Thursday, May 17, 2012

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 8 & 9

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. You can read the first post that has more of an introduction here and you can find all posts about this topic under the label "Heidelberg Catechism".

(Due to popular demand my friend Sara's suggestion I'll start using a modern English translation of the HC.  This version also has footnotes about where in the Bible the HC Answers come from.).

Question 7 left us with the idea that our depraved human nature comes from the disobedience of Adam and Eve.  Question 8 follows up on that nature.

Question 8. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?
A. Yes, (1) unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.(2)
Scripture references:  (1) Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Job 14:4; Isa. 53:6 (2) John 3:3-5

In general, this makes sense to me.  I believe that God is love and God is good and when we do those things that are good and loving, we are reflecting Him.  I suppose the difficult part of this idea comes from the different understandings there are out there about the idea of being "born again".  I actually like the other/older translation of this a little better.  For the answer it says "Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God."  It's probably a personal preference for language or how I perceive the words but to me, the idea of regeneration sounds better, somehow, than born again.  To me, regeneration sounds more like a small spark of a beginning whereas the idea of born again gives me the impression of a big, once-in-a-lifetime ask-Jesus-into-your-heart conversion moment.

Perhaps the reason regeneration appeals to me is that I do know many people who are able to do good things but they are not Christians.  If we take a hard line approach and say they are not "born again" we are saying what they do is not good.  But if we think of it as regeneration, I think we can see God working within them even if they are unaware of it (the Methodist idea of prevenient grace, I believe).

Question 9. But doesn’t God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?
A. No, God created human beings with the ability to keep the law. (1) They, however, provoked by the devil, (2) in willful disobedience, (3) robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts. (4)
Scripture References: (1) Gen. 1:31; Eph. 4:24 (2) Gen. 3:13; John 8:44 (3) Gen. 3:6 (4) Rom. 5:12, 18, 19

I still have a difficult time when I see the word "law".  When I think of God's "law", I think of the word torah, which is not what the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism had in mind.  I keep having to remind myself that "law" in this context is defined in Question and Answer 4 as loving God and loving one's neighbor.  So, basically Question 9 is saying "isn't it unfair that God requires us to do what we can't do?"  First, the Answer states that we are created with the ability to do.  Doesn't this, though, contradict the idea in Question 8 that we are totally unable to do any good? 

I also want to note that in the context of the laws given in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are laws dealing with repentance.  The laws were not all expected to be followed without error, because repentance is built right into them.

As I have started using this version of the Heidelberg Catechism with scripture references, I will say that the references the authors of the HC use are much better done than any "What We Believe" I've seen posted on church websites.  I've often found many things I can argue with the "What We Believe" statements when it comes to what scripture the churches choose to use to back up their points, but generally I can see why the authors of the HC chose to use what they did.

No comments: