Beginning this September, St. John will begin its next season of Christian education. From our beginning in 1855, Pr. W. Kolb held catechetical classes each Sunday, Christenlehre. On March 30th, 1856, the first young adults confessed their Baptismal faith, having been instructed, examined, and absolved. We have maintained this edifying and useful tradition, gathering each Sunday and other times to study God’s Word together. Our goal is confessing the faith and leading a life according to the Word.
This month, your school will begin its 164th year of “nurturing the roots of lifelong literacy.” Your school’s new mission tagline confesses the purpose of your school. Your children receive an education that teaches the Scriptures and the faith confessed, while also nurturing all the tools and knowledge for current and future vocations where they serve in love to their neighbor.
My task as your pastor is teaching the faith at church and school. I also am given to provide the tools for you to fulfill your Christian vocation to learn the faith at home and teach it to your children. We gather regularly for instruction in the Word of God, not merely to gain knowledge about God, but that our faith in Jesus Christ strengthened, and that we might live by that faith in our lives. Receiving our Lord’s teaching from the Holy Scriptures is a way of life for us, young and old alike, from the cradle to the grave. Our Lord is with us wherever His Word is faithfully taught and received. Jesus said:
“Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
We call this teaching “catechesis.” The word katechesis means instruction by word of mouth, especially by questioning and answering. We use this word for education in the elements of religion, especially preparation for initiation into Christianity.
As we learn in the Table of Duties, the Apostle Paul insists upon “doctrine” as one of the essential duties of a bishop/pastor (1 Timothy 4:13, 16; 5:17; 2 Timothy 4:2). Doctrine is not naturally known but taught. The act of teaching is “catechesis,” and the knowledge imparted by the education is contained in the “catechism.” The word “catechesis,” with its technical meaning of oral religious instruction, is applied both to the act of instructing and the subject-matter of the instruction.
St. Luke indicates that his Gospel was written in part for this purpose: “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:4). In Acts 18:25, Apollo is described as “instructed [katechemenos] in the way of the Lord.” St. Paul uses the word twice: “I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach [katecheso] others also” (1 Corinthians 14:19); and “Let him who is taught [ho katechoumenos] the word share in all good things with him who teaches [ [to katechounti]” (Galatians 6:6).
As the summer draws to a close, consider your priorities for the fall. It’s time to prioritize and engage in normal hearing, learning, studying, and praying God’s Word. Utilize Sunday School and Sunday Bible Class. Pray at home. Read the Scriptures together. Recite the Catechism. Enroll your children in our catechesis program. Encourage your friend, spouse, or coworker to receive instruction. Start small or go all-in with our offerings.
You will see our life of catechesis at St. John on the following chart, “OVERVIEW OF CATECHESIS FOR YOUTH AND ADULTS.” The following is a summary of the four courses in our approach.
- The Congregation at Prayer is a weekly devotional and catechetical guide for use in the home, the congregation, and the Lutheran day school. The Congregation at Prayer unites the congregation around the same sections of the Word of God and Catechism and gives a common language for prayer and meditation upon the Scriptures. It helps families and individual Christians in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and learning the Catechism at home. It teaches the congregation to use the Bible, Catechism, and hymnal as daily devotional companions for the Christian faith and life.
- Old Testament Catechesis is a survey of the Old Testament Bible stories. It is intended to build a foundation of Bible knowledge and vocabulary from the Old Testament. It teaches the words of the Small Catechism under the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, and from the Table of Duties, “To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers” and “What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors.”
- New Testament Catechesis is a survey of New Testament Bible stories. It is intended to build a foundation of Bible knowledge and vocabulary from the New Testament, and teach the words of the Small Catechism under the Lord’s Prayer, Confession and the Office of the Keys, and from the Table of Duties, “Of Civil Government” and “Of Citizens.”
- Lutheran Catechesis or “Didache” is the class for adults seeking membership in the congregation, for youth who have completed Old and New Testament Catechesis and learned the Catechism by heart, for perspective members, for new school parents, for members and guests who would like to be refreshed in the Christian faith and life, and for those who simply want to learn more about what we believe and why we worship the way we do. Didache is a 24-week intensive course in the Bible, Catechism, and Liturgy of the Church.
Catechesis is much more comprehensive than mere education. This life is lived by faith in Christ as we go about our daily tasks as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, neighbors, and workers of every kind. Living the Christian faith is not merely an “internal thing”; it has authentic “external things” by which it is known and sustained. It is about a real faith that is fed and nurtured through preaching and sacraments in real places of worship. It is lived out in the real world where there is real sin and real sorrow, but real forgiveness and consolation through the Gospel of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. This is what catechesis is all about. All this and more is meant by the word of Jesus: “Make disciples of all nations; baptizing them … teaching them …; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
God the Holy Trinity be with you all,
Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie