Studying Luther’s Large Catechism:
A Workbook for Christian Discipleship
By Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D.
Always beginning with prayer and concluding with song, the twelve lessons in this study book provide biblical instruction concerning:
- The Ten Commandments
- The Apostles’ Creed
- The Lord’s Prayer
- Holy Baptism
- The Lord’s Supper
- Confession & Absolution
Studying Luther’s Large Catechism includes hymn lyrics for meditation as well as references to the accompaniment in seven widely used Lutheran hymnals: Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (1993), Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996), Lutheran Book of Worship (1982), The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), The Lutheran Hymnary (1913), Lutheran Service Book (2006), and Lutheran Worship (1982).
12 lessons, each with carefully designed study questions:
- Introductory Materials:
- The Place of Martin Luther and His Catechisms in Church History
- How This Study Is Organized
- Supplemental Resources
- Suggestions for Teachers
- Lesson 1: Learning and Teaching God’s Word (The Prefaces to Luther’s Catechisms)
- Lesson 2: Trusting in and Calling upon God for Every Need (The First and Second Commandments)
- Lesson 3: Listening to God’s Word and Honoring Parents (The Third and Fourth Commandments)
- Lesson 4: Protecting Lives and Safeguarding Marriages (The Fifth and Sixth Commandments)
- Lesson 5: Respecting People’s Property and Honor (The Seventh and Eighth Commandments)
- Lesson 6: Serving in the Roles God Assigns (The Ninth and Tenth Commandments)
- Lesson 7: Worshiping One God in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity (The Apostles’ Creed)
- Lesson 8: Praising God through Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer: Introduction through Second Petition)
- Lesson 9: Praying to God for All Our Needs (The Lord’s Prayer: Third Petition through Doxology)
- Lesson 10: Becoming God’s Child through Holy Baptism (Holy Baptism)
- Lesson 11: Receiving the True Body and Blood of Our Lord (The Lord’s Supper)
- Lesson 12: Assured of Forgiveness and Empowered to Serve God (Absolution and the Table of Duties)
- Scripture Index
- General Index
Studying Luther’s Large Catechism is available for:
- individual purchases at $6.95 per copy (via Amazon.com and other reputable booksellers); and,
- bulk purchases for as low as $3.00 per copy (contact us to request a price quote for your congregation or school; tax exempt ID required)
(The author receives no royalties; all net proceeds support the nonprofit mission of the Hausvater Project. To assist the Hausvater Project in providing quality publications at a low cost, please prayerfully consider making a charitable contribution.)
Studying Luther’s Large Catechism serves as a companion to Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions—A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord (available from Concordia Publishing House) as welll as other printings of the Large Catechism, whether published in the Book of Concord or separately.
Pastor Tony Pittenger (Port Orchard, Washington):
The Large Catechism is Luther at his best! Pithy, earthy, and to the point: Luther brings the teachings of the Christian faith into the home and workplace of the Christian. Dr. MacPherson’s study questions carry the Large Catechism into the lives of twenty-first-century Christians.
Pastor Jesse Jacobsen (The Dalles, Oregon):
This study book meets a critical need for both parishes and homes, and satisfies a desire for practical application of the Bible in a Christian’s daily life. It illustrates the great value of Luther’s Catechism for every Lutheran, and indeed, for every Christian.
Pastor David Jay Webber (Scottsdale, Arizona):
Luther’s Small Catechism empowered the laity, as members of the priesthood of the baptized, to exercise their role in judging doctrine. By being accountable to the Small Catechism, a Lutheran pastor was thereby accountable to his congregation. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther modeled in greater detail how pastors and laity submit themselves to Holy Scripture, but even as that catechism takes them onto a more advanced level, they forever remain students of the simple truths summarized in the Small Catechism. Dr. MacPherson’s Studying Luther’s Large Catechism once again points the church back to these great treasures by presenting study questions that guide both pastors and laity, in both church and home, through Luther’s catechetical method.
Here is what laypeople experience with Studying Luther’s Large Catechism: A Workbook for Christian Discipleship:
John and Stephanie Merseth:
Studying Luther’s Large Catechism helped to enrich our faith. The pointed questions for each lesson led us back to the appropriate sections of the Large Catechism and to the verses of the Holy Bible which support them. The opportunity to study the Large Catechism, and through it the Holy Bible, with a group of fellow Christians also was a blessed opportunity to deepen our relationships with others.
The Large Catechism study guide made it so I will never say the Lord’s Prayer again the same. Now I say it with more meaning. This is a good guide for all believers to review their faith in God.
Herman and Cheryl Harstad:
At confirmation age, Luther's Small Catechism is the perfect fit for instruction in the fundamentals of the Christian faith. But few adult Lutherans have taken the time to study the Large Catechism in depth by thinking through the biblical support for Lutheran Christian doctrine. We enjoyed going back to catechism class led by Dr. Ryan MacPherson using his study guide to Luther's Large Catechism. The study is challenging and edifying to anyone who loves being a lifelong learner. An added bonus is the mutual encouragement and stimulating discussions that flow from the study.
Excerpts from the 12 Lessons
Martin Luther wrote his Small and Large Catechisms to assist pastors and parents in the Christian education of children. His catechisms were shorter and simpler than previous catechisms, because Luther wanted to focus on the basic doctrines of Scripture in a way that young children could easily comprehend and remember.
As summaries of God’s Word, also containing many direct quotations from Holy Scripture, the catechisms bring to their readers the same blessings that God’s Word offers. That is why Luther impressed upon fathers the importance of teaching the catechism in the home. ... The First Commandment requires that we trust in the one true God for every need of body and soul; it commands faith. Since “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), all other commandments are contained within the First Commandment. ...
As we pray for God to grant us the ability to fulfill our vocations, we also recognize our many failures. We find comfort only in Christ, who obeyed every commandment on our behalf. ...
God has issued the Ten Commandments out of love. As our loving Father, He seeks to protect people’s lives by the Fifth Commandment. That commandment forbids any thought, word, or action that would harm our neighbor, and requires that our thoughts, words, and actions promote our neighbor’s physical well-being. Civil government, however, may rightfully act as God’s representative on earth to punish a capital offender by execution. Aside from that special circumstance, of course, civil government should promote and defend its citizens’ lives, just as all citizens also should do according to their vocations.
In the Sixth Commandment, God protects marriage and the family. God created us male and female and instituted marriage as the proper vocation for the one-flesh union. Marriage, therefore, is the divinely established vocation for bearing and raising children. Although God calls some people to a vocation of life-long celibacy, no one has the authority to forbid marriage, nor should anyone claim that those who remain celibate are holier than those who marry. Whether married or not, all people have a responsibility to promote chastity and defend marriage through their thoughts, words, and actions. ...
After studying the Ten Commandments, it becomes clear that our theology cannot end here. The Ten Commandments reveal a disturbing gap between God’s holiness and our own wicked thoughts, words, and actions. To study the Ten Commandments alone, we would be left with God’s threatened wrath overshadowing His promised salvation. Luther therefore directs us back to the whole of Scripture, where we find not only the Law that convicts us of sin, but also the Gospel that reveals our Savior, Jesus Christ. The remainder of Luther’s Large Catechism focuses on that comforting Gospel of forgiveness, as encapsulated in the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. ...
Two words within the Creed deserve special attention, since they can so easily be misunderstood. First, in calling Jesus Christ our “Lord” we do not primarily have in mind that we owe our obedience to Him (although that also is true). Rather, we especially wish to emphasize that Christ is our great protector who has defeated Satan on our behalf and continues to keep us safe for all eternity. Second, in speaking of the Christian “church” we do not primarily have in mind the external institution, but rather the gathering of people’s hearts around the Word and Sacraments, through which means the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens their faith in Jesus Christ as the one true Savior. ...
God the Father graciously forgives our sins for the sake of Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection accomplished our salvation. God the Holy Spirit distributes the benefits of this salvation to us through the Means of Grace. Absolution is one of these means. Like the preached Word, it proclaims that our sins are forgiven. Like the sacramental Word, it communicates the Gospel message in a tangible way. Absolution means that an earthly representative of God—usually a pastor—forgives us by the command and in the stead of God. Absolution provides specific comfort to individuals who feel burdened by, and therefore verbally confess, particular sins that have vexed them. Absolution speaks pure grace; it does not attach conditions or demand works of merit, but simply comforts the sin-sick soul with the Gospel: that Christ alone has fully atoned for all sins, period.
Purified by Word and Sacrament, and refreshed by Holy Absolution, Christians walk forth in newness of life. Through their vocations, Christians serve their neighbors in thanksgiving to God their Savior. Through daily prayer, they seek God’s blessings constantly, both for themselves and for others in their midst. Having been forgiven much, they eagerly go forth to forgive others.
Sample Study Questions
- How do Luther’s plans for the catechisms fit with Deuteronomy 6:6–9?
- Luther claims that “this commandment [keeping the day of rest holy] ... in its literal sense, does not apply to us Christians” (p. 368; LC I, 82). What does he mean by that? How does his view square with Colossians 2:16–17?
- What duties does Luther identify for pastors, parents, and civil government with respect to marriage and the education of children (p. 383; LC I, 217–18)?
- When does someone have not only the permission but in fact the responsibility to rebuke, rather than remain silent about, someone’s sin (pp. 390–91; LC I, 274–83)? Explain how the correct answer to this question varies according to a person’s vocation as a civil magistrate, a pastor, or a Christian friend. See Ezekiel 33:1–9; Matthew 18:15–18; Luke 17:3–4; John 3:19–21; James 5:19–20.
- How have you previously understood the word “covet”? Compare your definition to the meaning Luther draws from Scripture and summarizes in his discussion of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments (p. 394; LC I, 307). See Psalm 119:36–37; Proverbs 21:25–26; Matthew 5:8.
- Luther emphasizes once more that the commandments include “both an angry, threatening word and a friendly promise” (p. 396; LC I, 322; see also p. 397; LC I, 323). As for the friendly promise, Luther writes that “the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid” (p. 396; LC I, 316). What comfort can sinners find in those two sources?
- Through what means does the Holy Spirit bestow upon a gathering of believers the benefits of salvation that Christ attained for them (pp. 403, 405; LC II, 38, 54–56)? See Matthew 26:26–28; John 20:21–23; Acts 2:38; 1 John 5:7–8.
- Luther suggests that three considerations should motivate a person to pray. What are they (pp. 408, 410–11; LC III, 5, 17–21, 22–24)? See 1 Thessalonians 5:17–18; John 14:13–14.
- By what devices does the devil seek to thwart God’s will in our lives (pp. 415–16; LC III, 62–66)? See Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 2:10–11; 1 Timothy 3:1–7; 1 Peter 5:6–9.
- To claim that “Baptism saves you” may seem to deny that we are saved by faith alone. How does Luther resolve this confusion (p. 426; LC IV, 28–31)? See Romans 3:28; 1 Peter 3:21.
- How do the benefits distributed in the Lord’s Supper relate to the benefits won by Christ on the cross (LC V, 28–32)? See, for an analogy to preaching, Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 1:21.
- Of what two parts does confession consist, and which of these two parts is more valuable (SC V; Brief Exhortation, 15–19)? See 1 John 1:8–2:2.
Suggestions for Teachers
This curriculum originated as a summer Bible study that consisted of two sessions lasting six weeks each. Classes met for ninety minutes, one evening per week. Participants were encouraged to read the assigned portions of the Large Catechism and Scripture in advance in order to prepare responses to the study questions. During class, one or a few sentences were occasionally read aloud from the Large Catechism for discussion; the Bible passages cited in the study questions always were read aloud before discussion.
The participants’ ages ranged from about twenty to eighty years. Some were college graduates, but others were not. All had previously been confirmed in the Lutheran church after studying the Small Catechism, but only a few had read the Large Catechism. The participants universally found the bulk of Luther’s text to be instantly comprehensible and obviously relevant to their lives. Most importantly, both Luther’s writing and the study questions in this curriculum direct readers back to Holy Scripture where all doctrine is firmly established.
Pastors and teachers can easily adapt this course to other formats, including:
- Four sessions of Sunday morning Bible class (lasting forty-five minutes to an hour) on the Lord’s Prayer (spreading Lessons 8 and 9 over four sessions by dividing each lesson in half).
- Two sessions of Sunday morning Bible class (lasting forty-five minutes to an hour) on Holy Baptism (covering half of Lesson 10 in each session).
- A high-school level homeschool curriculum lasting one semester (spending one week on each lesson, with parent and child discussing the study questions together).
Instructors do well to remember:
- Everyone in this study can learn whether completing the study questions in advance or not. Therefore, “homework” should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a burden.
- When study questions invite personal application, individual responses should still share a common foundation in the biblical text, rather than celebrate personal interpretations.
- Luther’s Large Catechism is to be honored not because Luther wrote it, but because it faithfully presents the chief doctrines of Holy Scripture.
- The Scriptures teach primarily two doctrines: the Law and the Gospel. The Law reveals our sins and our need for forgiveness. The Gospel reveals Christ’s salvation for us through His vicarious life, death, and resurrection. The Law brings comfort only in light of the Gospel: we recognize that Christ has fulfilled the Law on our behalf.
- This study guide intentionally connects the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the prayers and hymns of the church into a cohesive whole. Bible study enriches the divine service, and the divine service enriches Bible study.
- God’s Word is powerful and changes hearts. Every Bible passage cited in the study questions should be read aloud before participants share their answers. A Bible study must remain first and foremost a Bible study.
Instructors may contact the author with any further questions they have. Contact information is provided at the end of this book.