This year marks the 450th anniversary of the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism, which remains one of the most significant teaching documents in the Reformed tradition. Here is the latest in bi-weekly reflections on its contents. (For some background and the entire document, check this out).
LORD’S DAYS 21-22
Q. 54. What do you believe concerning “the Holy Catholic Church”?
A. I believe that, from the beginning to the end of the world, and from among the whole human race, the Son of God, by his Spirit and his Word, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself, in the unity of the true faith, a congregation chosen for eternal life. Moreover, I believe that I am and forever will remain a living member of it.
Q. 55. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
A. First, that believers one and all, as partakers of the Lord Christ, and all his treasures and gifts, shall share in one fellowship. Second, that each one ought to know that he is obliged to use his gifts freely and with joy for the benefit and welfare of other members.
Q. 56. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A. That, for the sake of Christ’s reconciling work, God will no more remember my sins or the sinfulness with which I have to struggle all my life long; but that he graciously imparts to me the righteousness of Christ so that I may never come into condemnation.
Q. 57. What comfort does “the resurrection of the body” give you?
A. That after this life my soul shall immediately be taken up to Christ, its Head, and that this flesh of mine, raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul, and be conformed to the glorious body of Christ.
Q. 58. What comfort does the article concerning “the life everlasting” give you?
A. That, since I know feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, I shall possess, after this life, perfect blessedness, which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, and thereby praise God forever.
If the most frequent question that I ever hear about the Apostles’ Creed has to do with the phrase “he descended into hell”, then the second most common one has to do with the expression “Holy Catholic Church”. In fact, I had one well-meaning church member tell me rather proudly that they refused to say that part of the creed because they were “a good Presbyterian”.
Why in the world would a “good Presbyterian” confess belief in the “catholic Church”?
The rather simple answer can actually be somewhat obscured when using a translation like the one above, which capitalizes “Holy Catholic”. Most versions of the creed itself only capitalize “Church”, which makes clear that we are not referring to the Roman Catholic Church, but using the word ‘catholic’ in its true historical sense as a way to indicate the universality of a thing.
All we are saying is that we believe there is one church “from the beginning to the end of the world” (which helps show why the term ‘Roman Catholic’ is actually something of an oxymoron). We are part of a communion of saints, joined to one another because we are united to Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body.
We are catholic in our identity as forgiven sinners who look expectantly to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. No matter how diverse we may be in language, custom, or culture (Revelation 7:9-17), we are one in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6). We have been clothed with his righteousness, and there is no longer any condemnation for those who are found to be in Christ (Romans 8:1-2).
The hope that we must always be ready to share (1 Peter 3:15-16) is the hope of the resurrection, without which we would find our faith useless and remain in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-17). This hope is for a bodily resurrection–a doctrine that is sadly under emphasized in many Christian circles. We do not look forward to a disembodied existence bereft of any corporeality but to a new heavens and new earth where we will dwell forever in the presence of our Lord in a fully restored Creation–which includes our glorified, resurrected bodies.
This is the unspeakable joy and inimitable blessedness towards which we look with expectation and excitement. It is the hope of every believer, and the joyous confession of the Church throughout the ages and around the world.
It is the catholic confession that “good Presbyterians” can and must affirm with confidence, clarity, and conviction.