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Monday, October 8, 2012

Pastoral Theology: Catechism

The introduction to the Large Catechism by Martin Luther is dedicated to " All Christians, but Especially to All Pastors and Preachers, that They Should Daily Exercise Themselves in the Catechism, which is a Short Summary and Epitome of the Entire Holy Scriptures, and that They May Always Teach the Same."

Many Protestant denominations have as founding documents, often worked into their very constitution, catechisms and confessions. These are there for a reason: the original reformers felt these documents accurately represented the Scriptures. They were written and structured to preached from and taught, diligently, to the congregation year after year after year.

Yet this has by and large, fallen by the way side. And in the mean time, Protestant churches are full of Christians who do not know the fundamentals of their faith. They doubt the Virgin Birth, they don't think Jesus led a sinless life, faith in Christ alone as the means to salvation is doubted or unrealized, differences between Protestants and Catholics are minimized, good works are celebrated, human nature is over emphasized and the American Dream has perverted the gospel.

I attended a conference this past week emphasizing the Heidelberg Catechism. In my denomination, the Reformed Church in America, this catechism is part of our very constitution. Ministers of the Word and Sacrament must promise to teach the contents of it to their church on a regular schedule. Yet it too, has fallen by the way side. Discussion was held related to the Standards and something stood out that Luther picked up on nearly 500 years ago: many of us are ashamed of the teaching in the Catechism and so we hide it.

Speculation on my part follows: perhaps the shame is that we disagree with something so irrational as election, or maybe we are embarrassed to try to use some "dry" old document when clearly it is modern, contemporary, praise music that people enjoy. Whatever the case Luther said this: "To this there is added the shameful vice and secret infection of security and satiety, that is, that many regard the Catechism as a poor, mean teaching, which they can read through at one time, and then immediately know it, throw the book into a corner, and be ashamed, as it were, to read in it again." We must not neglect the contents of our catechisms.

If you are a minister in a denomination that has as its foundation catechism documents: where are yours and when was the last time you used them? When was the last time you faithfully taught the contents to your congregation?

Luther continues to urge pastors and preachers to not go the route of the academic too quickly. Again, advice I see many of my brethren ignoring. One thing that astounded me in seminary was how many people there were already contemplating going on to get their doctor in ministry--when they hadn't even been a minister yet! I have been out of seminary a little less than a year and people I graduated with are already pursuing this degree. Luther wrote, "Therefore I again implore all Christians, especially pastors and preachers, not to be doctors too soon, and imagine that they know everything..."

Are you a new pastor already contemplating another degree? Perhaps a D.Min? Is this degree your ship to Tarshish? 

Being a pastor is hard. I have learned much in my first year. One lesson stands out above all: there is even more that I do not know. Every day (or so it seems) a new challenge arises that I have to again turn to the Lord and ask for wisdom.

Therein lies the value of a catechism. The wisdom of the Lord shines forth through its pages. We are reminded that we are too puffed up and in need of a savior. We are taught who the savior is, why he came and how we have been saved. Then we are reminded of how to respond to such a great gift. And we are given the perfect outline to present the best news ever to our flock, year after year--for they too need to be reminded of this truth year after year. While the gospel may not give me the answers to every problem, it puts problems in perspective and reminds me that ultimate "dilemma of existence" has been solved through the costly gift of God's Son.

Luther goes on to say, "And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain." Remarkably similar to what Jesus said in Mark 10.13-16: "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter into it." Like a child, I have much to learn. And like a child, I trust that my fathers in the faith have honestly represented the truth of Scripture through the catechisms they have written.  What about you?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What do you believe? What do you teach your children?

Phil Vischer was the creator of Veggie Tales. Veggie Tales didn't work out the way he envisioned, or he envisioned it wrong. I'm not sure which--I haven't read his memoir. But I keep seeing excerpts from it popping up on the blogosphere and I must say, it sounds remarkable. Consider this:

I looked back at the previous ten years and realized I had spent ten years trying to convince kids to behave “Christianly” without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, "Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so," or, "Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!" But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.

American Christian[s]… are drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of "when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true" and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.

Remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. Do you believe the gospel or some perverted version of the American dream and the gospel? What are you teaching your children? The gospel or the "power" of their dreams? 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Civil Religion and Election Year

If you have a few minutes do yourself a favor and head over to this blog:

The author is a high school chum of mine, a good seminary friend and a brother in Christ. His insights are very timely. Here is a little excerpt:  I question the narrative that one political party (either one, or even a new one) has its finger on the pulse of this nation, wants selflessly to meet the needs of the people, and can summon the resources to do this, if only elected through your allegiance.

One thing I think is helpful to do as a Christian is to tell it like it is. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. For many Americans and regretably, many so-called evangelical Christians, their true hope is found in politics and political parties and that of course, is idolatry. I've said is much on this blog, particularly on the 4th of July and I preached it just this past Sunday in church as we concluded our series on 1st John 5.13-21. I'm amazed how often people come to me and lament the language and negative energy so many devote to politics, especially this time of year. My response is always, "Well, it is their religion--what do you expect?"

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.