Luther’s Small Catechism
From 1526-1528, about ten years after the beginning of the Reformation and the posting of the 95 Theses, Luther and others visited churches throughout his area, called the Saxon Visitation. Luther found that both pastors and people alike lacked basic knowledge and understanding of many of the most foundational elements of this Christian faith, especially that of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. To help these churches, Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a guide for pastors and people alike to learn the very most basic elements of the faith and what they mean.
Luther’s intention for the Small Catechism was that it would be taught to all people, not just the young, and would be taught “year after year.” As it includes the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in six chief parts: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar, it is not something to be learned in our youth or at one time in our life and put down and left alone, but learned by heart so that it is continually on our heart, mind, and tongue. Much of this is included in Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism as well as a very stern and harsh warning to those who would refuse to learn the catechism or who would not seek or desire the Sacrament at least four times a year.
In his preface, Luther also says, “Therefore, I beg you all for God’s sake, my dear sirs and brethren, who are pastors or preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office (1 Tim. 4:13). Have pity on the people who are entrusted to you (Acts 20:28) and help us teach the catechism to the people.” In an effort to fulfill Luther’s desperate plea, we will undertake to recite the whole Small Catechism every two years, focusing on different portions each month, in an effort to learn it by heart and always have it on our hearts, minds, and tongues.
The First and Second Commandments
The first and second commandments begin the first table of God’s Law and focus on our relationship to God. Jesus summarizes them both, as well as the third commandment, as loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37). The first commandment is also the beginning and basis for all of the other commandments. This is easiest to see when we look at how the meaning of each commandment begins with “We should fear and love God so that…” which is intended it remind us of the first commandment and its meaning.
The second commandment continues to bring us back to the first as it is a command to not “misuse” the Lord’s name. This implies that we are to use it, for that is the reason God gave it to us in the first place and because Jesus encourages us to use it as we pray “in his name.” While misusing God’s name is prohibited by the commandment, it does encourage us to use it properly by “calling upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” God encourages us to pray to him and to trust that our prayers are heard and answered for the sake of the Son and his sacrifice, reminding us always that even if our prayer is not answered the way we would like, we can always praise and give thanks to him for our salvation.
The First Commandment
What is the First Commandment?
You shall have no other gods.
What does this mean?
We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
The Second Commandment
What is the Second Commandment?
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord you God.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.