“Was” Versus “Is” in Catechesis

Having been to a good number of circuit meetings and pastors conferences in my ministry by now, I often hear pastors make a distinction when discussing cases of casuistry.  They may talk of a person who was “well catechized” or someone who was “poorly catechized.”  The well catechized tend to come from stable homes, make church attendance and Bible study a priority, and they received quality catechetical instruction from a sound pastor in cooperation with their parents.  The poorly catechized usually are not so fortunate.  Or even in spite of having received good catechesis from the pastor, the poorly catechized have more received their catechesis from the world rather than God’s Word and Luther’s Small Catechism.

For those of us who have a tendency to speak this way, it would be good for us to challenge this distinction.  When it comes to the catechesis we have received in the past, whether it was good or it was poor, with every day that passes by it fades in our minds.  I know I received my catechetical training under my pastor from 1994-1996.  I had a very dutiful and faithful pastor then, but much has happened to change my life in these twenty-plus years.  Most days of my life I don’t even recall being in confirmation class.  That isn’t to say it wasn’t good for me.  It’s just that it was a very long time ago.

Speaking of those who were well catechized or poorly catechized can also lead to stereotypes which are misleading.  The well catechized may be tempted to rest on their laurels, to think they are strong when in fact their Christian understanding and discernment may be deficient or even deteriorating.  On the flip side, the poorly catechized may be tempted to think there is no way of overcoming the poor instruction or lack of instruction in their youth.  To speak of those who were catechized “well” or “poorly” is a quite subjective judgment anyway.

So rather than talk about the “was” of catechesis, whether it was done well or poorly, we can speak of the “is.”  In a sense, there is no catechesis except which happens in the present.  Our children will be catechized one way or the other.  We can let our children’s catechists be the media, the television, or their peers.  These are likely candidates because they can take up so much of children’s time these days.  Or, we can take the initiative ourselves.  We can chew off just a little piece every day, and we can let the Small Catechism and Scriptures form the hearts and minds of our children.  We want to be able to look at our children at any moment and say to ourselves, “That child is catechized,” regardless of what has or hasn’t happened in the past.  Whether they are only four years old or ready to leave the home, we want to be able to tell ourselves this in confidence.  If we can’t, the world will be ready to snatch their hearts and souls from us, and most of all from their Lord Jesus.

When we realize how the “is” of catechesis is more important than the “was,” we see that we are all in the same boat.  We are all in this together, pastors and laity alike.  Even the seasoned pastor, if he does not revisit his catechism regularly, he is negligent and poorly catechized.  We recall the words of Luther:

“But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people who have such assumptions and contentment.  Yet I act as a child who his being taught the catechism.  Every morning – and whenever I have time – I read and say, word for word, the Ten commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such.  I must still read and study them daily.  Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish.  But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so” (LC Longer Preface 7-8).

When we revisit the catechism daily, with Luther we are in good company, always learning, always sharpening our minds, always on guard against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh which would infect us with evil thoughts, false opinions, and the plague of false doctrine.

Luther urged all Christians to remain daily in the catechism until they have “taught the devil to death” (LC Longer Preface 19).  This is strong language here.  Teaching the devil to death, dare I say it, happens in very few places.  Even when handing our kids off to learned and trusted pastors, their time with these little ones is only a drop in the bucket.  To teach the devil to death means more than to be well catechized in the past.  It means to be engaged with these questions and answers every day.  God give us the fortitude and perseverance to talk up this sword daily, to move on from the “was” of catechesis, and to embrace the “is.”

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