Survey begins process of updating ‘Explanation’

By David Strand

By the time the next Synod convention comes around in the summer of 2016, the church ought to have a newly revised “Explanation” of Luther’s Small Catechism.

catechism-IN-real-newThe last time the Explanation of the catechism was revised came in 1991 — 23 years ago. Since that time, according to Res. 3-13A adopted by last summer’s LCMS convention, “many changes in the understanding of morals, civil law and natural law in church and society” have come about.

Addressing these societal “changes in understanding” — and even legislation — in such areas as same-sex marriage, beginning-and-end-of-life issues, drug legalization and religious liberties is a main rationale behind the impetus to update the Explanation.

The project will be a group effort — a very large group effort.

Starting Feb. 10, the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), with the concurrence of the Synod president and the help of Concordia Publishing House (CPH), begins surveying the rostered workers of the Synod for input on the current and future state of the Explanation.

There are some 21,745 ordained and commissioned ministers, both active and retired, currently rostered by the LCMS.

The survey will be electronic, with a series of six monthly e-blasts to the roster — the half-dozen installments corresponding to the six chief parts of the catechism. Accordingly, the first part of the survey pertains to the Ten Commandments.

“We don’t want to overwhelm our people by sending them the whole survey all at once,” said the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the CTCR. “That’s why we’re doing the six monthly installments based on the six parts.

“We want those surveyed to have time to reflect,” he said, “and we invite them to give us any sort of feedback they want.”

Lehenbauer noted that it was Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison who hit upon the idea of doing a pre-revision survey. Resolution 3-13A asks only that the CTCR, the president’s office and CPH “field test the proposed revisions and make any further revisions necessary before publication”; Harrison, however, saw wisdom in gathering input from the church before doing all the work, and the members of the CTCR agreed.

CPH, in the person of the Rev. Paul T. McCain, publisher and executive director of editorial at the publishing house, prepared the first draft of the survey, describing it as “simple and open-ended.”

“We believe this tool [the survey] will provide a great many insights for this effort,” he said.

As for the project’s timeline, “It certainly is our goal to have this assignment finished by the next convention,” said Lehenbauer.

The first step, as noted, is the six-month survey. Then will follow the roughly yearlong drafting process to be undertaken by a committee working under the oversight of the CTCR. By late summer 2015, according to Lehenbauer, “We hope to be ready to do the field-testing phase that the resolution calls for, whereupon, after adequate time for final revisions and with the consultation and consent of the president’s office, we will inform the 2016 convention that the Explanation is complete and ready for publication.”

The first sixth of the survey is provided via the Feb. 10 e-blast. It is accessible through a link in an email cover letter penned by Harrison, who asks recipients to give this portion of the survey, and the ensuing five portions, their “very careful attention.”

In a draft of the letter shared with Reporter, the president says, “The most important contributor to this project … is you” … because you “are the ones who are using the Explanation to teach the Christian faith to children and adults at various ages and in various stages of faith and life.”

Lehenbauer went out of his way to emphasize that the revised Explanation is not a new translation of the text of the catechism itself, last amended in 1986. “It’s important that people realize this,” he said. “All we are doing is updating the Explanation part of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation.

“This revised Explanation will be an essential resource for the Synod,” said McCain, “and Concordia Publishing House is delighted to be working closely with the president of the Synod and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations to help provide it.”

David Strand is executive director of LCMS Communications.


Reporter Online is the Web version of Reporter, the official newspaper of
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Content is prepared by LCMS Communications.

10 Responses to Survey begins process of updating ‘Explanation’

  1. February 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    I, as a future Lutheran pastor and current Lutheran student, welcome and applaud the approach and recognition of updating the language and changes in understanding that leave the current document in need of ‘translation’ for the mission at hand, to reach those who have strayed and those who have been wounded by the church so that we may reveal the truth of Law and Gospel in the kindness and love that God has shown it to us.


  2. Rev. William C. Cate February 10, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    I started the survey and got about 1-1/2 pages into before I realized I don’t have time for this. With all due respect for President Harrison and the delegates to the 2013 convention, I think this is a highly counter productive means of creating a revision. CPH is paid to write, edit and publish these materials, are they not? They should be the ones working on this, not the 21,745 ordained and commissioned ministers of religion that you’re trying to survey.

  3. Rev. Hyle Anderson February 11, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Are we talking about “additions” to the catechisms or “revisions.” Quoting the article: “Addressing these societal “changes in understanding” — and even legislation — in such areas as same-sex marriage, beginning-and-end-of-life issues, drug legalization and religious liberties is a main rationale behind the impetus to update the Explanation.”
    These look like additions to the catechisms. I also think they are necessary, but let’s no keeping changing the wording of other explanations that area already clear.

    I hope you are not considering (again) to revise Luther’s explanations to the basic Christian Doctrines. The following is what I would say about that:
    “What can’t we do what M. Luther said to do, “First, the pastor should most carefully AVOID teaching the Ten Comm., the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the sacraments, etc.
    according to various text and differing forms. Let him adopt one version, stay with it, and from one year to the next keep using it unchanged…” (SC, p. 244, CPH, 1986).
    Here we are, attempting to “improve” [again] what had been very good for a long time.
    I think it is a good idea to have the catechism with the ESV, but leave the explanations are they were (with the 1943 edition). Aggravated by the constant changing!”

  4. Jeff February 12, 2014 at 9:22 am #

    It seems that some have received this survey and are already beginning to work on it. I have not yet received it. Who do I contact? Thanks.

    • LCMS Church Information Center February 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

      Thank you for contacting the LCMS Church Information Center (888-843-5267) regarding the survey. Please let us know if you do not receive the second installment. May God richly bless your day.

  5. David Harms February 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    I have not and probably will not see the survey you are talking about, but I think that this is a great idea, to update “Luther’s small catechism” with current issues and applaud the effort. I do however have some reservations even though I am not an educated theologian, I have been very disappointed in the ESV version of the Bible used for the scripture readings for the new hymnal and also the writers using the ESV version for the “Portals of Prayer”. It is in my humble opinion a watered down version of the bible and to some extent changes the meaning of the scripture from what I have read and studied. We do not use those readings from the ESV in our church because of this. I would hope that this effort does not
    water down “Luther’s small catechism” for we are supposed to be training our children in the way we should go. This last change in the bible translation used for the new hymnal was never really discussed much as far as I can see, at least not on a widespread basis. (I may be wrong and I appologize if I am)
    Respectfully your brother in Christ Jesus,
    Dave H

  6. Roger February 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    This revision project is overlooking an important element, which is that five out of the six chief parts of the Small Catechism begin with the text, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” This project seems to usurp that authority by claiming in the letter cited above that it is exclusively rostered ministers who “…are the ones who are using the Explanation to teach the Christian faith to children and adults at various ages and in various stages of faith and life,” with nary a mention of the parents. What of the non-rostered “heads of household” who are to instruct their families? Are you soliciting their input as well?


  7. Rev. Chris Navurskis February 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    I also began the survey and decided to stop. Simply put, the survey is going to be way too much data from way too many people. I began to ask, “Will my reply even be read – it is impossible.” And if it is read alongside others, whose wins? Regardless of its final theological form (which I am sure will be faithful – like the current document), it is, in its very nature, biased toward a bigger explanation. Not all of us want that. In the survey, I felt like I was in the shoes of those who will eventually be the intended primary recipients of the text, “This isn’t for me.”
    This is ironic and I hope we acknowledge the fact. If we are moving in this direction because “many changes in the understanding of morals, civil law and natural law in church and society” have come about, we also must acknowledge that we are impacted even more in our congregations by confirmation children who do not read. Visit any Goodwill, Half Price Books, or Salvation Army near a Lutheran church and you will probably find a Luther’s Small Catechism with explanation. I am typing at my computer now with one of those “redeemed Catechisms” (from a former student of mine), by my desk and plan to mail it for the child’s HS Graduation gift with a Gospel oriented pastoral card.
    I want to know if it would it at all be possible to publish a version of the Small Catechism in hardcover apart from whatever explanation is finally decided upon. My background is Sec. Ed. and Manufacturing and I serve a rural parish that is becoming less rural each season. I am seeing a major, major shift in our young people where they are totally lost and swimming in (for them), the episodic experience of questions and proof texts. Because the explanation does not sequentially parallel the Biblical narrative they do not bond with either the Catechism or the Bible. I use the Bible in Confirmation and frame each article of the faith in a literacy model so that the articles of the faith are akin to vocab and the Biblical narrative is the Grammar. I am aided by the CPH paper copies of the Small Catechism (tract edition) but they wear out quickly as I instruct the kids to take them wherever they go. A small hardcover edition would be helpful.
    I can see the current project already being very prone to scope creep and feel like the final form will not take into account the learners in our public schools today – who, btw, don’t even learn how to write in cursive anymore and often submit assignments via computer starting in early grade school. The goal seems to be one of creating a textually exhaustive exposition, rather than a pastorally effective tool. That is fine, and it is necessary to have such a theological record for higher level discussions, but our pastors are already trained to address “many changes in the understanding of morals, civil law and natural law in church and society” using the Bible alone, aided by the Small Catechism in its original form. If we are struggling there, we might consider a renewal in using the Large Catechism.

    In Christ and for the sake of the least among us…

  8. Rev. Steven Brummett February 27, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Perhaps, your brothers and sisters to the north could be a part of this survey. Many of us use CPH materials for Catechesis and might be able to assist in this project.

  9. March 3, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    I certainly understand the need to keep the survey to a manageable level but is this yet ANOTHER example of limiting input to clergy. Are once again the laity shut out from input. I might politely point out that throughout the storied history of our synod, it has been the laity that has time and again, brought us back to our doctrinal foundations.

    I might even go so far as to suggest that the laity, in the form of day and Sunday School teachers, bible study leaders, and parents at large are perhaps better equipped to answer questions concerning a study of the Small Catechism in the light of changing times because they, more often than active and retired clergy, deal with this on a daily basis.

LCMS News & Information