Foundations: The Catechism as Worldview
By William M. Cwirla
What exactly is a "worldview?" You'll find a variety of definitions. I define it this way: A worldview is the sum of our knowledge, experiences, beliefs, and ideas that shape the way we understand the world. In other words, a worldview is a kind of lens through which we see and interpret the world around us.
Many things shape our worldview: parents, teachers, pastors, books, movies, television, the internet. All of these play a part in shaping the lens through which we look at the world and attempt to answer, "What does this mean?"
Think about all the factors that have shaped your view of the world so far. You live in a western, industrialized, first-world country. Your family has a certain ethnic and cultural history. You're attending school or perhaps you're being homeschooled. You live in the 21st century, a much different century than Luther's 16th century or the time of the Bible. You are scientific, whether you like science and are good at it or not. You know about galaxies and solar systems, and you're acquainted with bacteria, viruses, atoms, and molecules. You have vast amounts of information available at your fingertips on the internet. You can travel anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. You can instantly communicate with people on the other side of the world.
As a Christian, you are baptized into the death and life of Jesus. You are a child of God by God's own declaration. You worship in the Triune Name. You know psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. You know the Scriptures and the confessions of the Church, particularly the creeds and the Small Catechism, which we Lutherans say is a simple summary of the Christian faith. These also shape your worldview and will give you a slightly different perspective on things than those youth who don't have them.
The Catechism shapes the way we view ourselves. The Ten Commandments teach us not only that we sin but that we are sinners--corrupted to the core of our humanity. The Commandments orient our lives both vertically and horizontally, before God and before one another. Whereas the unbelieving world sees things only in terms of the horizontal--justice, peace, equality, charity, love--we are taught to see things vertically, too. "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."
Not only do we see our sin, but we also see the limitless opportunities of love presented in day-to-day life: helping our neighbor in his or her need, upholding the sanctity of human life, honoring marriage as a gift of our being made male and female, protecting property and reputation, living contentedly. The Commandments rescue us from the endless pursuit of self-improvement in favor of giving ourselves in service to others even as we live before God in faith.
The Catechism shapes our view of God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. God is our Creator and we are His creatures. The first article of the Creed reminds us that the entire created order, even down to those pesky bacteria and viruses, are good. God makes only good. Evil is the corruption of good; it is completely uncreative. We are rescued from a "dualistic" worldview that sees some things as "good" and other things as "evil." All created things are good gifts from our Father in heaven who knows how to give good gifts to His children.
God is our Redeemer in the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. God became Man in Christ, a fact that shatters conventional worldviews. The Infinite took up residence in the finite; the fullness of God dwells bodily among us in Christ. Salvation is not a matter of escaping the body through some spiritual ecstasy but instead happens in the body as we are embodied in Christ and His Body, the Church. That Christ became human allows us to rejoice in our humanity as He makes us into a new humanity in His death and resurrection.
God is our Sanctifier who makes us holy. The world thinks that holiness is something we do by our external discipline, but the Catechism teaches us that holiness happens on the inside, at the core of our being where the Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us with Jesus Christ and with the whole Church in the one true faith. In a world that boasts of being enlightened and awakened, the Catechism reminds us that it is the Spirit who enlightens our darkness and awakens us from death to life.
The Catechism shapes our conversation with God in prayer. Prayer is intimate speech, family small-talk--a little child coming to his or her dear Father in heaven. We pray as God's children, in solidarity with our brother, Jesus, in the unity of the Spirit who intercedes for us with unutterable sighs. Prayer is not about getting the words right or cultivating some spiritual discipline, but talking to God on the most intimate terms. The Lord's Prayer shapes our entire world view of the spiritual life in terms of God's Name, kingdom and will, our daily provision and care, forgiveness, spiritual protection, and final deliverance. Is there any human need that is not somehow covered in the Lord's Prayer?
The Catechism shapes our view of how God deals with us. God always works through creaturely means--hidden in, with, and under the created order. We are creatures, and God deals with us as creatures. He births us from above in baptismal water. He absolves our sins with words expressed in our language. He gives us the Body and Blood of our Savior in the form of a meal of bread and wine. We don't try to escape the material world to find God; God finds us right in the midst of the material world in the most humble of means: water, words, bread, and wine.
Perhaps you never thought of it this way before, but the Small Catechism is not simply a summary of the Christian faith, it's a lens through which you might rightly view the world as God sees it. Look at the world through the Small Catechism, and you will see how the world looks with Christ at the center.
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, as well as a president emeritus of Higher Things.
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