At the time of this writing, our church’s senior confirmands are feverishly preparing for next month’s public exam. Before members of their family and our congregation they will recall from memory verses of Scripture, portions of Luther’s Small Catechism and answer other questions about the Christian faith. A simultaneously terrifying, yet edifying time is expected to be had by all.
For Martin Luther during the years of the Reformation, chief among the callings to Christians was to be diligent in the continuing instruction of children. It was for this reason that in January of 1529, Luther began to publish what we now call his Small Catechism. Today, it seems, we have come to see this catechism as something that is used by the Church to educate our children. Luther, however, didn’t see things this way. That’s why when he began to publish what became his Small Catechism, he did so page-by-page as a newspaper style poster. He then displayed the poster on what today might be compared to the church’s bulletin board. At the top of each page was the title, “How the head of the household is to present the Ten Commandments (or Creed, etc.) to the members of the household” (emphasis mine). In the eyes of Luther, God primarily called the parents, not the pastor, to be the primary educators of children in the faith.
Luther found this extremely important. In his book Martin Luther’s Catechisms, Timothy J. Wengert says of Luther, “Each time Luther discussed the fourth commandment at length…he insisted on recounting parental…responsibilities, emphasizing in particular their duty and call to educate their children.” He goes on to quote Luther himself who said, “Every father of a family is a bishop in his house and the wife a bishopess. Therefore remember that you in your homes are to help us carry on the ministry as we do in the church…which is to preach the gospel to the children,” a calling which history tells us Martin & Katie Luther themselves took quite seriously.
Unfortunately this is a sentiment of which many in our culture have lost sight. We love the idea of mandatory secular education, but Christian education is another story. For Luther there was no distinction, to educate was to do so in Christ. He called the failure to educate children in the faith no less than the foremost of Satan’s tricks to “delude and deceive the common people.” Instead of providing Christian education for children, Luther said the people of his day focused on “how to make a living and get rich.” It seems that culture has not changed much in the last 500 years.
What does this mean for the Church today? As we approach Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we are reminded that oversight of and interest in our children’s spiritual welfare are chief among our God-given callings as parents. We cannot forget this aspect of our children’s development. We are called to model a life that prioritizes Christ over and above that which secular culture deems most important, be it sports, school, entertainment or any other potential idol.
For my personal calling as a pastor, it reminds me that the family has been the primary avenue through which the gospel has passed from generation to generation. As a congregation, then, it follows that we cannot neglect ministry to the whole family, not least of which to parents with children in the home. While this type of ministry is challenging due to busy schedules and changing culture, it is a crucial group to reach if our mission is to pass down the gospel of Christ to future generations.
These callings, like all others, come with their share of crosses to be borne, yet we’re not left to fend for ourselves. We have a heavenly Father who has shown sacrificial love and diligence in caring for us his children. We have a message of salvation and the forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Christ that remains unmatched by any other message the world has to offer, and we have the Holy Spirit living in us, equipping us for the task. By His grace, may we be faithful teachers of this precious truth.