“Mercy! Dear God, what great misery I beheld! The common person, especially in the villages, has no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine. And unfortunately, many pastors are completely unable and unqualified to teach.”—Martin Luther (Preface to the Small Catechism)
Who are you calling a common person? An unqualified pastor? Who are you Martin Luther! I’d call him right.
Luther truthfully did see people perhaps more common than you and perhaps more unqualified than myself, but he’s still right. And, his words have a striking resurgence of factuality for us today. As before and in the midst of the Reformation, Luther observed the lack of even common or qualified knowledge of who Jesus is and what it was that he had accomplished. Today we might be inclined to believe, in our technological age, that we know more than enough about who Jesus is and what it was he accomplished. However, as it were, the abundance of knowledge is no indication of understanding. It might actually be that we have too much information and not enough clarification. Today we are not clear on the who and what of Jesus. Imagine searching the internet for the best weight loss video, website, or DIY blog. You will be inundated with results, all with common themes but each having a swear by product, fitness routine, or miracle superfood. Remember the acai berry craze? So it is that with a keystroke we find all we want and nothing we need.
Catechesis is for life. Jesus understood that being instructed, having a godly formation is essential. There are two kinds of traditions in the Bible. The first, is a formation that comes from the world. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8).” The second, is the formation that comes from God. “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thess. 2:14-15).”
Feed the formation, the tradition, that comes from God.
“Are we not the finest of all fellows to imagine that if we have once read or heard the catechism, we know it all and have no further need to read and learn? Can we finish learning in one hour what God Himself cannot finish teaching? He is engaged in teaching this from the beginning to the end of the world. All prophets, together with all saints, have been busy learning it, have ever remained students, and must continue to be students.”—Martin Luther (Preface to the Large Catechism)