How to Understand Scripture: Learn the Trivium

220px-matthias_flacius“Yet we dare not in this regard follow the fanatics, as if the human sciences were utterly useless or even detrimental to the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and heavenly teaching. It is certainly necessary to study languages and well-informed grammars. Dialectic, rhetoric, and familiarity with the rest of philosophy is beneficial as well, and even quite necessary” (100).

“It will also be very beneficial to apply to an obscure place or to an entire writing the Lydian stone of the rules of logic, whether grammar, rhetoric, or finally, dialectic. Since these arts are indeed made known to use through the the beneficence of God and lit from the natural light that is all the time over us, and since they conform with the nature of things and the order that God has assigned to them, and finally, since they accommodate themselves to the human ability for comprehension (as the Sacred Scriptures), they will necessarily be of great benefit to us in the illumination of the Sacred Scriptures, if we apply them piously and cautiously” (111).

From How to Understand the Sacred Scriptures from Clavis Scripturae Sacrae by Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520-1575). Translated by Wade R. Johnston. 2001.

Singing the Catechism

In 2006, we introduced Concordia Publishing House's new Sunday School curriculum, Growing in Christ, to our congregation in California. We did that for several reasons, but probably the biggest reasons were that it followed the flow of the church year and that it was distinctly Lutheran. One of the ways that the curriculum is distinctly Lutheran is its regular connections to Luther's Small Catechism. As a part of that, I was so pleased to find that on the CDs which accompany the student materials in the lower level there were newly composed tunes for singing the words of the Small Catechism. The first quarter had sections from the first article of the creed. The tunes were catchy and memorable.

The one downside, I thought, was that the translation used for these recordings is just a little different from the catechism translation published by Northwestern Publishing House and generally in use in the WELS. When we are dealing with texts to be memorized, consistency and uniformity is usually a plus. It makes me think of Luther's comments in his preface to the Small Catechism:

In the first place, let the preacher above all be careful to avoid many kinds of or various texts and forms of the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc., but choose one form to which he adheres, and which he inculcates all the time, year after year. For [I give this advice, however, because I know that] young and simple people must be taught by uniform, settled texts and forms, otherwise they easily become confused when the teacher to-day teaches them thus, and in a year some other way, as if he wished to make improvements, and thus all effort and labor [which has been expended in teaching] is lost.

Also our blessed fathers understood this well; for they all used the same form of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Therefore we, too, should [imitate their diligence and be at pains to] teach the young and simple people these parts in such a way as not to change a syllable, or set them forth and repeat them one year differently than in another [no matter how often we teach the Catechism]. From

On the other hand, I realize that our translations must adjust over time so that they might remain understandable and memorable. I know that I learned the words of the catechism slightly differently than I teach them today (but I've re-learned them in the new version). And both are different from the way my parents learned them, and in a completely different language than my grandparents learned them. So while the translation issue is something I'm aware of, I'm not too concerned about it. I have thought that if a student of mine were able to learn the words of the catechism by heart and they happened to use a slightly different wording, I wouldn't make them re-learn it using the official WELS translation. 

790004.jpg So I haven't made much use of these recordings—yet. But I'm now thinking that perhaps I should. In the most recent quarter of Growing in Christ, the section of the catechism on the kids CDs is The Sacrament of the Altar. The CD has been playing in our van's stereo for about 10 weeks now. And Lydia, our three year old, loves to sing along with it and pretty much has the whole section memorized. It's like pulling teeth to get my 7th and 8th graders to memorize these words, but a three year old sings without hesitation, "What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…" She will even sing these words outside of the car, while playing around the house. And if I start singing a phrase, like, "Where is this written?" She will sing, "The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and St. Paul write…" (I just tried it and that's exactly what she did.) Even Isaiah, our two year old, will sing along with parts.

And then, just this morning, I was teaching Bible Class on the Lord's Supper and when I started reading a section on Communion from the Small Catechism, I could hear the melody in my head as I read the words. This has even helped me.

So I decided that it would be worth it to purchase the whole collection and to encourage others to do the same. You can purchase the recordings on CD from Concordia, as well as in a printed songbook. Or, you can download the whole thing or piece by piece (much more expensive) in iTunes or on For just $7.99. That's really nothing when I think of how much it is worth to me to have these words of faith imprinted on the minds and hearts of my children.

Week in Review

This has been a busy week. There are a number things I thought I'd share.

Sara and the kids traveled to Leesville, Louisiana, for the affirmation of baptism for Joel & Natalie's baby girl, Emma. They were planning to drive on Tuesday, when Gustav hit that area. They waited a day to come home, but didn't get much damage there. The nearest WELS church experienced flooding, though.

Shut-in Call and Hymns
I visited a shut-in this week who is not really responsive. I had not met her before, but she's unable to carry on a real conversation. But there was no hesitation on her part when I asked if I could read a psalm to her. And the moment I started singing a hymn to her, she clearly sang along with much of the first stanza. I have been teaching hymnology in our school here, and these kind of events just solidify my conviction that we need to keep teaching these hymns. This week I taught "Salvation Unto Us Has Come" (CW 390)—next week's Hymn of the Day.

The first week of the month we have our board meetings (before the council meeting next week). So this week I met with the Boards of Discipleship, Elders, and Education. I have been very encouraged my the commitment and support these people give. Not everything that we have to talk about is always fun, but it has been encouraging to work with these partners in the gospel.

Church Mice
I heard earlier in the week that people had seen mice droppings in the church kitchen. So I picked up a couple mouse traps and set them out yesterday. I actually caught two of them today. While I was preparing for Sunday in the sanctuary today, I saw a mouse run across the floor under the pews. I tried chasing him for a while—it was pretty funny. But as I was doing that, I starting thinking about various "church mouse" books or cartoons, and I imagined that perhaps there was a group of church mice who come out when the church is empty to learn about the church year or something. I didn't catch him, but I set another trap in the working sacristy.


Credo and the Ordinary
Tomorrow I'll be covering the Creed in our Bible class on the songs of the liturgy. Tomorrow's is interesting because it is the one part of the ordinary that is most often not sung. I've always found that interesting, and I wonder why it is. I wonder why people don't write settings of the Creed like the wide variety of settings of the Kyrie or the Gloria, for example.

Sunday School
Tomorrow we're going to start a new quarter of Sunday School and begin using the Growing in Christ curriculum. I've got 4 teachers lined up and 16 kids registered in K-8, though I'm expecting a few more. I'm looking forward to working with the teachers, and just in general giving Sunday School the attention that it deserves.

Now I'm ready for this week to come to a close and begin a new week with the Lord in his Word and Sacrament.

Back to School

Catechism Class Intro.003
We started school here on Monday, which means that I began catechism classes again this week. On Tuesday, I started with my intro to catechism class. I basically try to impress on the students that our study of the catechism is bigger than them. I tell them about my grandfather, who studied the same catechism before he was confirmed in 1922. I show them some of my old catechisms, the oldest of which is copyrighted 1881. I tell them about how seriously he took that catechism instruction when he and his wife were deciding which church to join after they moved to their new farm, away from their home churches. He made his decision based on the church's adherence to the teaching he learned from his catechism instruction. I tell them about how his study of Scripture and his familiarity with the catechism even into his old age made an impression on his grandson who spent quite a bit of time with him. I show them pictures of Grandpa and me when I was a toddler, on my 7th birthday, at my own confirmation, and at my high school graduation. But my Catechism Class Intro.004
pictures from college and Seminary graduation, my ordination don't include Grandpa since he died before I reached those milestones. But to a large degree, the reason I am where I am now is because a 13 year old was taught Luther's Small Catechism, and because he took that instruction with him into life. I tell the kids that I pray that what we learn in this class will last long after 8th grade, even long after their life is over.

I have nine students in 7th and 8th grade this year. I think it will be a good year, though it's always a challenge to start with a group of new kids. But pretty soon I'll get to know the kids more and that will help. But I've really enjoyed teaching catechism and I'm looking forward to this year. 

Tomorrow I will also start teaching hymnology, too. That's something that I'll have to write more about later. It deserves its own post. 

I am baptized

I always enjoy teaching catechism. But there are some days, some moments when it really strikes me what a true privilege and honor it is to open up the Scriptures to these young people and allow them to see the beauty and the comfort that God gives to us in his Word.

We’re in the middle of the section on Baptism and today we talked about the power and blessings of baptism. We started out by talking about important days and why the day of our baptism was perhaps the most significant day in our lives. [The image to the right is one of the slides I use in another lesson on baptism. Oct. 22 is the date I was baptized.]

But there was one point during the class, and I can’t remember exactly when it was—perhaps it was while we discussed Titus 3 and how God pours his kindness and love into our hearts like a mighty flood, or perhaps when we talked about how in baptism we are connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and how baptism funnels everything Jesus won for the world on the cross to the one whose name is called at baptism "I baptize you", Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, but in baptism he shows that he did it all for me—at one point during the class today one of the students just says, "Wow. That’s cool."

Signs of Peace

This morning during Sunday School I asked the high school class to go around and take pictures of things that remind them of or symbolize peace. The lesson this morning was the presentation of Jesus in the temple, when Simeon, after seeing his Savior, asks the Lord to allow him to depart in peace. We spent the hour talking about the peace that Jesus came to bring, and that, just like Simeon, we see our peace and salvation in Christ—even in his lowliness. For it is in his lowliness that he comes to save. We connected that thought to the places where we see God’s salvation—his Word and Sacraments. As lowly as those things are, there we see God’s salvation, because that is where he has promised to come to us.

These pictures are the best of the pictures they came back with. Some of them were a bit far-fetched, but these were actually very good. Some of them depict very different kinds of peace, but some get right to the heart of true peace, and where we find it.

If the slideshow does not appear below, click this link.