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  • Allison Wilcox

The Catechism & The Commandments

October is the month in which we celebrate the Reformation. We remember Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg.


It seems a good time to share some devotions based on Luther's Catechism: the gift Luther gave us for teaching and claiming our faith. The Small Catechism was meant as a way for households to learn the faith together. The Large Catechism was meant for pastors to teach their congregants.


So I'm going to spend some time on Luther's words from the Small and Large Catechisms, as well as scripture that helps connects those words to us on a more intimate way.


Quotes from the Small Catechism are from the version translated in 1911 by the Henry Eyster Jacobs (Public Domain). Language may be altered for clarity.


Luther begins his Catechism with teaching on the Ten Commandments. So let's begin there:


Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. ~ Exodus 32:15-16


Now it is evident that no one is reckoned as righteous before God by the law, for “the one who is righteous will live by faith.” ~ Galatians 3:11


"This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire Scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters."~ Martin Luther, from his Large Catechism. (The Book of Concord: The Confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church; ed: Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert., 2000)


There has been a debate over the past couple of decades about whether the Ten Commandments should be put in front of courthouses around the country. Reading Martin Luther's quote here, we might think he'd be in favor of it.


Of course, Luther lived in another time when the Church was the primary governing authority in the land. In both Moses' time and Luther's time, theocracy was the government of the day. It is not the case for us. We live in a place where no religion's laws should be lifted up above others. So holding our government to these standards rather than our constitutional laws (which were definitely influenced by these commandments) isn't the best use of these commandments.


So what is the best use of them? I think sometimes we worry so much about posting them that we forget about living them, or even understanding them so we know how to live them.


Now for Luther (and the Apostle Paul), the law was not what we were justified (or made righteous by). As Lutherans we know that we are justified before God not by the law, but by faith.


And yet we also know that our living out of the law is a testament to that faith.


Neither Luther nor Paul (nor even Jesus who said he did not come to abolish it) were against God's law. God's law still had - and has - an important place.


So while we are not saved by the law, it has a place in our lives.


Perhaps it is easiest for us to see that in how we live out our lives of faith. The law acts as a mirror to us - shows us both our sinfulness and our faithfulness.


For Jesus, Paul, and Luther, the best way to describe the law was this: how we love God and how we love our neighbors as ourselves.


As we go through the Ten Commandments, notice how each commandment addresses that.


So while we are not meant to put the Ten Commandments on Courthouse yards or walls, I think we are meant to put them on our hearts.


A Prayer by Martin Luther: Dearest God and Lord, strengthen and uphold us in your pure, precious Word through Jesus Christ our Lord, and help us to show and live our thanks with our fruits of faith to your praise and thanks forever. Amen.

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