Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong - body and soul, in life and in death - to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Today marks the 450th anniversary of the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism. If you have never heard of this catechism it is a collection of 128 questions-and-answers that was written as a means to help pastors teach their congregations the basics of Christian belief. The question-and-answer above is the very first, and it sets the tone for all that follows.
The catechism is written in the first person, so that as a person reads and studies it they can understand that the wisdom it contains isn’t something written for other people but it is wisdom that speaks directly to them. It is strongly anchored in the Bible, with each answer having specific biblical references.
Catechisms are teaching tools used by a variety of branches of Christianity. The Heidelberg Catechism is used as a standard, or key statement of belief, by many churches in the Reformed Tradition. Presbyterian churches, which are Reformed in nature but historically rooted in England and Scotland, often use the Long and Short versions of the Westminster Catechism.
I don’t believe that catechisms are outdated tools, written for a past time and place but no longer needed now. The church today, as much as any other time in its history, needs to teach people what it believes and why. This need was discussed in a recent book by Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, which I reviewed here. Catechisms remain excellent tools for this kind of teaching. A new catechism for our day, the New City Catechism, does this well, combining the teachings of both Heidelberg and Westminster and arranging them into 52 sections, so that a new section can be studied each week.
Wikipedia has a brief article on the Heidelberg Catechism here. Another short piece, written yesterday by a pastor, Kevin De Young, is here. An excellent resource on the Heidelberg Catechism is Comfort and Joy, by Andrew Kuyvenhoven. The whole Catechism, including its scripture references, can be read here and here.
I invite you to re-read the question-and-answer I started this post with, and then to seek over the next few weeks to read the entire Catechism. It is truly filled with God’s Good News, written for you and for me.
Happy Anniversary Heidelberg Catechism! May you continue to be a vibrant source of God’s Good News in Christ Jesus!
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.