The Lutheran Reformation of the sixteenth century had a focused theological agenda: to restore the historic Christian proclamation of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as founded upon Scripture alone. What the Lutheran reformers accomplished, however, included not only theological reform, but also social reform. Specifically, Lutheran theologians renewed a biblical appreciation for marriage and parenthood in an age when the Papacy had presented celibacy as a holier vocation. In doing so, Lutherans also identified the family as the foundational institution for Christian discipleship.
To phrase it simply, the Lutheran Reformation was about going “back to the basics”—back to Scripture, back to salvation in Christ alone, and back to the vocations “commanded by God,” such as “that a husband should labor to support his wife and children and bring them up in the fear of God, [and] that a wife should bear children and care for them” (Augsburg Cconfession XXVI, 10–11). But how could parents teach their children if not only parents, but also the pastors serving them, were ignorant of basic Bible truths? Recognizing the pathetic state of Christian education in his day, Martin Luther prepared his Small Catechism (1529) as a handbook by which parents could instruct their children in the chief parts of the faith. Each section is prefaced with this phrase: “in the plain form in which the head of the family [the Hausvater] shall teach them [e.g., the Ten Commandments, or the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer] to his household.”