Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision

The deadline is approaching to submit feedback and commentary on the proposed Catechism Explanation Revision. 20161006_143222_resized

As the “field-test” edition of the new version of the Explanation of the Small Catechism has been sent out to all Missouri Synod pastors and congregations, I expect (or at least hope) that pastors especially have taken (or will take) this opportunity to look at the work of the committee.

Here is where you can download a copy of the new proposed version and offer feedback.

Two specific things that I am doing as I review the new version, and I would recommend to others as well, are:

1. Read the coordinate section of the Large Catechism before and after going through each section of the explanation.

2. Compare the proposed new version to the older versions. I would not only look at the most recent/current version, but also the 1943 and 1912 versions of the synodical explanation. The current version and 1943 versions are reasonably easy to get your hands on, but it is less likely for folks to have a physical copy of the 1912 version. Fortunately, you can find the 1912 German-English edition online here.

Here at BJS, we have invited some pastors around the Synod to review and comment on the different sections of the proposed revision. We hope that this series will encourage the whole Synod to not only give appropriate attention to the proposed revision of a core resource for the teaching of the faith in our Synod, but also provide an opportunity for us to think about the Catechism more deeply.

While this post is primarily for the purpose of introducing this series, I would like to offer some general observations and initial thoughts from a structural and historical angle, as opposed to considering the content of the proposed revision itself, in order to kick start the discussion:


A New Resource

This will be the fourth incarnation of the synodical catechism explanation in English: 1912, 1943, 1991, and the present proposed revision. The difference between the 1912 and 1943 versions in terms of content is slight, but the number of questions and biblical citations is expanded.  Due to the 1943 revision’s frequent division of previously combined questions and the use of sub-points, it is difficult to compare “apples to apples” and arrive at a clear percentage of question growth, but the biblical citations grow by about 28%. Between the 1943 and 1991 versions, there are significant points of difference, and some of the sections are moved around. The the number of questions and biblical citations is again expanded. The biblical citations grow by 39%. However, despite the changes on certain points and another significant expansion, the 1991 revision is definitely a direct descendant of the previous versions that follows the same basic style, format, and wording.

In contrast, the new proposed revision is a radical departure from a structural and stylistic point of view. The size is greatly expanded. The number of questions and biblical citations (19%) is increased again. Comparing the proposed revision with the 1912 version gives us an increase of biblical citations by 112%. On top of this expansion, the citations themselves tend to be longer than previous version. The questions and answers are also consistently longer with further notes popping up as well. In addition, quotes from the Confessions are also included. Furthermore, there are some elements normally found in an actual curriculum such as a “central thought” at the beginning of each section, a closing prayer, and hymn suggestions. All of these changes and added features contribute to much longer resource.

Most different, however, is the language itself–both broadly and particularly. For example, the familiar pattern in the explanation to the Ten Commandments “What does God forbid in this commandment” and “What does God require in this commandment” is gone. There in a tendency in several sections to latch onto idiosyncratic vocabulary and phraseology that as far as I know has little to no precedence in the Synod’s history of catechism instruction. For instance, the word “flourish/flourishing” shows up an incredible number of times for a word that has never shown up before in any previous version. Comparing the proposed revision with the three previous versions side by side, it is obvious that while there is some influence and continuity (especially in regards to the choice of biblical citations) the structure of the explanation and the majority of the questions and answers themselves are totally new.

I believe it is fair to say and necessary to point out that this proposed revision is much less a revision than a whole new resource.

Let me be clear. I do not dislike curricula. I appreciate hymn suggestions. And I love our Lutheran Confessions. I do not dismiss new approaches to catechesis out of hand. However, for generations the synodical explanation of the Small Catechism has been a widely used and greatly beloved tool. Furthermore, it has been a very particular tool with a clear primary purpose. It was designed to be a further explanation of the Small Catechism with the most important biblical references given for each particular point. This resource, outlining the basic teachings of the faith, was to be especially used in the instruction of youth.

In the above critique I have stayed away from issues of content so that I might focus on structural and organizational concerns. In fact, I would like to commend the committee for their hard work and their insights that enriched the proposed revision. In many ways I wish that the proposed revision was a totally new and different resource precisely because much of the new content is helpful.

Thus, if I could sum up my overall concern into one phrase, it would be:


Audience Confusion

What is the purpose of this resource? Is it meant to be what it has always been, a resource primarily used in the instruction of confirmation students and a handy reference book with Bible verses coordinated to the Catechism? Or is it meant to be something else? Is it really for adults? Is it meant to double as a Bible study on current cultural issues? Sometimes it is hard to tell.

If it is meant to be the same type of resource that preceded it in 1912, 1943, and 1991, then I think it is inferior to what came before. It is way too big. It has little continuity to the preceding versions. It has some elements of a curriculum, but is not a full blown one. Frequently, it reads more like a study for adults than for children. (The phrase “genital sexual activity” certainly has no place in a child’s confirmation book…and probably not in an adult’s either for that matter.)

I worry that instead of judiciously improving a tried and true resource, a multi-tool is being produced. The letter that was sent with the proposed revision says:


Finally, it is rich in adaptability. Potential uses include:

-as a missionary tool to introduce individuals or groups to the Christian faith;


-as an instructional tool for youth confirmation;


-as a guide for thematic Bible classes;


-as a tool for individual or family devotional use and study;


-as a quick reference for sermon preparation


A multi-tool is handy in a pinch, but for everyday use, it is not the best tool for the job. This resource is far too cumbersome for its historic purpose. “Less is more” when it comes to a framework and a tool to teach the basics.

Again, much of the material is insightful, and I do not wish to diminish the the good work of the committee. Perhaps much of the brand new material and curricular elements could be used to produce a curriculum.

However, for the sake of preserving an excellent tool that is being used, and has been for generations by many in the Synod, I would encourage the committee to modify its work and produce a revision of the synodical explanation that has:

  1. an eye to much more continuity with previous versions, and
  2. a clear focus on this resource’s primary use–the teaching of children in confirmation class


Hopefully, this series on the new proposed revision of the synodical explanation of the Small Catechism will spark good discussions here at BJS!


About Pastor David Ramirez

Pastor Ramirez is the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Union Grove, WI. He is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne. In 2009, after staying another year at CTS as the Historical Theology Department’s graduate assistant, he was called to Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, IL and ordained into the office of the holy ministry. Some of his particular interests are the teaching of Bible History and youth work.


Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision — 15 Comments

  1. I think this is part of the problem with the over arching attitude of the Church in general, when a Young Adult starts his journey into full membership with a congregation he needs to come with a full education in most aspects of sex education already under his belt. In today’s world a Young Adult has to be aware and educated about what he will run into and how to react to all sexual advances! The gloves are off!

    The time is long past when one could ignore the aggressive Deviant LGBT advances. There’s nothing wrong about having this in the proper context in a Young Adults or an Older Adults Church based book. This attitude is a large part of the problem. The Church has kept silent while the Secular forces are tearing apart The fabric of Christianity. ” (The phrase “genital sexual activity” certainly has no place in a child’s confirmation book…and probably not in an adult’s either for that matter.) “

  2. Agreed. It’s too wordy for middle school kids – especially boys  

    The 1991 update was very good.

  3. I think we need to consider how useful and influential the traditional enchiridion format has been. I’ve even heard of RC and EO missionaries using it because there is nothing comparable in their own churches.

    I think the key things to update or expand (a little) are this:

    1. addressing modern ethical issues – bioethics, sexual ethics, church-state issues
    2. adding a bit of liturgical instruction
    3. making sure the apologetics areas are covered in a basic way
    + new atheism
    + creation/evolution/intelligent design
    + ancient heresies – Arianism, Gnosticism, Nestorianism, Montanism, et al.
    + denominational errors – RC/JDDJ, ELCA, Arminians, Calvinists, EO,
    + other religions – Mormons, JWs, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca,

    4. perhaps some expansion on the doctrine of vocation in the Table of Duties.

    We don’t need it to become as expansive as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We can’t have it be written at a college level or even high school. I think some quotations from the Large Catechism and some other basic quotes from the Book of Concord are a good thing. Perhaps a more expansive in depth catechism geared towards adults could be written as a separate project – perhaps incorporating or harmonizing the Small and Large Catechism with more of the Book of Concord and the Divine Service.

    But what we have had in our LCMS catechisms and the Loehe catechism is worth preserving as a format. Updating is needed and I think there are more places where perhaps the NKJV might be substituted in place of the ESV.

    Perhaps the follow could be considered:

    1. Produce an updated Small Catechism with Explanation in the traditional style. Have a separate computer disc or web resource for supplemental quotes, readings, charts, artwork, liturgical material, etc. I think we need at least 3 options – Catechism Pamphlet and charts (which are available), a somewhat revised/updated traditional LCMS catechism explanation, and a more in-depth book that is set between basic catechism but not quite as advanced as an introductory dogmatics, but is also directory toward liturgical life, piety, and vocation.

    2. Produce an advanced Catechism with Deeper (2nd tier) explanation for those who want to dig deeper – something more like a Lutheran answer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church – bring in more footnotes and quotations from the Book of COncord, Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, and the early church fathers. Incorporate more apologetics, liturgy, church year, vocation, and so forth. Maybe this could be something in between basic catechesis and then bridging the gap toward a basic college level introductory dogmatics – have a melded text with both Small and Large Catechisms and the Augsburg Confession brought in as well. Incorporate instruction in liturgical rites from hymnal and agenda (mystagogy).

  4. What currently is the average number of hours per week for youth catechism classes?  How much more material can be added while still thoroughly covering the material in the 1991 version?  I like the idea of having a supplemental computer file for those wishing more depth.

  5. ” remember and be obedient to God’s command that all desires for genital sexual activity are to be curbed and disciplined until we are married; ” this is on page 36 as one of the points to a well written summary of this:

    What should I do if I am confused about my sexual identity?

    Now in all fairness this is correctly tied into this:

    The Sixth Commandment
    You shall not commit adultery.

    Considering what Young Adults are exposed to is secular schools I don’t see any problem with this. I want the Young Adults to be fully aware of just what is going on!

    The Church has a duty in todays Secular world to prepare our Young Adults to face the challenges of the secular world head on. This is one reason Young Adults drift away from the church, irrelevancy.

    Another area that is seemingly forgotten is the Pastor can cover what he thinks is best for a patictular class, give him lots to choose from!

    A Young Adult can pick up the 1991 and go through it on his own and come away with a sterile understanding of Christianity. Even in a class using the last edition so much modern day application is left for the Young Adults to figure out.

    Do you want the Church and Pastor to educate our Young Adults or the Secular LBGT world?

    I don’t think this revision is too wordy, it strikes a good balance…..

    Let each Pastor decide what to cover and how.

    For Heavens sake leave the above in!

  6. The few sections that I checked seemed to convey not a simple explanation of what Luther wrote, but rather an elaboration of the topic presented by each question on his Small Catechism. There’s a difference: An explanation need be only long enough to make the meaning of the text reasonably clear, while an elaboration may discuss countless implications and related ideas.

    Elaborations can get unnecessarily elaborate and laborious. It seems to me that an introductory catechism need only answer the fundamental questions well and provide Bible references that support the answers.

  7. At her recently concluded Pastoral Conference, the Wyoming District asked for more time. The LCMS Catechism Review Committee mailed the “Field Test” of the catechism this past July. Three years of hard work was shown to the church, and the church was asked to respond. The goal is to publish the catechism by the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses, next October 31. This is a pretty tight deadline. It means we need to keep the process moving – very quickly. And, in discussions with other pastors, that’s a problem…………..

  8. If it is meant to be the same type of resource that preceded it in 1912, 1943, and 1991, then I think it is inferior to what came before. It is way too big. It has little continuity to the preceding versions. It has some elements of a curriculum, but is not a full blown one. Frequently, it reads more like a study for adults than for children.

    Lord, help us ever to retain
    The Catechism’s doctrine plain
    As Luther taught the word of truth
    In simple style to tender youth.

  9. From what I have read of the revised version, I think this is not made for the kids that are to be confirmed at the 8th grade level. I think the kids will not understand and from my experiences working with kids in that age group,they will not ask questions.The kids will be confused and will seek a simpler truth. This is above and beyond their thinking.The revised version may be okay for adults that are getting confirmed, but I feel our children would truly benefit more if we were to return to the Luther’s Small Catechism copyrighted 1943.
    Question 99: the answer is: I am a creature of God… That comment will only confuse the kids since they are being taught evolution in our schools. We cannot call humans creatures. I can imagine them thinking “well maybe evolution is true. I recall the catechism calling us creatures”. The term creatures is used way to often. Humans are made in the image of God.
    Question 106: it does not mention that humans are given a soul which is a big distinction from the animals.
    I find this revision lacks the word sin. We have been teaching our kids that sin is bad, it is against God’s will. If the word sin is left out of the catechism, the kids may feel that adultery, idolatry, stealing, etc. are not near as bad since it they are not referred to as a sin.
    Mostly this is not for children.

  10. @L. Fuerniss #11

    Mostly this is not for children.

    If this catechism leaves out sin, it’s not for any Christian.
    How can you talk about Christ’s meaning for the individual if you don’t talk about sin?

    Sounds like this catechism was produced by a committee, and the committee has (predictably) produced a camel!

  11. Please see questions 82 thru 85 for a discussion of sin.

    Google identifies 187 references to sin or sins throughout the document.

  12. I saw a FB post by MH today that the revised catechism explanation has been sent to CPH for publication.

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