Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
This month we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, a revelation of "God with us." The season of Epiphany is about new
revelations in our lives-having our perceptions and perspectives changed and viewing life in a new way. The ordinary of
our lives appears different after we have encountered the wondrous glory of Christ-now we are the recipients of God's
promises and gifts.
Epiphany is the feast of light, the light of Christ shining in our lives and we are called to recognize our responsibility as
children of light-to be reflections of Christ's light into the world. And we do this by our actions, by being examples or
"little Christs" to the world.
I have recently been involved in a discussion about Christian education programs in our churches, one point continues to
come up; we have abandoned the teaching of the Catechism beyond "Confirmation". We continue to fail to learn from
history; therefore, I will be dedicating a number of newsletter articles to a "refresher on Luther's Catechism". This month
we hear from Martin himself about the conditions in the churches in 1528.
Grace, mercy and peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord, from Martin Luther to all faithful, godly pastors and preachers.
[Preface to the Small Catechism]
The deplorable conditions which I recently encountered when I was a visitor constrained me to prepare this
brief and simple catechism or statement of Christian teaching. Good God, what wretchedness I beheld! The
common people, especially those who live in the country, have no knowledge whatever of Christian teaching and
unfortunately many pastors are quite incompetent and unfitted for teaching. Although the people are supposed to
be Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, they do not know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or the
Ten Commandments, they live as if they were pigs and irrational beasts, and now that the Gospel has been
restored, they have mastered the fine art of abusing liberty.
How will you bishops answer for it before Christ that you have so shamefully neglected the people and paid
no attention at all to the duties of your office? May you escape punishment for this! You withhold the cup in the
Lord's Supper and insist on the observance of human laws, yet you do not take the slightest interest in teaching
the people the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or a single part of the Word of God. Woe to
I therefore beg of you for God's sake, my beloved brethren who are pastors and preachers, that you take the
duties of your office seriously, that you have pity on the people who are entrusted to your care, and that you help
me to teach the catechism to the people, especially those who are young. Let those who lack the qualifications to
do better at least take this booklet and these forms and read them to the people word for word in this manner:
In the first place, the preacher should take the utmost care to avoid changes or variations in the text and
wording of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the sacraments, etc. On the contrary, he
should adopt one form, adhere to it and use it repeatedly year after year. Young and inexperienced people must
be instructed on the basis of a uniform, fixed text and form. They are easily confused if a teacher employs one
form now and another form-perhaps with the intention of making improvements-later on. In this way, all the
time and labor will be lost.
This was well understood by our good fathers, who were accustomed to use the same form in teaching the
Lord's Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments. We, too, should teach these things to the young and
unlearned in such a way that we do not alter a single syllable or recite the catechism differently from year to year.
Choose the form that pleases you, therefore, and adhere to it henceforth. When you preach to intelligent and
educated people, you are at liberty to exhibit your learning and to discuss these topics from different angles and in
such a variety of ways, as you may be capable of. But when you are teaching the young, adhere to a fixed and
unchanging form and method. Begin by teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer,
etc., following the text word for word so that the young may repeat these things after you and retain them in their
If any refuse to receive your instructions, tell them that they deny Christ and are no Christians. They should
not be admitted to the sacrament, be accepted as sponsors in Baptism, or be allowed to participate in any
Christian privileges. On the contrary, they should be turned over to the pope and his officials, and even to the
devil himself. In addition, parents and employers should refuse to furnish them with food and drink and should
notify them that the prince is disposed to banish such rude people from his land.
Although we cannot and should not compel anyone to believe, we should nevertheless insist that the people
learn to know how to distinguish between right and wrong according to the standards of those among whom they
live and make their living. For anyone who desires to reside in a city is bound to know and observe the laws
under whose protection he lives, no matter whether he is a believer or, at heart, a scoundrel or knave.
In the second place, after the people have become familiar with the text, teach them what it means. For this
purpose, take the explanations in this booklet, or choose any other brief and fixed explanations which you may
prefer, and adhere to them without changing a single syllable, as stated above with reference to the text.
Moreover, allow yourself ample time, for it is not necessary to take up all the parts at once. They can be
presented one at a time. When the learners have a proper understanding of the First Commandment, proceed to
the Second Commandment, and so on. Otherwise, they will be so overwhelmed that they will hardly remember
anything at all.
In the third place, after you have thus taught this brief catechism, take up a large catechism so that the people
may have a richer and fuller understanding. Expound every commandment, petition and part, pointing out their
respective obligations, benefits, dangers, advantages and disadvantages, as you will find all of this treated at
length in the many books written for this purpose. Lay the greatest weight on those commandments or other
parts which seem to require special attention among the people where you are. For example, the Seventh
Commandment, which treats of stealing, must be emphasized when instructing laborers and shopkeepers, and
even farmers and servants, for many of these are guilty of dishonesty and thievery. So, too, the Fourth
Commandment must be stressed when instructing children and the common people in order that they may be
encouraged to be orderly, faithful, obedient, and peaceful. Always adduce many examples from the Scriptures to
show how God punished and blessed.
You should also take pains to urge governing authorities and parents to rule wisely and educate their children.
They must be shown that they are obliged to do so, and that they are guilty of damnable sin if they do not do so,
for by such neglect they undermine and lay waste both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world and are
the worst enemies of God and man. Make very plain to them the shocking evils they introduce when they refuse
their aid in the training of children to become pastors, preachers, notaries, etc., and tell them that God will inflict
awful punishments on them for these sins. It is necessary to preach about such things. The extent to which
parents and governing authorities sin in this respect is beyond telling. The devil also has a horrible purpose in
Finally, now that the people are freed from the tyranny of the pope, they are unwilling to receive the
sacrament and they treat it with contempt. Here, too, there is need of exhortation, but with this understanding: No
one is to be compelled to believe or to receive the sacrament, no law is to be made concerning it, and no time or
place should be appointed for it. We should so preach that, of their own accord and without any law, the people
will desire the sacrament and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer it to them. This can be done by telling
them: It is to be feared that anyone who does not desire to receive the sacrament at least three or four times a
year despises the sacrament and is no Christian, just as he is -no Christian who does not hear-and believe the
Gospel. Christ did not say, "Omit this," or "Despise this," but he said, "Do this, as often as you drink it," etc.
Surely, he wishes that this be done and not that it be omitted and despised. "Do this," he said.
He who does not highly esteem the sacrament suggests thereby that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no
world, no death, no hell. That is to say, he believes in none of these, although he is deeply immersed in them and
is held captive by the devil. On the other hand, he suggests that he needs no grace, no life, no paradise, no
heaven, no Christ, no God, nothing good at all. For if he believed that he was involved in so much that is evil and
was in need of so much that is good, he would not neglect the sacrament in which aid is afforded against such
evil and in which such good is bestowed. It is not necessary to compel him by any law to receive the sacrament,
for he will hasten to it of his own accord, he will feel constrained to receive it, he will insist that you administer it to him.
Accordingly, you are not to make a law of this, as the pope has done. All you need to do is clearly to set forth
the advantage and disadvantage, the benefit and loss, the blessing and danger connected with this sacrament.
Then the people will come of their own accord and without compulsion on your part. But if they refuse to come,
let them be, and tell them that those who do not feel and acknowledge their great need and God's gracious help
belong to the devil. If you do not give such admonitions, or if you adopt odious laws on the subject, it is your own
fault if the people treat the sacrament with contempt. How can they be other than negligent if you fail to do your
duty and remain silent? So, it is up to your,dear pastor and preacher! Our office. has become something different
from what it was under the pope. It is now a ministry of grace and salvation. It subjects us to greater burdens
and labors, dangers and temptations, with little reward or gratitude from the world. But Christ himself will be our
reward if we labor faithfully. The Father of all grace grant it! To him be praise and thanks forever, through Christ,
our Lord. Amen.
In Christ's service,