The Third Commandment


I just found this piece of paper in an old German book I have on my shelf. It appears to be some Catechism copywork by my grandfather. The Third Commandment is copied two more times on the back side of the sheet. I might have thought that this was during his Confirmation instruction days, except that I’m pretty sure he was confirmed in German. I wonder when he might have written this?



Every Wednesday morning, we gather at church for Matins (Morning Praise). It’s usually a small group, and now in the summer it’s just been my kids. But we sing, listen, and pray. We use a recording for the music. We follow the order for Morning Praise from the hymnal. We use the readings and prayers from Treasury of Daily Prayer.

This morning’s Old Testament reading was from Proverbs 22, and included the famous verse: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It’s quoted often and regularly printed on wall hangings and Christian artwork. But what does it actually look like? I suppose people have all kinds of ideas about what it means to bring up a child in the way of the Lord. But I, at least, hope that it looks like this: we sing, we listen, we pray. Morning hymn, Venite, Psalm, Lesson, Te Deum, Prayer. Certainly this is not all there is to raising children. But it’s a good way to start the day.

Hymns to Learn

I have a catechism which belonged to my great-great uncle, Fred Schindeldecker. He was confirmed in 1891. The catechism is an 1889 Dietrich Catechism. On the final pages of the catechism, there is a list of hymns and hymn verses which are important to learn. There is a list for lower grades, and one for middle and upper grades. The list for the lower grades lists a handful of hymns per season of the church year. The second list identifies a single hymn for each Sunday of the church year.

In the PDF file linked below, I have reproduced the list, noting the English title and the corresponding hymn numbers in various Lutheran hymnals. Some hymns are not found in any of these, while many are found in all of them.

Hymns to Learn (1889 Catechism)

Previously, I had created a similar list of hymns, also corresponding to the historic church year. A good number of the hymns were the same, and some even fell on the same Sunday. This list in the catechism includes more hymns that don’t necessarily tie to the Sunday, but includes more hymns for evening, trust, and death and dying. I would like to now go through both the lists and take the best of both.

The idea behind a list like this is having a hymn that can be sung and learned in the home. It may or may not specifically connect with the Sunday’s emphasis, but over the course of the year(s) tries to cover all the topics and themes of the Christian faith, much like the catechism itself.

Faithful Unto Death

Here are a few photos of my Grandpa’s confirmation certificate, which I was privileged to receive and just recently had framed. I was thinking of him today, 13 years after his death.  I think of confirmation somewhat differently now that I am the one doing the instruction in catechesis and asking the questions at Confirmation. Everyone answers the questions, and the answers are all the same: “Yes, I believe. Yes, I do so intend with the help of God.” Every member of our congregations at one time or another answered questions like that. But I have seen very different results. Some keep their word. Others do not.  I see those who say they believe in Jesus but then separate themselves from him and his Word. And I see those who abide in Jesus and his Word. And I get to see the fruit that grows.

On Grandpa’s certificate are Jesus’ words: “Whoever remains in me and I in him, he bears much fruit. Without me, you can do nothing.” I can’t help being grateful for the fruit which came as a result of at least one man who kept his word at his confirmation, who remained in Jesus and His Word. I consider it a fruit of his faith that allowed Jesus’ Word to come also to me, that I might also remain in Him and His Word to me.

Nothing but Forgiveness

Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. So even though we have sins, the grace of the Holy Spirit does not allow them to harm us. For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sin. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another.

–Luther’s Large Catechism, Part II Article III

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The Sign of the Cross

One month ago, Pastor Dan Walters wrote a great post on his blog about the practice of making “The Sign of the Holy Cross.” He wrote about how Dr. Martin Luther encouraged the practice in these instructions in his Small Catechism:

In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Walters and I both grew up watching Kirby Puckett make the sign of the cross before he went to bat. We both grew up in the same town, went to the same Lutheran schools (a year apart), and studied from the same catechism with the same teachers. But we didn’t read these words in those catechisms, because our catechisms didn’t have these words.

Luther’s original Small Catechism of 1529 did. The Small Catechism included in the 1580 Book of Concord did. The version of the Dresden Catechism, published in 1881 by Northwestern Publishing House, had these words. But sometime before the WELS’ Gausewitz Catechism was revised and published in 1956, someone made the decision that it would be better to remove these instructional words from this book of instruction. (Someone who has access to a copy of the original 1917 Gausewitz catechism will have to confirm whether the change was made in the 1917 or 1956 version.) When the synod again revised the language of the Catechism in the early 80s and again in the 90s (to reflect language in the new hymnal), they continued to leave these words for those who read the Small Catechism in German, in the Book of Concord, or in a catechism published by another Lutheran body.

I can probably guess why they did it. It probably had something to do with the fact that this practice had become exclusively associated with Roman Catholicism. Of course, it’s not as though they had removed a major doctrinal point from the Catechism. It’s a pious practice which had probably become neglected and even associated with superstition and the false teaching and practice of the Roman church.

So our catechism simply introduced Luther’s morning and evening prayers with the Trinitarian invocation. I always thought that was odd. It didn’t make sense to me. It would have made sense if I had known that Luther was suggesting that we begin and end each day with the very same words and the very same sign used at our baptism, a constant reminder that each and every day we rise and we rest in the name of the Triune God and marked with the cross of Christ.It would also have been useful to know that Luther continued to say:

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

That would explain why morning devotions after breakfast at my Grandpa’s always concluded with the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s Morning Prayer. Every morning. Again, Luther continues:

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn…

Oh, it looks like Grandpa learned that from his catechism, too.

Whether or not someone actually makes the sign of the cross is not a big deal. The point is that these are some important words. They direct us to our baptism and the core of our Christian faith at the beginning and end of every day. I wish they had been left alone. I wish I had learned them earlier. I am glad to see that our new hymnal supplement quotes these words in a footnote to Luther’s prayers in a few of the devotions. I’m glad to see that some attention has been given to them in various articles and blog posts, such as the one mentioned above and those below. And I hope that someday Luther’s instructional words will be re-inserted back into a future edition of a synodical catechism.

Below is an excerpt from an article from the March 2010 issue of Worship the Lord newsletter, entitled Accuracy: Urban Legends in our Churches by Pastor Jon Buchholz, President of the Arizona-California District of the WELS.

Myth: Making the sign of the cross is a Catholic superstition.
Reality: The sign of the cross is a way for Christians to remember their baptism.

We worship in the name of the Father and of the ☩ Son and of the Holy Spirit. The rubric calls for the pastor to make the sign of the cross over the people. Some in the congregation make the sign of the cross over themselves at the same time, and people think, “Hmm, Catholic visitors today?”

The sign of the cross itself, the proper way to hold one’s hand when making it, whether to go from right to left or left to right, and all the different times to make it are subjects for deeper exploration elsewhere. (Luther’s morning and evening prayers in the Small Catechism include an enjoinder to bless oneself with the holy cross. In corporate worship, appropriate times to make the sign of the cross include at the invocation, the Incarnatus (in the Nicene Creed, when we say, “And became fully human”), after receiving the Sacrament of the Altar, and at the benediction.) Suffice to say that making the sign of the cross is an ancient practice that serves a very simple purpose: It is a memory device to help Christians find comfort and strength in their baptism.

Did you think about your baptism today? Would it be helpful if you had a simple tool to help you recall each day that your old self was drowned and put to death in the waters of Baptism and that now you have been resurrected as a new creation, clothed with Christ, forgiven, and given a new identity as a child of God? Recalling our baptism gives us strength in the face of temptation, comfort in affliction, and joy in all of God’s promises sealed to us in his covenant of grace.

When you were baptized, the pastor said, “Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon the head and upon the heart, to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ.” Then he baptized you into the name of the Triune God. The sign of the cross at the invocation can tangibly recall the name into which we were baptized and in which we worship. At the Incarnatus we remember Jesus, our brother, sharing our humanity to fulfill all righteousness. As the pastor dismisses us from the Lord’s Table, we remember that through Baptism are we worthy to receive the precious gifts of Jesus’ true body and blood. As we are dismissed with the blessing, we go in the power of Baptism, to bear Christ’s name in the world.

Certainly the sign of the cross can become a superstitious device, like an amulet or a charm; anything good can be perverted. But the simple sign of the cross can be a powerful reminder of something that we want to remember often.

Bless yourself with the holy cross, and as you do so, recall all the gifts of God’s grace!

Here are a few other articles on the same subject:

Time for Catechesis

I just realized that, right now, I am spending eight hours each week teaching catechism or Bible Information Class. I have three different BIC classes going, as well as our regular LES catechism and our public school confirmation class. For a total of 16 people. It would seem to be a better use of my time to have bigger classes, but I have found many perks of working with 2–4 people at a time. It seems to invite better discussion than in a large group, where the same number of individuals tend to dominate the discussion. That said, I wouldn’t mind having a few more people in any of the classes. (You’re welcome to join us.)

The Small Catechism title page
The Small Catechism title page

And as much time as all this takes, I must say that it remains one of the most enjoyable parts of my week. In just one week, I had the lessons on the purposes of the law, the 2nd Commandment, Holy Baptism, and the characteristics of God. Can’t wait for this week’s lessons.

But can you just imagine it—spending so much time with the basics of the Christian faith? And the most amazing thing is that it never seems dull. I never get tired of it. I never master it, or reach the point where I don’t benefit from the basic teachings of the Scriptures.

Maybe you don’t have the opportunity to teach these things time and again. But most probably have the opportunity to attend your pastor’s Bible Information Class (or whatever he calls it). I tell people every time I start a class that it’s a great refresher for long-time Lutherans. I’ve had just a handful of people take me up on it. But every single one of them has remarked at how much they (re)learned, or how much they had forgotten. Try it. You won’t regret it.

Stained Glass Catechism

This week our new stained glass windows at church were installed. This project has been in the works for almost a year. And I understand that the congregation always intended to put in stained glass windows someday. The church was built almost twenty years ago.

On Tuesday night, the windows in the nave were installed, and tonight they installed the window in the pastor’s study. The windows contain symbols for the six chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism. The seventh window, in my study, has Luther’s seal.

Stained glass windows have historically been a means for teaching the faith, even to those who were not able to read. I am looking forward to making use of these windows to teach the core elements of the Christian faith. And yes, even to those unable to read. Just today I walked with Lydia (she’s 3) into church and had her guess what the symbols were for. She knows some of them. The easiest for her is baptism. The older two kids can at least name the chief parts. We’re working on learning them.

I imagine that there will be many opportunities to refer to these windows in sermons, chapel devotions, catechism fields trips, etc.. The ones in the back of church (Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer) are more like summaries of the faith, whereas the three in front of church (Baptism, the Keys, the Lord’s Supper) are more specific. These are the concrete ways in which God brings to us the content of our faith. But all of these will surely find constant application to our life as a congregation and constant use in daily lives as Christians.

Windows at Night

There is yet another use that I believe these windows will have. When evening comes, and the lights inside the church are on, light shines through these windows and displays the same images to those who drive along Hondo Pass. Perhaps they won’t get a good look at the symbols. Perhaps they wouldn’t even know what they mean. But maybe, just maybe, they will give some of our people the opportunity to explain them to someone. Of course, that means that our people must know what they mean. They really should be taught (catechized) well enough that they not only know and take to heart the basics of the Christian faith, but that they can then relate that to others. I guess that’s our goal, and these pieces of glass and metal will, God-willing, give us, both inside the church and outside, the opportunity to reach it.

On Sunday, during our 40th Anniversary service, we will dedicate these windows to this use. I’ve uploaded an album of pictures of the windows here.