Luther’s Handbook for Parenting and Spiritual Warfare
Today is the Book of Concord study at St. Peter where we read the Lutheran Confessions. A long time ago we started reading the Augsburg Confession and finally got through it. Earlier this year we started Luther’s Large Catechism.
I have to say that teaching the Catechism this year has become one of the most rewarding things I’ve gotten to do in teaching. The reason is that topical bible studies I’ve done are usually limited by my own areas of familiarity. This year, preaching on the Small Catechism’s section on Baptism during Lent and doing short catechetical sessions with the Ladies’ Aid and with the catechumens and parents on Wednesdays, along with working through the Large Catechism, I’ve started to see things in the catechism I never saw before, or grasp them more fully.
One of the things that strikes me about the Large Catechism is the multitude of practical suggestions Luther drops constantly. On the one hand he shows constantly how the parts of the catechism apply to daily spirituality, or “lived faith.” I’ve read the Large Catechism before—particularly in my early twenties in college. But a lot of the things Luther had to say about the life of prayer and of combat with the devil I just didn’t really grasp. He means them quite literally.
At the same time, thus far in the Catechism (we’re doing the 3rd and maybe 4th commandments today), Luther constantly makes mention of how to teach the commandments to children. Of course it should be obvious that he would do that, since a catechism is supposed to give the essentials of the faith in such a way that a parent can teach his children.
But today when the church is experiencing a crisis of losing members precisely because parents don’t know how to catechize their children, it’s kind of a slap upside the head.
People, in America anyway, like practical books on Christianity that tell you how to have a more meaningful life, or how the theology you learn helps practically in keeping your family together or in dealing with stress, anger, etc.
But the Evangelicals have generally done a better job at addressing that felt need, whereas Lutherans have struggled to teach “practical Christian living” while at the same time keeping the attention on the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake.
But Luther doesn’t have that problem. After he talks about what a commandment means, he inevitably goes on to talking about how we should use the commandment in raising our children. In raising them, not simply “teaching them the information they need to know about God.” He doesn’t separate teaching children how to live from teaching them Christian doctrine.
Also Luther inevitably talks about the commandment’s relation to our battle with Satan—how the devil wars against the assurance of faith, and how the ten commandments point us toward very practical defense against the evil one.
Other practicalities Luther addresses in the Catechism besides parenting, teaching, spiritual warfare: God’s promised blessings for those who love Him and keep His commandments, as well as His threats of anger and punishment against those who break them or despise them. And not simply after you die, but also in this life, in earthly things.
I think Lutherans would still have some of the difficulties we do in America with not being “pragmatic” enough even if we were “practical” in the way Luther is in the Catechism.
But it also seems like we would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble with having people from our churches going to Christian bookstores and buying law-driven books on parenting or on Christian spirituality, if we had paid attention to the Large Catechism and taught according to the pattern Luther gives us there. You can see how concerned he is with attention to life as it is lived by real people in the world, and not simply with presenting the article of justification academically, divorced from its relationship to the life of prayer (3rd chief part), Baptism and the resulting life of repentance and faith (4th chief part), Divine Service (6th chief part), pastoral care (5th chief part), and good works (1st chief part, table of duties.) Not to mention awareness that God the justifier (2nd article) is also the God who providentially cares for us and sustains us (1st article) and gives us new life in the community of holy people (3rd article).
I wrote about this before, but I can’t remember if I posted it or not. So here are some juicy quotes before I go back to putting tonight’s study together.
“We are not to swear in support of evil, that is, of falsehood, and where there is no need or use; but for the support of good and the advantage of our neighbor. For it is a truly good work, by which God is praised, truth and right are established, falsehood is refuted, peace is made among men, obedience is rendered, and quarrels are settled. For in this way God himself interposes and separates between right and wrong, good and evil. If one part swears falsely, he has his sentence that he shall not escape punishment, and though it be deferred a long time, he shall not succeed; so that all that he may gain thereby will slip out of his hands, and he will never enjoy it; as I have seen in the case of many who perjured themselves in their marriage vows, that they have never had a happy hour or a healthful day, and thus perished miserably in body, soul, and possessions.” (Large Catechism 66-68)
“Therefore I advise and exhort as before that by means of warning and threatening, restrain and punishment, the children be trained betimes to shun falsehood, and especially to avoid the use of God’s name in its support. For where they are allowed to do as they please, no good will result, as is even now evident that the world is worse than it has ever been, and that there is no government, no obedience, no fidelity, no faith, but only daring, unbridled men, whom no teaching or reproof helps; all of which is God’s wrath and punishment for such wanton contempt of this commandment.” LC 69
For this end it is also of service that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God, with soul and body, wife, children, servants, and all that we have, against every need that may occur…Likewise the practice of children to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard, and to exclaim: “Lord God, protect us!” “Help, dear Lord Jesus!” etc. Thus too, if anyone meets with unexpected good fortune, however trivial, that he say: “God be praised and thanked: this God has bestowed on me!” etc., as formerly the children were accustomed to fast and pray to St. Nicholas and to other saints. This would be more pleasing and acceptable to God than all monasticism…
Behold, thus we might train our youth in a childlike way and playfully in the fear and honor of God, so that the First and Second Commandments might be well observed and in constant practice. Then some good might take root, spring up and bear fruit, and men grow up whom an entire land might relish and enjoy. Moreover, this would be the true way to bring up children well as long as they can become trained with kindness and delight. For what must be enforced with rods and blows only will not develop into a good breed, and at best they will remain godly under such treatment no longer than while the rod is upon their back.
But this [manner of training] so spreads its roots in the heart that they fear God more than rods and clubs. This I say with such simplicity for the sake of the young, that it may penetrate their minds. For since we are preaching to children, we must also prattle with them. (LC 73-77)
Likewise those fastidious spirits are to be reproved who, when they have heard a sermon or two, find it tedious and dull, thinking that they know all that well enough, and need no more instruction. For just that is the sin which has been hitherto reckoned among mortal sins, and is called “acedia”, i.e. torpor or satiety, a malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the hearts of many, that he may surprise us and secretly withdraw God’s word from us.
For let me tell you this, even though you know it perfectly and be already master in all things, still you are daily in the dominion of the devil, who ceases neither day nor night to steal unawares upon you, to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against the foregoing and all commandments. Therefore you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle, and the Word does not sound, he breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware. On the other hand, such is the efficacy of the Word, whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, that it is bound never to be without fruit, but always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness, and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not inoperative or dead, but creative living words. And even though no other interest or necessity impel us, yet this ought to urge every one thereunto, because thereby the devil is put to flight and driven away, and besides, this commandment is fulfilled, and [this exercise in the Word’ is more pleasing to God than any work of hypocrisy, however brilliant. (LC 99-102)
- “Whoever Does Not Receive the Kingdom of God Like a Child Will Never Enter it”. Sermon on Infant Baptism, Wed. after Judica 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Key Documents, Part 3: The Lutheran Confessions (lawgospelaction.wordpress.com)
- Baptism: God stakes His honor, power, and might on it. Lenten Vespers Sermon Feb. 20 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Sanctification by the gospel (dawningrealm.wordpress.com)
- “The Secret Place of the Most High”. Lent Midweek Sermon. “What Benefits Does Baptism Give?” (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)