St. John Lutheran Church
From Faith Practices, Faith Lives
by Dr. Martha Stortz
In the ancient church, most new Christians were adult converts to Christianity. They went through a process of initiation into the faith which involved study of Scripture, instruction in various forms of prayer, and explanation of the symbols and actions of the liturgy. The process culminated in the Easter Vigil, where the new Christians were baptized, anointed with holy oil, and given their first communion.
As the practice of baptizing infants became more and more prevalent in the fifth and sixth centuries, this process of initiation disintegrated. Baptized at birth, medieval Christians were taught visually; statues, paintings, altar pieces, and the various symbols in the church taught them the language of faith and the stories of Scripture. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the invention of the printing press and the growing number of people who could read provided access to the printed word as a tool in religious education.
Disheartened by the state of parish education in a visit to all the churches in Saxony in 1527, Luther prepared the Small and Large Catechisms for instruction in home, school and congregation.
Christians were to be lifelong learners. Study informed discipleship. Luther envisioned his Small Catechism as the foundation of learning for life. It told Christians what they were to do (the Ten Commandments), what God had done for them (the Creed), and finally, what and how to pray (The Lord’s Prayer). The Small Catechism could be easily memorized and inscribed on the heart. Then and now, biblical preaching familiarizes audiences with the stories of Scripture. But, unlike Luther’s parishioners, we own Bibles and can read them on our own. In addition to its place in private prayer, Scripture offers us stories of the ordinary saints Luther so loved to describe in his biblical commentaries: Joseph, Mary the Mother of God, the prophet Isaiah, and others. Entering the world of Scripture initiates us into a story-shaped world and offers us a way to understand our own. Study of the Catechism and Scripture mark the life of Christian discipleship.
What part does study play in your Christian life?
What might it mean for you?
What can it mean for your congregation?