes very weak.
    That is not to say that the Word is not active at the inception of faith. Indeed it plays a critical role. And it obviously is essential for all the things St. Paul spoke of in 2 Timothy 3:16. But to increase faith? Apparently not.
    So thanks for giving me the work to do. I may have learned something, or maybe I am wrong this time too?
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

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