Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 1 & 2

This series of posts will explore the Heidelberg Catechism as it is, to my understanding, the basis for Reformed Theology, and since the churches that I have been visiting in my Church Shopping Saga are all Reformed, I thought it would be good to get to know this document and see what it is all about.  In addition to the Heidelberg Catechism, I've also read Creation Regained by Albert M. Wolters and on my reading list is The Transforming Vision by Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton.  I'm reading the catechism from a book called 50 Foundational documents for Christian teachers & ministers by Robert F. Lay, Ed.D.  As this is my first experience with this document, my thoughts and questions are not colored by any previous education about it.  You will be reading my thoughts pretty much as I have them.  Since the catechism is 129 questions & answers, and I don't know the frequency yet that I will be posting them, I have no idea how long this series will take.  Those disclaimers aside, let's get started!

In the short introduction to the catechism in this book, it states that the catechism was:

  • written in German 
  • composed by the request of Elector Frederick II, ruler of the Palatinate, Germany from 1559-1576 in order to settle theological disputes in his province
  • Comprised of 3 parts describing:
    • Sin (questions 3-11)
    • Salvation (questions 3-11)
    • Service (questions 86-129)
As I read the introduction, my first question was what were the theological disputes that caused Frederick II to have this written?  According to this site, the dispute was between Lutherans and Calvinists and had much to do with the view on the Lord's Supper (at least, that's what I got out of the first couple of paragraphs...the whole thing is not easy to read due to the single spacing so I stopped).  It also said that the controversy "raged with great violence".  So, already, we are beginning this orderly set of beliefs that is prompted to be written out of anger and a desire to be right.  I can understand that.  I love being right, and I have been prompted to write things out of those same emotions.  

On to the questions!

Question 1:  What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer:  That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yeah, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

What this says is that we do not belong to ourselves but to Jesus, that we are not under the power of sin or Satan, that we are assured of eternal life, that the Holy Spirit is what makes us want to live for him.

Question 2:  How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer:  Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

This question says that we only have to know 3 things in order to enjoy the comfort referred to in Question 1.  They are to know we are sinners, how we can be delivered from sin, and how to give thanks for the deliverance.

I'm assuming that this Question 2 is where the popular idea of a "Sinner's Prayer" may come from because it is very similar to that basic formula.

Because these questions are stated in the first person, they don't seem to address "corporate" sin, but maybe that will come later, or maybe the HC is just only concerned about what each individual believes.

I don't see anything unusual in these first two questions or anything that seems outside the realm of Christian theology in a general sense.  I do realize there probably wouldn't be anything outside of it because so much of Protestant Christianity as a whole is rooted back in this time, but most of us don't really know where our theology or beliefs actually come from.

Wouldn't you love to have heard the discussions of people as they figured out what questions to include and how to word the answers?  I would.


Eleni Poulakou said...

I'd heard the term before (Heidelberg Catechism), but didn't look deeper into it.
I must admit, I am a little ignorant of the later history of Christianity, after the Schism and the Reformation and all those adventures of the Church(es).
Being curious, I think I will follow along your study. I might play truant sometimes, but basically I'll be around... ;-)

Kelly said...

Church History is definitely not my strong suit, that is for sure, so we're probably in the same boat, here :)

Meg said...

Hey Kelly, this is going to be an awesome series. The HC was originally intended as a teaching tool for middle school aged kids, written by two 20-something's: Zachery Ursinus & Casper Oliveanus. It would have been pretty contemporary in it's day.
Your background info is right, the HC is set out to explain some of the differences btwn Lutheran and Reformed theology. It was also set against a backdrop of persecution, particularly toward the radical Anabaptist element of the Reformation. This will explain why, later in the text, Zach and Casper seem to be throwing the Anabaptists under the bus a bit.
Q&A 2 does outline the basis for the sinner's prayer but that particular phenomena is far more recent to Christian culture than this document. Also, as regard to personal/corporate sin, remember that this was intended to be spoken out loud in communal worship. As such, it is inherently corporate. Plus, communal vs private sin is a more recent concern (a response to evangelicalism's militant "personal Savior" Schtik).
Good work. Looking forward to reading more.

Kelly said...

Thanks Meg! I was hoping you would add some information to this!

I do realize the Sinner's Prayer is very recent to Christian culture but it just struck me how it may have its roots here--whether knowingly or unknowingly.

And, now that I know it was meant to be spoken out loud in communal worship, that does add in some perspective. Thank you!

Justin M said...

Lol I have been trying to post for literally half an hour! Victory! ANYWAYS!
I would say #1 is a good summary of those who are born again.
#2 I would say, the thing to keep in mind is that the HC was intended for those that were believers, even the younger ones. The sinner's prayer is a completely modern and false idea, if the reformers new of it they would have written letters to us now that specifically said DO NOT DO THIS! lol
I would sum up number 2 then is a very brief summary of the christian life! "This question we only have to know 3 things in order to enjoy the comfort referred to in #1." So it is intended to comfort Calvinist. Why? 1, they were terrible God hating sinners. 2 Christ Lived, Died, Rose again, and continually intercedes for them. These things will drive them to be thankful. This is my first look at the HC as well, so this should be fun! :)

Kelly said...

I'm surprised Justin; I would have assumed that you would have been more familiar with it than I am :)

Re: the Sinner's Prayer: I never heard of it until I was maybe 19 or 20, and it really confused me because while I guess I had experienced the things in it at different times in my life, never had I been told "you must say this prayer". I also think it oversimplifies things, but that is probably a post of its own for another day.