Did Jesus have to be crucified or could He have died another death? Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension to heaven? What does it really mean to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ? What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven? These questions and 125 others are answered in the Heidelberg Catechism, which incidentally just turned 450 years old. Now before you say, “Big deal!” and walk away from this month’s column, please hear me out.
When you hear the word, “catechism,” your mind may conjure up visions of an out of date, dog-eared, old book you’re likely to find at an estate or yard sale, or you may associate it with an extra set of impossible rules to live by, all made up by a bunch of religious zealots. But a good catechism is far from either of these. In fact, it is quite in vogue with Protestant 20-somethings these days. The Heidelberg Catechism is simply a book of 129 common questions about God, us, and the world around us, followed by answers from the Bible. The answers to these questions enable us to apply the truths of the Bible to our own lives in a very practical manner. Best of all, they give us a big picture of what God is doing in the world and how we fit into that picture. A common response to completing the catechism is a revived (or newly kindled) passion for God and His glory. Who wouldn’t like that?!
The Heidelberg Catechism is not a 16th century version of “The Bible for Dummies;” Not at all! It is not to be a substitute for reading the Bible or to be considered on par with Scripture itself. It won’t tell you everything you need to know from the Bible. Think of it as a road map, of sorts, to understanding and living the Christian life. Therefore, the best way to read it is devotionally. The authors even sectioned it off to be read and digested over a 52 week period. If you’re strapped for time, I’d say consider scrapping “Our Daily Bread,” or whatever other devotional you’re reading, and focus on the Heidelberg for a year (of course along with your Bible). Consider reading and discussing the questions and answers with a friend, your spouse or your children, as you go through it.
The Heidelberg Catechism, written in Heidelberg Germany by a group of respected theologians, is the fourth most widely circulated book in the world, and is (of course) available in the public domain through an internet search. I would suggest, however, either borrowing or purchasing a version which includes study notes and a short devotion for each question. My favorites are “The Good News We Almost Forgot – Rediscovering the Gospel in a Sixteenth Century Catechism,” by Kevin DeYoung and “The Heidelberg Catechism,” by G. I. Williamson. I’ll be sure to have copies of both, and others, in the church library (off the vestry where we have coffee hour each week) for you to peruse and borrow.
I don’t think it’s possible for you to regret reading through the Heidelberg Catechism. Your rewards will be a better understanding of the essentials of the Christian faith, an increased ability to more readily explain the faith to others (including your own family), the discovery of new ways to apply the faith to your life, and the stoking of your heart’s devotion to God. As DeYoung says, with regard to discovering (or rediscovering) the Heidelberg, “Come and see how the cool breeze from centuries gone by can awaken your lumbering faith.” Thanks for hearing me out!