Keep It Simple: Teaching the Word of God at home

Keep It Simple: Teaching the Word of God at Home

Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of June, The Lutheran Witness will be sharing print articles from the past few years on topics of marriage, family and sexuality. Check back for more content each week in June, and view these and other articles here.

By Sean Daenzer

Keep it simple, Stupid Dad & Mom

The catechism’s most feared words: “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.’’ That is me, isn’t it. These words sting. This task has been left undone. But it is not because we are stupid, honestly. It is mostly because we are embarrassed. We are embarrassed of where we ourselves have not learned or loved God’s Word; we are embarrassed that we have not taught in the past. That embarrassment can be paralyzing.

‘Judgment begins at the household of God’

Let’s deal with this embarrassment like Christians, shall we? Where we have failed (yes, failed), repent. (Check out the Fifth Chief Part of the Small Catechism for some practical help.) Push through embarrassment to the absolution. We believe in the forgiveness of sins, not in infinite regrets. And from such forgiveness, the Holy Spirit is able to make some good use out of us after all.

It also helps to keep it simple.

‘Abide in My Word’

Jesus says we are all disciples, that is, learners. No one becomes a teacher without remaining a learner. If you do not yet know everything about your own faith as you ought, you are in good company. Thankfully, what makes us and keeps us disciples is simply this: “Abide in my word,’’ Jesus says (John 8:31). All Christians hear and learn God’s Word. They repeat it, confess it, teach it and grow in it.

All of us are copying from another’s work too. Even your pastor, who teaches publicly by God’s command, only does so by sitting as a disciple at Christ’s feet. When you thank him for his sermon, his response is probably awkward. He is thinking, “I know, isn’t this text amazing?’’ Even when he has preached it well, it has been as a disciple of our common Master.

‘Do not neglect meeting’

Teaching and learning are always happening — for better or for worse. That does not erase the value of investing in teaching and learning deliberately, but it does mean that some of the simplest teaching happens almost without effort. Do not make the mistake of thinking that, because it is simple, it is not important or powerful. The most important “lesson’’ of the faith a parent can teach is that this faith matters. God matters. Christ is most important.

Teach your children that going to the Divine Service is the most important, not-optional, must-have activity in life. You can tell them as much; only be sure that you also show them as much. They will learn from watching us, to our credit or our shame. Thankfully, they can also learn from us how to repent, trust Christ’s forgiveness and by God’s grace do better. This is simple: Nothing is more important than the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper, the gathering of Christians and the eternal life that moth and rust cannot destroy.

‘Teach them diligently to your children’

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’’ (Eph. 6:4). What Luther calls the head of the household to do also applies to wives and other adults in the house: “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home’’ (1 Cor. 14:35). (Easy, embarrassment — you are buried with Christ now.)

No father or head of household has the answer to every question. He does, however, have access to the Word of God. In our age, we have such easy access. It is as simple as seeing that it is read. Pick your devotion book, your reading schedule, your book of the Bible and read it out loud. Even if you cannot read, see to it that someone else does.

‘When you sit in your house; when you walk by the way; when you lie down; when you rise’

Deuteronomy 6:7 could be heard as a list of complicated steps. Instead, hear it as a pile of “simple.’’ There is no time commitment to set aside, no curriculum to purchase, no cost. Teaching in the home means talking. The natural occasions you bump into your family members are the best: the prayers before bedtime (and the inevitable questions to stall for time), the breakfast table and goodbyes before work, walks around the neighborhood, certainly the dinner table. We should add: On the drive home from church, talk about what you heard.      

Sometimes people worry about connecting Christian teaching to “real life.’’ That is a complicated view of Christianity. Life has a simple way of pushing us to ask the serious questions all the time. While other families worry about how to skirt the issue of death, you can say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.’’ The catechism is your friend here. It gives you the short version, the “shelves’’ on which all the Bible’s teachings and passages can be placed. You may not have all your shelves filled yet — you are still a disciple, after all. But you will fill them more and more as you go.

Last of all, you are allowed to say, “I don’t know.’’ That is far better than making something up without a word from God. Just remember that every “I don’t know’’ is the chance to learn about your faith. You have resources — your pastor, for one. Find out. Repeat it and remember it as a family. That is teaching.

A word about memorizing

Rote memorization has been out of fashion for a while now. Information is cheap and easy. We take it for granted. I can always Google it.

When Jonah found himself in the dark belly of the fish, it was too late to pull out his phone. Thankfully, Jonah had learned the Psalms by heart, so he was able to comfort himself and pray on the basis of God’s promises (Jonah 2). Who can say when comforts, resources, even possessions may be taken from us? So also, our sight, hearing and mind can fail us. This is why we learn by heart. We want our spiritual shelves well stocked with God’s Word so that we can use it in times of joy and need alike.

To be sure, there is value in being able to speak in our own words as well. We wish to have understanding, not simply the syllables. The Scriptures, however, are not like a textbook. We care about the words too, not only their concepts. One could grasp what the Lord’s Supper is without repeating the Words of Institution word for word, for example; but these words, sung each Sunday, are simply Christ’s own words. They are simply words worth knowing. Indeed, “translating’’ them into our own words might very well lose or limit their precision (in? with? under? or “is’’!). With psalms and hymns, it is their beauty that begs to be repeated.

Straightforward “memory work’’ is not a bad idea. The past generations of Lutheran day school-raised pastors, teachers and congregational leaders attest the value of such direct efforts; but much of the best memorization happens indirectly — like your young child and the latest animated musical anthem, which they (and maybe you) will never forget. Churches that use consistent settings of the Divine Service give us the chance to memorize God’s Word “for free.’’ That old Nunc Dimittis (“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace’’ [LSB, pp. 199–200]) will be there for us at our deathbed. The pastor who sings the Words of Institution does us all a favor, not just the confirmation students, by embedding the Word into our ears with music.

Parents can adopt the same tactics. Regular attendance at the Divine Service does half your work for you: Your child knows the sinner’s prayer (Lord, have mercy!), the Christmas message (“Glory be to God on high’’ [LSB, pp. 187-89]), one or both creeds, and John the Baptist’s sermon (“Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world’’ [LSB, p. 198]). They also know the Lord’s Prayer. Echo these at home. The Our Father is the most important starting point; the Ten Commandments might be the next. Just start reciting them. Do not even let your children say them with you — see how long it takes before they revolt and demand to recite them with you out loud. From memory. Taught by you. (Oops.)

Simplicity in Christ

Satan always offers the easy way out, or so it seems. In truth, he mostly complicates. St. Paul feared that, “as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ’’ (2 Cor.11:3 NKJV). Most of our embarrassment in teaching our households comes from omission, not failed attempts. Most of our struggle comes from distractions and complications from this world — which offers its own teachings.

The tricks and tips are endless and, ultimately, less important; the simple Word of Christ and His Gospel is the heart. Making that your priority — even if your struggles to do it are obvious to everyone you are trying to teach — will still accomplish the task well.

The catechism itself tries to say the same: “Six things. That’s ‘all’ we Christians believe,’’ even as we spend a lifetime growing in them. Teach it in a simple way, father. Talk about it on the way, parents. And if you find that you are still a disciple, God be praised; don’t ever stop.

This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of The Lutheran Witness.

For more resources on marriage and the family, visit the LCMS Family Ministry page.

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