Highlights from Heidelberg - The Apostles' Creed

Over the past couple of years, this blog has journeyed through the Belgic Confession (Blogging the Belgic) and the Canons of Dort (Digging into Dort). Some have asked if I was planning on completing the circuit through the Three Forms of Unity (the confessions of our church tradition that serve as our doctrinal statements) by looking at the remaining confession -- the Heidelberg Catechism. (I have a great title for such series that keeps the alliteration going: Highlights from Heidelberg!).

While this catechism is over 450 years old (written in 1563), its words speak to us today. I love that it is both theologically rich and also practically minded, as shown by its opening question and answer:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

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.

What a great way to show that what we believe matters to our daily lives, as our belief about God can give us comfort each day! I hope reading this opening question and answer shows us the need to explore this document to mine it tor theological and pastoral nuggets of gold.

Challenges to a Series on the Catechism

Every time I have thought about such a series, however, I have been a bit hesitant to start for a couple of different reasons. One is that the Heidelberg Catechism is the longest of these three confessions in terms of structure -- there are 129 questions, so a question a week would take almost two and a half years to complete! The catechism does break the questions into 52 “Lord’s Days” (as it was often used as the basis for preaching in the church), but even this approach would still take a year to get through (longer than the others). Therefore, the scope of the task seemed pretty daunting to me.

In addition to its length, other reasons out there also have caused some hesitation. For example, there is a great resource by Kevin DeYoung that offers brief (a couple of pages) but insightful thoughts on the questions according to the Lord’s Day division called The Good News We Almost Forgot. I recommend this book and have a tough time thinking that my posts would supplant his work, and wanted to do something that would be different.

Overview of the Catechism

Part of the reason for the great length of the Heidelberg Catechism is that it addresses our guilt, God’s grace to us, and how we are to respond with gratitude. These three “G” words are a helpful way to remember the overall structure of the catechism, which is made clear in the second question and answer that notes that we need to know three things to experience the joy of the comfort in life and death described in that wonderful first question. These three things are: “first, how great my sin and misery are [Q and A 3-11]; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery [Q and A 12-85]; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance [Q and A 86-129].” In the course of covering these three truths, the Catechism actually explains three major texts that Christians through the ages have memorized and cherished: the Apostles’ Creed (Q and A 22-58), the 10 Commandments (Q and A 92-115), and the Lord’s Prayer (Q and A 116-129). While the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer appear in the section on how we are to thank God for such deliverance through a life of gratitude (showing us how the 10 Commandments give insights into how we are to live), the Apostles’ Creed is in the section that discusses how we are set free from our sin and misery, as the Catechism states  the Apostles’ Creed is the summary of what a Christian must believe, in that it features the promises of the gospel (see Q and A 22-23).

Knowing this, an idea came to mind as a way to look at the Heidelberg Catechism without taking  a year or more): walk through just one of these sections to show how this catechism is a great resource for something that Christians might be familiar with but perhaps have not spent much time thinking about the meaning. For example, we recite the Apostles’ Creed in a church service, but have we really reflected on what each and every one of those phrases mean? Thankfully, the catechism includes around 35 questions examining the Apostles’ Creed and goes phrase by phrase to discuss both the meaning of the creed and why that truth is important, including at times why the truth benefits us.

Series on the Apostles’ Creed

Therefore, starting next week we will look at the Apostles’ Creed; I will draw upon the Heidelberg Catechism as a guide but also rely on the works of other scholars and writers. I don’t know yet how many weeks this will take, but I promise it won’t be 129 weeks or even 52 weeks, but rather probably somewhere around 20 (there may be some weeks where we need to take a break to discuss other key topics). At some point after this series, I will likely look at the 10 Commandments (as a church staff we are currently studying the 10 Commandments, and it has been very fruitful) followed by the Lord’s Prayer (we’ll figure out a way to cover the other questions of the Heidelberg Catechism at some point). May our journey through the Apostles’ Creed give us joy and comfort as we understand our faith more deeply.

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