As Pastor Milligan was away as this edition of the newsletter was being put together, Clerk of Session, Elder Michael Kersten, steps in to tell us about Session’s worship focus for the coming year.
In 2016 we will confess our faith during each worship service using the Heidelberg Catechism. This article provides a brief re-introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism and explains why we are using it this year. You can read the entire text of the Heidelberg Catechism right here on the church website.
The Heidelberg Catechism originated in what is now Germany during the Reformation. A regional ruler named Frederick III wanted a tool to better instruct his people in true Christian faith and repentance. As Kevin DeYoung wrote in his excellent book, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism: “A new catechism would serve three purposes: (1) as a tool for teaching children, (2) as a guide for preachers, and (3) as a form for confessional unity among the Protestant factions in the Palatinate.” While a team of theological professors and ministers was commissioned to draft the new catechism, its chief architect and author was Zacharias Ursinus, a professor at the University in Heidelberg. The Catechism was first published in January 1536, and was quickly translated into Latin, Dutch, French and English. As Kevin DeYoung wrote: “Besides the Bible, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, the Heidelberg Catechism is the most widely circulated book in the world. Since its publication in 1536, the Heidelberg Catechism has been used in scores of languages and is widely praised as the most devotional, most loved catechism of the Reformation.”
The catechism is structured to reflect the pattern of salvation: Questions 3-11 deal with our sinful condition (guilt); Questions 12-85 deal with God’s deliverance (grace); and Questions 86-129 deal with our response (gratitude). (Questions 1 and 2 serve as an introduction to the overall catechism and summarize the character of our salvation and our response to God as a result of his saving grace.) This pattern of Guilt, Grace and Gratitude is an outline of the Bible’s over-arching message of redemption. It is the pattern of the gospel itself. The Catechism’s organization also aids our study. The 129 questions and answers are divided into 52 Lord’s Days, making it convenient for both preaching and for personal and family devotions every week of the year.
So why are we using the Catechism? In the original introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism, the writers provided reasons for its use, which apply to us just as much as they applied 450 years ago. Two of the reasons are as follows:
- They knew that our “inborn wickedness,” and its deceptive pull upon our hearts, would “get the upper hand and then pervert churches” unless we were equipped to counter such deception by knowing and studying the truths of Scripture given to us by God himself.
- They “had the express command of God in Exodus 12 and 13 and in Deuteronomy 4, 6 and 11 where the Lord says ‘and these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.’”
Why does God repeatedly command us to have his law “upon our hearts”, and to “teach them diligently” throughout each day? Because of reason number 1! Sin is constantly working to remove our trust, hope and confidence from God’s Word, and to follow instead our own understanding, which conforms so conveniently with the way of the world. We continually need our minds and hearts to be re-formed according to God’s Word, to be reminded daily of our sin and desire to find life apart from God, to be shown the amazing grace that God has granted to us through the life and death of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and to be encouraged to live lives of gratitude and obedience to Him.
Only a profound familiarity with the rich truths of the Bible, which “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7), will keep us faithful when doubt and temptation confront us, when grief and frustration overwhelm us, when Satan temps us with the same words he tempted Eve and continues to tempt all those who trust in God: “Has God really said?” Thanks be to God that he has spoken clearly through his prophets, and then finally and fully through His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ himself. May the Holy Spirit bless the Word to each one of us and to our congregation as we commit to study and confess it together, as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism.
The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, by Kevin DeYoung.
Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism, by Starr Meade
The Heidelberg Catechism, by G.I. Williamson.