Why Lutheranism 101? Don’t people already read and memorize the Small Catechism? Isn’t it enough to point someone to the Augsburg Confession?
As a pastor, I am painfully aware that not everyone has read the Small Catechism. Many people don’t know about the Lutheran Confessions. We meet visitors every Sunday who simply don’t know what this Church business is all about.
The fact is that, by and large, people don’t know about religion in general or the specific beliefs and teaching of their religion. They just don’t know.
In the New York Times, reporter Laurie Goodstine begins her story on the latest Pew Forum on Religion survey with these words:
Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.
Americans are a religious people without knowledge of religion [In a previous survey, Pew Research Center reported that nearly six-in-ten U.S. adults say that religion is “very important” in their lives]. Other reports have demonstrated that Americans are a spiritual people, but much of what Americans call spirituality is not connected to true faith in Jesus Christ.
Americans. These are the people in the pews in our churches on any given weekend. These are the people congregations and individual members are reaching out to find new members.
Goodson goes on to report:
Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.
On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.
Within the Lutheran Church, what would a survey among our members show? One, five, ten or more years after confirmation, what has been retained? What was never taught or understood in the first place? If asked by someone outside the Lutheran Church, “What does Lutheranism mean to you?” or “Why are you a Lutheran?”, what would the average Lutheran’s response be, beyond emotions, that is?
In their Executive Report, Pew states:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.
Here another finding cited in the Pew Forum Executive Report:
Many Americans are devoted readers of Scripture: More than a third (37%) say they read the Bible or other Holy Scriptures at least once a week, not counting worship services. But Americans as a whole are much less inclined to read other books about religion. Nearly half of Americans who are affiliated with a religion (48%) say they “seldom” or “never” read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites about their own religion, and 70% say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.
The reality is that the average American is more likely to spend a half-hour watching television than an half-hour reading a religion book.
This is the reality for which Lutheranism 101 was written.
Should we still read our Catechism, our Confessions? Should we point people to the Book of Concord? Absolutely! Other than Scripture, Lutheranism 101 points to our Confessions the most for a clear exposition of the Lutheran faith.
With its open and engaging layout, written in a more popular style and allowing for associations and connections to be made, and even a bit of humor designed to “bring home” theological ideas, Lutheranism 101 is another quality resource to educate and inspire Lutherans, give Lutherans tools to better witness and confess what they believe, and introduce those who know little or nothing about Lutheranism to the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
You can take Pew Forum’s 15 question mini quiz here and see how you compare with the average American.
And to learn more about Lutheranism or the book, Lutheranism 101, check out Lutheranism101.com.