Here is the latest installation of brief reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism. As a way to mark the 450th anniversary the publication of one of the most significant documents in the Reformed tradition, I’m offering these thoughts. (For some background and the entire document, check this out). As with the last post, I’ll be looking at the sets of questions and answers for the previous two Lord’s Days.
LORD’S DAY 7
Q. 20. Will all men, then, be saved through Christ as they became lost through Adam?
A. No. Only those who, by true faith, are incorporated into him and accept all his benefits.
Q. 21. What is true faith?
A. It is not only a certain knowledge by which I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word, but also a wholehearted trust which the Holy Spirit creates in me through the gospel, that, not only to others, but to me also God has given the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s saving work.
Q. 22. What, then, must a Christian believe?
A. All that is promised us in the gospel, a summary of which is taught us in the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, our universally acknowledged confession of faith.
Q. 23. What are these articles?
A. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
LORD’S DAY 8
Q. 24. How are these articles divided?
A. Into three parts: the first concerns God the Father and our creation; the second, God the Son and our redemption; and the third, God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.
Q. 25. Since there is only one Divine Being, why do you speak of three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
A. Because God has thus revealed himself in his Word, that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God.
When I was in Haiti recently, I got to experience driving on an extremely rocky and unpaved road (if you could even call it that) that wound up and down the side of a rather large mountain. It wasn’t level, had no markers of any kind, and the sides often plunged sharply off into several hundred foot drops. It was exhilarating, in a way, but certainly not what you’d call safe.
Faith that is not clear in its object and content is somewhat like this. The metaphor isn’t perfect, however, because even though we reached our destination in Haiti safely, faith that lacks clear focus and boundaries will only lead to ruin. That’s what this series of questions and answers address.
First, the catechism briefly addresses the difference between the universality of the fall (all are identified with Adam and his sin) and the particularity of salvation (only those united to Christ will be saved). This is a short summary of Paul’s thought in Romans 5-6, which you should take a moment to read.
The Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ through faith, and the catechism then briefly defines saving faith. Significantly, it notes two elements to this faith: knowledge (notitia) and trust (fiducia). [Notably absent is Luther’s third element: assent (assensus).] In other words, faith is not a bare emotion or groundless sentiment, but an informed awareness of God’s revelation regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ, producing a conviction that Christ’s work is not just effective in a general sense but effective specifically for you. Here again we see the personal nature of the catechism on display. This is not a document full of abstract and sterile theological statements, but one of intensely personal and heartwarming truth.
If knowledge is an essential element in saving faith, then the obvious question is what comes next: what must I know and trust?
At this point, the catechism begins to expound the Apostles’ Creed, something which virtually all Reformed confessions and catechism include, and one of the three things (along with the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer) that Reformed theology considers to be the basic building blocks of the faith.
You can think of the Apostles’ Creed as the guardrails that line the road, if you will. It does not answer all of the deep mysteries of the faith or address every single aspect of Christian doctrine, but it does show you where the boundaries are. Brief though it may be, it offers instruction and protection. (Here is some background and info on the creed.)
The creed is Trinitarian in its format and content, as the catechism points out, addressing the persons of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), as well as addressing the work of the Triune God in creation, redemption, and sanctification. Before getting into any of the details of the creed, the catechism makes clear that it is referring specifically to the God of Scripture, who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three Persons. This is the singular starting point for all Christian belief.
Christianity is not an unmarked, boundary-less road. It has a specific focus and content. While we cannot attain to the full knowledge of God (Isaiah 55:8-9), we can have true knowledge of God as he has revealed himself to us in his Word. Knowledge, however, is not enough. It must be accompanied by trust and the conviction that not only are these things true, but that they are true for you.