Frequently Asked Questions When Teaching Luther’s Small Catechism

Over the past twelve months, I have offered thoughts and educational strategies related to teaching Luther’s Small Catechism. As last month’s blog completed the six chief parts, I would like to address a few common questions related to Luther’s Small Catechism.

Why are the Ten Commandments in a particular order?

God chose the order of the Ten Commandments when He gave them to Moses in Exodus 20:2–17, and Moses repeated them in Deuteronomy 5:7–21. There are two observations we can make regarding the order of the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments pertain to our relationship with God: idolatry, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and remembering the Sabbath day. The remaining seven commandments pertain to our relationship with our fellow human beings. As God is our Lord and Savior, it is appropriate that we prioritize how we are to interact with Him. Notice that fearing and loving God alone is the first commandment of all. Imagine if we always kept the first commandment. In such a case, there would be no need for the other nine. We also violate the first commandment by breaking any of the other nine. In the case of Adam and Eve, the first two human beings fell into sin because they elevated the ideas of the devil and their own desire for godhood above obeying God’s directives. Disobeying God is the root of all sin.

Which of the Ten Commandments do we have to keep?

The answer to this question depends on its meaning. If the meaning behind the question is “Which of the Ten Commandments do I have to keep to go to heaven?” then the answer is all of them, perfectly. But none of us can keep them perfectly every moment of our lives. The heart of the Christian faith is that sinners are justified before God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ work for our redemption was to keep God’s laws perfectly in our place. As a sinner, I can never keep God’s laws. Yet, through faith, I receive the benefit of Christ’s perfect obedience. This is what Lutherans call Jesus’ act of atonement.

At the same time, we endeavor to keep the Ten Commandments out of fear and love of the Lord. God is almighty and just, and He punishes sin. Therefore, we fear God as a child respects his or her father, recognizing the Lord’s authority. We also obey out of love. We recognize that in love God created, redeemed, and saved us. In response, we obey in love.

There are other reasons to keep the Ten Commandments. Doing so establishes order in the life of the individual and society, reduces misery and shame in the life of the Christian, and witnesses to the wisdom and righteousness of God before the world.

Is it better to pray extemporaneously or with prewritten prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer?

There is value in both extemporaneous prayer and prewritten prayers. Extemporaneous prayer, or what we might call free-form prayer, reflects the intimacy God’s children have with their heavenly Father. Children, when making requests to their elders, do not typically compose the request before the conversation. They simply approach and ask. As Christians, we have this intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. The temple curtain splitting at the moment of Jesus’ death is an image of the closeness we have with God through His Son’s death on the cross.

Prewritten prayers are just as valuable. The writer has time to compose his or her thoughts without being “on the spot.” Such prayers often have a preconceived structure, which makes the prayer flow well and gives the writer time to include petitions that might be overlooked when praying extemporaneously. Those who are ill at ease with public praying often feel more comfortable reading a prayer as opposed to praying extemporaneously.

How is the pastor able to forgive my sins?

God has given the church (all Christians on earth) the Office of the Keys: the special authority to forgive the sins of the penitent and to withhold forgiveness from the impenitent. The Gospel explains it this way:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. John 20:23

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:18

The Office of the Keys is exercised in the local congregation as this gathering of Christians calls a pastor to exercise it among them. The pastor is empowered to do so because he is properly trained and called. Based on God’s promises in the verses above, sinners can be sure they are forgiven by God through their pastor.

There are at least two additional benefits to hearing the pastor speak the Words of Absolution. We are human beings. That is, God created us with lungs, voices, ears, and brains. He has blessed us with language to communicate. God has created us so that we can hear the words of forgiveness as God speaks through the pastor’s voice. It is a comfort to hear the words and, by the Holy Spirit, trust in the promises. Corporate Confession and Absolution brings the family of Christ together. United, they admit their sin in the presence of God and one another. United, they hear the voice of Christ through their pastor assuring them of forgiveness.

Scripture: ESV®.

Shop Luther’s catechisms to continue your journey.

Shop Catechisms

Picture of Phil Rigdon
Written by

Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

Subscribe to all CPH Blog topics (Worship, Read, Study, Teach, and Serve)