Hans looked up at Katie and did his best to snort like his father. She rolled her eyes.
Martin picked up a small bound book and waved it. “Alas, what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, know nothing at all of Christian doctrine.” (1) The reformer snorted again. Down the table, a small snort echoed. “And many pastors are quite unfit and incompetent to teach. Yet all are called Christians, are baptized, and enjoy the use of the sacraments, although they know neither the Lord's Prayer, the Apostle's Creed, nor the Ten Commandments!” (2)
Martin stood and pounded the table with his fist. He felt the rush of heat into his face, and his stomach churned. “They live like the poor brutes and irrational swine. Still they have, now that the gospel has come, learned to abuse all liberty in a masterly manner!”(3)
Martin ended his speech by punching the air with a pointed finger. Down the table, a little arm waved in the air, just as his father's had.
One of the bolder students pointed to the book Martin held in his other hand. “Doctor, what is it that you have written?” Martin smiled. “It is The Small Catechism. It is the duty of every father to question and examine his children and servants at least once a week, and until they repeat what they have learned of what every Christian must know, they should be given neither food nor drink!” (4) A stabbing pain shot from Martin's belly into his chest and he sat abruptly.
“Will you use The Small Catechism with your family?” The student at the end of the table wore his hair short and his face was beardless.
Martin nodded. “Aunt Lena, Hans, my Lutheress, and the little one she carries shall all learn every evening. We shall end by singing a hymn. The common people learn true theology through music, you know. That is why the congregations in Germany now sing.” The professor's eyes watered and his vision blurred. “Had little Elizabeth survived more than a few months, I would have helped her as well.” He looked across the room to Katie who was carrying a fresh tray of bread to the table. “That was a terrible plague, wasn't it, Katie?”
Katie opened her mouth to respond, but instead dropped the tray and gripped the sideboard, moaning loudly. Slices of bread bounced across the floor. Martin sprang to his feet. “And here comes another small Luther. To bed with you, my little lord and master.”
~ From When Lightning Struck!: The Story of Martin Luther, pp. 193-194
What is catechism?
1 Timothy 1:12b-14 (ESV) says:
But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
A catechism teaches the gospel, theology, and doctrine (or “a pattern of sound words“) through a series of questions and answers. Catechizing our kids can help us convey sound doctrine to our children. Children are especially adept at memorization and can quickly pick important truths through memorization.
Where did it come from?
The first catechisms, The Small Catechism (for lay people) and The Large Catechism (for pastors and congregations) were written by Martin Luther in 1529. John Calvin later developed the Reformed Genevan Catechism (1541, 1545, 1560); the Heidelberg Catechism followed in 1563; and the Westminster Catechisms (Larger and Shorter) were written in 1647.
Catholics later developed a catechism of their own in 1566.
A few catechism resources
- Sound Words Curriculum ~ Nine creative catechism units for Pre-K – 2nd grade, adapted from the Westminster Catechism by Tauna Meyer.
- New City Catechism ~ Joint adult and child catechism (online or iPad app) developed and adapted from Reformation catechisms by Timothy Keller and Sam Shammas.
- Songs for Saplings ~ Catechismal songs to help children learn theology from James and Dana Dirksen. Some are available for free.
Learn more about Martin Luther!
My new youth biography, When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther is available for pre-order now. You can save 35% on orders directly from Fortress Press before November 1st, and be first in line to help your kids learn more about the history of the Christian faith! Find out more about the book here.
1) Martin Luther, A Short Exposition of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1912), 3.
3) Ibid., 3-4.
4) Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, trans. F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau (St. Louis: Concordia, 1921), 565-773.
Image: A School Girl, Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899), Public Domain