• Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 10: The Heidelberg Catechism

    Posted Jul 6th, 2017 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Believe What We Believe With | Comments Off on Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 10: The Heidelberg Catechism

    Shortly after the Protestant Reformation shook Europe and the religious world, both Protestants and Catholics vigorously engaged in an educational project, the chosen means of which was the catechism. Many Protestants mistakenly think that the catechism originated in the Roman Catholic Church. I have head such claims with my own ears. But that is not the case. As far as we can tell Martin Luther was the first to use this type of back and forth style for teaching when he wrote his first catechism in 1528 and then his larger one in 1529. After that the gates were open and catechisms began to appear in all corners of the church.

    The Heidelberg … is one of the warmest and devotional expressions of complex and controversial theological subjects that you will ever find.

    One early catechism that has become a staple even to this day was the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). It is the standard—along with the Cannons of Dort and the Belgic Confession—of Reformed Churches today—CRC, URC, RCA, to name a few. It’s original commission revolved around the discussions and debate between Zwinglians and Lutherans in Germany over the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

    Like all educational tools of its day, the catechism is structured around the big three—The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Additionally, there is a very intentional three-fold structure in the catechism. The first part takes up the law of God and the implications of that or us; namely, that we have failed to keep it. Guilt. The second part takes up the apostles creed and deals very clearly with the gospel. Grace. And the third section deals with prayer and devotion. Gratitude. Guilt. Grace. Gratitude. The three-fold division of the Heidelberg Catechism and a beautiful summary of the message of the Bible. The catechism is also neatly and nicely divided into 52 sections—Lord’s Day 1…etc. As such it is designed for congregational teaching and instruction on the Lord’s Day. You may have noticed that we are using it in this way in our evening worship service. Every Lord’s Day evening we recite the assigned questions.

    The Heidelberg is a really special document for this reason. It is one of the warmest and devotional expressions of complex and controversial theological subjects that you will ever find. It is a model for all who set out to know God and make him know. This can be seen in the song we sang this morning as our song of rejoicing. My only comfort in life and in death. Those words come from the opening questions of the Heidelberg Catechism.

    Q.1. From where do you know your sins and misery?

    A.That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

    Q.2. What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

    A. Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.

    One can easily see why eminent historian Phillip Schaff said, “It is the product of the heart as well as the head, full of faith and unction from above. It is fresh, lively, glowing, yet clear, sober, self-sustained. The ideas are Biblical and orthodox, and well-fortified by apt Scripture proofs.”

    So take it up and read and memorize.

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    Brian
    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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