It is not often that I take issue with Luther’s Small Catechism, but if I may be so bold, I have a bone to pick with our illustrious founder. That particular bone of contention is where he stops the quote of Matthew 28 in what we confessed this past Sunday:
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Which is that word of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Ok, so I get that Luther is just quoting until the end of verse 19, and maybe Luther thought it was redundant to include the next part of Matthew 28, but I would have preferred him to continue on “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
A disciple is a “learner” quite literally. It is a different kind of learning than the academic learning that happens here at FSU. It is actually (somewhat ironically) a learning that fits with FSU’s motto, “Vires (Strength), Artes (Skill), Mores (Character)”. Those are difficult things to learn in a classroom, at least from a lecture or from class notes or from a book. In fact, in our modern par lance, I think we would say that those virtues are best communicated to learners not by “learning” but by “training”.
This is my difficulty in the Christian life, perhaps it is yours as well, because our Lutheran tribe tends to be better about “learning” than we are about “training”. I’m a great learner. I love to learn. But I tend to be weak in my training. I tend to be weak even in my vocation of pastoring when it comes to the “training” part of that vocation. When dealing with a problem, I would much rather find a template that I can plop down over the situation and say “gosh, would you please stop doing that” or “see, this is what it is supposed to be” or “see, this is where this is going wrong.”
The problem with that approach is that it is all Law, no Gospel. Those are literally the 3 uses of the law: 1. Stop doing that 2. This is what you’re doing wrong. 3. This is the way to do it. Those are academic approaches to God, and it is not happenstance that the greatest of academic statements are called “Laws”. But Law is always weaker than Gospel. We learn the Law with our head, but our hearts are trained by the Gospel.
The Gospel is a training thing. This may sound shocking to you, Lutheran. Training sounds like Law, doesn’t it? But come along with me for a little bit. The Gospel “trains” us by way of verse 20. Training has two parts: learning what to do, doing it for the sake of seeing what happens. The Law (learning what to do) is still there, but now it is coupled with doing it for the sake of seeing what happens. Note, that’s not doing it because you’re afraid or doing it because you have a deadline breathing down your neck. It is doing, and doing with curiosity. It is doing while asking the question “what might happen?”
“What might happen?” is a Gospel question. It is filled with expectation, with wonder, and with faith. You run for 15 minutes to see how much further you will get this time. You start doing pushups wondering how close to 100 you can get this time.
Jesus promises us the greatest “What might happen?” that we have. What might happen if Jesus promises to be with me always? What might happen if Jesus is with me to the end of the age? What might happen if I am His Baptized child? What might happen if He promises to forgive me no matter what?
So we are trained, Baptized. We are given the Law but we are given much more, because we are given a place to train, to ask “What might happen?” Ask yourself that today, and see how the Gospel might train you for the Kingdom of God, “What might happen?”