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 Third and Fourth Commandments
While the First and Second Commandments deal directly with our relationship to God, the Third and Fourth Commandments deal with our relationship to those things and people in our lives that God puts before us in His place.
The Third Commandment deals with our relationship with God’s Word as something we are to “hold sacred and gladly hear and learn.” God’s Word, the Bible, is not like any other book. It is an inspired book in which God speaks to us and reveals Himself and His will to us. His Word, along with His Sacraments, are the means, the way, God comes to us today. They stand in His place as His way of delivering the Gospel to us in a way that we can receive it for the assurance of our faith, eliminating doubt.
The Fourth Commandment deals with our relationship not just to our parents, but to all authorities. God gives us not only parents, but all authorities, including our government, for our good. They are to stand in the place of God as the greatest authority over us, protecting us and helping us to do God’s will, including preaching the Gospel. Since it is God who gives them this authority, we ought to treat and respect them the way we would treat and respect God, while also distinguishing where they are different and when we must obey God rather than men.
The Third Commandment
What is the Third Commandment?
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
The Fourth Commandment
What is the Fourth Commandment?
Honor your father and your mother.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.