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Preface to the Second Edition of
As the first edition of this text has seen a good amount of use among several Lutheran bodies in the United States and elsewhere, we have been blessed to receive feedback that has given us the opportunity to provide some beneficial enhancements in this second edition. Thanks are hereby given especially to the Rev. Michael Liese of Brimfield, Illinois, who worked through each lesson with me when he first prepared to teach it to the youth of his parish, and to “Liturgy, Hymnody, and Pulpit,” the publication of the Wyoming District (LCMS) Worship Committee, whose very kind Eastertide 2007 review helped immensely in my editing. To answer a few concerns about the First Edition, I offer the following.
One of the keys to the use of this text is its pedagogical use of the liturgy in bringing about a progressive growth in the precision of understanding. It presumes that the student is actually a catechumen, that he has attended the Divine Service and heard the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and desires to know more; that is, that he is not a blank slate, yet that he also is not already a great student of the faith, of the liturgy, and so on. (While it is certainly being put to good use by many in the teaching of children, the text was originally designed with adults with little ‘Lutheran experience’ in mind.)
Thus, following the course of the liturgy not only in the liturgical sections, but also in the doctrinal, we begin by examining who and how God is and how He brings sinners to Himself, making them worthy to be in His presence through Holy Baptism (Invocation), then turn to the Confession of Sins with a little fore-affirmation of God’s will to help us sinners, since we are His creatures whom it is His desire to save through the blood of Christ. When we do so, we examine in some depth just what it is that we have to confess and why we owe obedience to the Lord. Next, we explain the Absolution, first in its connection with Justification, and then in its connection with the Office of the Keys…eventually linking these through our consideration of the Holy Spirit and the Pastoral Office. Some have wondered how we can do that before we consider in depth who Jesus is and what He has done. The answer is twofold: first, simply, that’s the order we experience in the liturgy; and second, the giving of the fact of Holy Absolution makes the ‘background history’ of Jesus not only ‘relevant’, but earnestly desired and necessary for the catechumen. He sees that this is no ‘Bible trivia’, but the reason he, a sinner, can receive such great gifts from God.
Again, it should be remembered that this course was not written for mere academic study, nor for those already committed to a church body (though, perhaps, unsure of the Church’s confession of the faith, as was the case of those for whom Luther designed his catechisms), nor as a systematic confession of the faith (such as the Augsburg Confession). These have their own beautiful structures; but, so does the historic liturgy, and it is that structure that drives this specific course, simply because the relation of the doctrine to the liturgy makes for a vehicle for the weekly renewal of the believer in all that the Church confesses. (In my own practice with children of the parish, the Small Catechism comes first, by means of memorization along with Bible narrative, then comes another trip through the Small Catechism itself, then this course, and then the study of the Large Catechism, which I tell them it is incumbent upon them to study before they become parents, so it might as well be studied before they can date!) What this book consists of, to me, is more a series of preaching outlines on the parts of the Divine Service and the doctrine that they convey.
Beside such questions some have had about the structure of the text as (we hope) have been answered above, some have noted that the first half of the course seems to focus on a very small section of the Service. Indeed, the first eleven lessons deal exclusively with the preparatory service. There are three reasons for this. First, the liturgical section is supposed to be tied in to the lesson material at hand, and when we cover the Decalogue and the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel, Confession and Absolution is the natural place to tie this in. If we had put the whole Decalogue into one lesson and placed the Law and Gospel section in it, as well, and considered the Creation, the Fall, and the history of the Patriarchs (as illustration of Man’s sin and God’s grace) together, there would have been only three liturgical sections on Confession (more on why we do not do that, below). Second, the liturgical sections for these chapters are relatively brief, so while we talk about them over several weeks, they’re not really dealt with at any more length than the rest of the Service. Third, both with regard to content and to this brevity, these lessons are laying a foundation for the things that occur later in the course, attempting to develop interest and understanding, rather than risk overloading from the start. Again, even though the Invocation is a ‘late’ addition to the Divine Service, its use in the Christian’s daily devotional life and its being derived from Holy Baptism make it foundational on several levels. The page on the Invocation between lessons two and three speaks to this fact.
Along with these concerns about our ‘novel’ structure, some have wondered at, e.g., the length of the section on the Decalogue. My response is to ask that the same standard be applied to Luther: in the Concordia Triglotta’s English translation, the Decalogue section of the Large Catechism contains 24,483 words; for the rest of the Chief Articles of Christian doctrine, one finds only 24,575 more. The Decalogue is only 92 words shorter than the rest of the catechism! There’s a simple reason for that: there are ten Commandments! Beside that, they are too easily misunderstood; thus, Luther speaks of them at length, both so that one knows what sin he commits and, more importantly, knows why these things are sinful—because they are contrary to fear, love, and trust in God. (I think those who were concerned that a ‘law bound’ tendency could develop in a catechumen will like the feature we’ve added to the discussion of every Commandment in this edition.) In the same way, we use more ink on the Office of the Keys than on some other things because of the gross misunderstandings current among Lutherans.
Some have asked if this text will be adapted to newer hymnals, etc. To such an extent as demand warrants it and other publishing companies will cooperate, such is my intent. It is, at any rate, easily adaptable to other hymnals using the ‘Common Service’. We have also included updated Catechism reading references; Small Catechism quotations are my own ‘fine tuning’ of the translation of the German text made by the Rev. Dr. John Drickamer. If those in various church bodies would like a copy of this book with their publishing house’s translation, this may be able to be arranged, but I’ll ask for your help in doing so.
I hope that the above will allay any concerns about our structure and emphasis, as well as showing how seriously we desire to improve this text in every way.
The Rev. Eric J. Stefanski, Harrison, Arkansas