Laying the Foundation for a Christian Home Library
Literacy has long been prized by God’s people. The New England Puritans of colonial America ranked as the most literate people in the world. Their motivation was simple: pastors and parents wanted children, both boys and girls, to be able to read the Bible to their own children when they grew up. Martin Luther emphasized a basic education in literacy for the same reason. Nearly 1500 years before Christ, Moses commanded the common people of Israel to “write” God’s Word on their doorposts. That instruction assumed, of course, that they could write—and read, too. As time went on, the custom developed that a Hebrew boy became a man when he first read from the Torah in the synagogue, an event celebrated as Bar Mitzvah (literally, “Son of the Commandment”) ceremony. From Moses to Luther to the present day, God’s people have treasured literacy.
Literate people should collect great books. Dr. Seuss has his place in nearly every American home, but Christians have higher priorities. By reading to their children, and teaching their children to read on their own, parents have a special opportunity to communicate God’s love, to lay forth God’s commands, and to enrich their children’s lives with the heritage of the saints who have gone on before them. Any parent desiring to accomplish these goals will want to build a home library.
1. The Bible: A Light for Your Path
No other book than the Bible can serve as the cornerstone for a Christian’s library. No other book has come to us inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21), true in all its statements (John 8:31–32, 10:35), and faithful in all its promises (Joshua 21:45; 1 Kings 8:56; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 10:23). No other book so thoroughly convicts the conscience of sin (Romans 3:23) nor so lastingly comforts the soul with forgiveness (Romans 8:1). Psalm 119, the longest chapter in Holy Scripture, reveals that God’s Word is a “light for your path.” No Christian will want to be without a Bible, whether memorized in the heart or held in the hand to be read quietly for oneself or aloud to the family.
The Bible stands in a unique relation to all other books. Our Lutheran fathers referred to the Bible as the norma normans, a Latin phrase meaning “the standardizing standard,” that is, the standard by which all other standards are to be benchmarked. This means that a hymnal, a sermon, a theological encyclopedia, or even the creeds and confessions of a church body are good only to the degree that they faithfully adhere to the Bible’s teachings. They must be standardized on the basis of the standard, the Bible, if they are to be reliable for Christian use. When the Lutheran reformers used the expression sola scriptura, “Scripture alone,” they did not mean to exclude hymnals, sermons, or other extra-biblical documents from the life of the church, but they did insist that only the Bible serves as the final authority for all matters of Christian doctrine.
2. The Hymnal: God’s Word Set to Music for Praise and Edification
God’s people have always been a singing people. Adam burst forth in poetry praising God for the creation of Eve (Genesis 2:23). Moses and Miriam sang for joy when the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 15). King David composed numerous psalms, as did Asaph, Korah, and others (Book of Psalms). The annual Passover pilgrimage was marked with songs as people arrived in Jerusalem on the day that became known as Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:9, in reference to the singing of Psalm 118:25–26). Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples after the Passover meal (Mark 14:26). The apostles encouraged singing in the public worship of the early church (Ephesians 5:9; Colossians 3:16). Persecuted evangelists sang from their jail cell (Acts 16:25). From the Gregorian chants of the sixth century to the Lutheran chorales of the sixteenth century, and beyond, God’s people have continued to build upon a long tradition of sacred music.
A good hymnal faithfully presents the chief teachings of Holy Scripture to the glory of God and for the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction of God’s people (2 Timothy 3:16). These benefits may be found not only in hymns, but also in other features common in hymnals: confessions, creeds, liturgical rites, and prayers for daily use. Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, for example, includes the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism plus the three ecumenical creeds (Athanasian, Apostles, and Nicene). These writings are known as norma normata, or “standardized standards,” because they have been bench-marked against Holy Scripture and found to be faithful in their presentation of the Bible’s teachings.
The liturgy rightfully is called “the divine service [Gottesdienst],” for through it God serves His people with Word and Sacrament. First, let it be calculated that the lion’s share of the liturgy comes straight out of the Bible. The remainder consists of phrases inserted to smooth out transitions or an occasional prayer or hymn that, while not directly from Scripture, is patterned after the Psalms and other pertinent Bible passages. For example, the Te Deum Laudamus (“We praise You, O God, we acknowledge You to be the Lord … ”) beautifully synthesizes biblical themes into an ancient hymn still employed today in the Office of Matins (or “Morning Worship”).
Families will discover that the hymnal provides a strong link between the congregation and the home. A father who is not sure how to lead a home devotion need only open up the hymnal. Sing a hymn and pray the Lord’s Prayer as a family. Consider adding the Apostle’s Creed or using Luther’s Morning Prayer. Adopt a “hymn of the week,” letting the children nominate candidates at Sunday dinner as they recall what was sung that morning in church.
3. The Catechism: A Bible for the Laity (and a Theological Handbook for the Pastor)
Luther’s Small Catechism provides a brief, and yet surprisingly comprehensive, summary of the chief doctrines of the Christian faith. Luther designed the book for use in both the home and the congregation. By investing just a few minutes each day in reading one of the ten commandments, one of the seven petitions of the Lord’s prayer, or Luther’s summary of the power and benefit of Holy Baptism, parents can “plant” and “water” seeds of faith that God will bless with “growth” and “fruit.”
Luther also wrote a Large Catechism, intended as continuing education for adults. Luther’s style, employing vivid examples from daily life with a bit of humor along the way, engages even young readers. The Large Catechism can be taught at the high school level. Parents seeking to remain connected with their teenage children could study it with them in the home. The Hausvater Project has published a Bible study workbook to accompany the Large Catechism—suitable for both home and congregational use.
Many other books also can be of great value to the Christian home, the Christian school, and the Christian congregation, but the Bible, the hymnal, and the catechism lay the foundation—the Bible because it is the very Word of God and the other two books because they provide a tried and true expression of the chief doctrines of the Christian faith in both word and song. As children learn to read, parents would do well to provide each of them a copy of these three books, establishing for them a Christian library that will guide them their entire life.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschool children in Mankato, Minnesota, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.
TAGS: Home Devotions, Homeschooling