The last couple of previews have noted the problem. Today, we briefly look at part of the solution…
In the Small Catechism, Luther posits a Classical Model of catechesis:
First, the pastor should most carefully avoid teaching the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc., according to various texts and differing forms. Let him adopt one version, stay with it, and from one year to the next keep using it unchanged. Young and inexperienced persons must be taught a single fixed form, or they will easily become confused, and the result will be that all previous effort and labor will be lost. There should be no change, even though one may wish to improve the text…
Second, after they have well memorized the text (of the catechism), then explain the meaning so that they understand what they are saying. Do so again with the help of these charts or some other brief uniform method of your choosing; adhere to it and do not change a single syllable, as said above concerning the text, taking your time with it. For it is not necessary to teach everything at once, but one thing after the other. After they understand well the meaning of the First Commandment, proceed to the Second, and so on, otherwise they will be too overwhelmed to the point of remembering nothing.
Third, after you have so taught them this short catechism, take up the Large Catechism and use it to give them a broader and richer understanding. Here enlarge on every individual commandment, petition, segment, explaining in each case the various words, uses, benefits, dangers, and hurts involved, as you will find them amply described in many a book dealing with these topics. Stress especially that commandment or any other specific part of the catechism doctrine which your people neglect most.
The question arises, as it often does in Lutheran practice, whether this section of our confessions, to which all pastors and congregations must pledge themselves, is prescriptive of our practice, or merely descriptive of Luther’s practice. Given what has been said about the progressive method, and its failure to properly catechize, even if one is inclined to treat Luther’s Preface as descriptive, one should certainly give the description a place of honor when considering curricula.
According to Luther’s method, the Grammar of Theology is learned first. The basic texts of the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, as well as the verses which institute the Sacraments form the basis for all catechesis. Next, the pastor teaches the meaning of those texts. What does it mean not to murder, or commit adultery? What does Baptism give, and how does it have significance for daily living, etc. Finally, a more expansive definition is given. The first phase uses the words themselves, without adornment. The second allows for brief explanation. The third phase is the place for rhetorical flourish. This is a much more natural progression for instruction than the usual method of waiting until a child enters adolescence and then attempting to do all three phases of instruction at the same time.