Highlighting The Table Of Duties

Image result for table of dutiesOne great improvement which came with Lutheran Service Book was the inclusion of the Table of Duties from Luther’s Small Catechism, which you will find on page 328.  This is a marvelous treasure unknown to too many Lutherans.  For those unfamiliar with the Table of Duties, it is a collection of Bible passages which Luther appended to the Small Catechism, preceded with the heading “Certain Passages Of Scripture For Various Holy Orders And Positions, Admonishing Them About Their Duties And Responsibilities.”  Once again, Luther shines as a reformer.  In medieval times the term “holy orders” was strictly associated with monks and other clergy.  Luther opened up the Scriptures and discovered the truth, that there are manifold holy orders in this world which leave no Christian exempt.  These duties are honor and privilege from our Heavenly Father and give us much purpose in this earthly life.

Since learning to pay attention to the Table of Duties, I find that it draws me like a magnet.  While I am a sinner and still often fail when duty calls, I am constantly amazed at how awesome the Table of Duties is.  It is amazing because of its simplicity and practicality.  And it’s not simply Luther spouting off his own opinions, but he is rather bringing specific words of Scripture to bear on everyday life.  They are words which we may at first take for granted, but the Table of Duties encourages us to think twice before being so careless with God’s Word.  I thought I would share with you a few reasons why I think the Table of Duties is essential to teach our youth today.

The first reason to teach the Table of Duties is because it is not afraid to draw lines.  We now live in a politically correct culture which would dictate morality to us by blurring all distinctions, above all the distinction between man and woman.  The Table of Duties cures us of the politically correct disease by upholding the salutary distinctions made by God himself.  We see this first of all how there are passages included “To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers.”  Then also we find the counterpart in “What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors.”  By including these categories first, we have an indication how the reformers viewed churchly life as a priority, as man does not live by bread alone.  In our day when the spirit of radical equality would attack the distinction between pastors and their hearers, the reformers saw no problem.  When each does his duty, churchly life is a great blessing living in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is no surprise that passages follow “Of Civil Government” and “Of Citizens.”  Just as the church is essential for the Christian life, so is the state.  With the words of Holy Scripture, Christians are admonished to obey the governing authorities and uphold the rule of law.

Just as the church and state are divinely instituted estates, so is the family.  Luther spells out the family in simple manner.  There are duties “To Husbands,” “To Wives,” “To Parents,” and “To Children.”  He even adds those who may be more loosely related to the household, including “To Workers of All Kinds,” and “To Employers and Supervisors.”  By listing the members of the family this way, this seems obvious enough to us as practicing Christians.  However, we now live in a world which doesn’t recognize these things as reality anymore.  In order to keep a clear and true voice concerning God’s good design which is the family, it is the Table of Duties to which we must remain faithful.  It defines for us in clear terms what the family is and the primary duties of all its members.  For parents, if it means something to you to teach your children what a husband is, what a wife is, what parents do, and how children should grow and find their place in this world, this is the well from which you draw to teach them.

The family encompasses broadly, but another thing to love about the Table of Duties is how it does not neglect to gather folks which the world would place on the fringes.  Passages are listed “To Youth” and “To Widows.”  Youth can be a confusing and tumultuous time of life, and Psalm 146 says that the Lord “upholds the widow and the fatherless.”  It is essential that these souls be included and their duties spelled out.  Lastly, the Table of Duties ends with passages “To Everyone.”  If by chance anyone was missed (which no one is), there are divinely given duties which all Christians share.  So we see, in the Table of Duties distinctions are drawn across the entire spectrum of society.  Very few are so daring in our own day, but Luther was not afraid to say that people are different.  Indeed, they each have their own unique God-given duties.

The second reason to teach the Table of Duties is that it illustrates the interdependence of us all.  Pastors and congregations depend on one another.  Husbands and wives depend on one another.  Children depend on their parents.  Employers and employees are no exception.  We live in a world which would surely marginalize some folks, even when it screams and howls about equality, but the Table of Duties teaches us that God has clear purpose for us all.  The high and mighty in the world’s eyes must even depend on others.  Just look up and down the list.  No one person is so special that he can fulfill the duties of each category.  On the flip side, no one person is so poor that he is left out.  We see that we all have a healthy dependence on others.  And when we look at the Table of Duties and notice what holy orders God has given us individually, we realize that we have no reason to envy our neighbor, because we know God has dealt with each of us according to his good pleasure.  So pastor or hearer, we can be content.  Husband or wife, we can be content.  Boss or employee, we can be content.  We all have our special duties to fulfill if we only take notice of these Scriptures.  This is a comfort for us, especially if we are tempted to feel unfulfilled or discontent in this life.

The third and last reason why I believe we need to teach the Table of Duties is because it encourages a distinct Lutheran identity.  The Table of Duties beautifully illustrates the harmony between the Bible and our Lutheran confession.  In substance the Table of Duties is nothing but the Bible, but in presentation it is thoroughly Lutheran.  It is another piece of Luther’s genius which sets our church apart from the rest.  If Lutherans can learn to love the Table of Duties, it will mean that they will love the Small Catechism, which means they will love the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Obviously, it doesn’t have to happen in this particular order, but the Table of Duties is thoroughly biblical, immensely practical, and once again proves that our Evangelical Lutheran Church lacks nothing when teaching God’s people the way of a Christian life.  If we are to retain our young people and keep vibrant Lutheran congregations in this 21st century, the teaching of God’s Word through the Table of Duties will have much to do with it.

I know my life will never be the same after meditating on all these Scriptures and teaching them to my children also.  Time and again I come back to these Scripture verses, and I will forever be grateful to Luther and other reformers for arranging them the way they did.  I am also grateful that the editors of Lutheran Service Book sought to place the Table of Duties front and center for ordinary pastors and their people once again.  The Table of Duties is also included (in full text) in Concordia Publishing House’s new pamphlet version of the Small Catechism, which you can purchase here.

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