THE HEIDELBERG CATECHISM
Tried and tested in the furnace of affliction, the attacks of heresy, the scrutiny of history, and the supreme test of scriptural accuracy, our doctrinal statements represent the finest fruits of the Protestant Reformation. Founded upon the living word of God, they are still as relevant today as they were then. We are currently studying the Heidelberg Catechism in our Second Service. In question and answer format, this confessional statement briefly and clearly defines what we believe.
A BENEFICIAL DOCUMENT
The Heidelberg Catechism asserts that there is a sure comfort in life and death that is found only in our faithful Savior Jesus Christ (Q&A 1). It then presents what is necessary to know that we may live and die in that comfort. It follows three main divisions: first, how serious our sin and misery is; second, how we are delivered from our sins and misery1; and third, how we are to be thankful to God for His deliverance (Q&A 2).
The Heidelberg Catechism clearly shows the way of salvation-comfort for those who will embrace the Savior it proclaims. It is much more than a cold, bare statement of faith, but is very warm and personal, as a small sample will reveal:
“my conscience accuses me,” “my sin,” “I have grievously sinned,” “I accept . . . with a believing heart,” “my faithful Savior Jesus Christ,” “I am righteous in Christ,” “offered Himself for me,” “redeemed me,” “works in me,” “I am . . . a member,” “my faith,” “I am assured,” etc.
The Heidelberg Catechism is not the word of God, or a substitute for the word of God, but is an accurate statement of the Word of God for that which it addresses. Its authors desired it to be an “echo of Scripture,” and, therefore, added more scripture references than any other doctrinal statement of its day. It is an extremely beneficial document. It systematizes what scripture teaches as essential for Salvation; it exposes doctrinal error, offering clear truth-statements for people to affirm or deny; it has stood the test of time; and it has been graciously used by the Lord to lead many to the comfort of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ alone.
The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Germany at the request of Frederick III, Elector Palatine. He was a powerful ruler of the German Palatinate (A vast and influential region of the German Empire). He was himself a devout Christian who desired to promote Christ and the Christian faith. He called faithful and able men to the professorship at the University of Heidelberg and then entrusted them with the preparation of a biblical, clear, and concise statement of the doctrines of salvation in catechetical form. The responsibility fell primarily upon Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus.
The spread and influence of the Heidelberg Catechism cannot be overstated. Few books have been more frequently translated, widely circulated and used than the Heidelberg Catechism. It is the most translated book after the Bible, the Imitation of Christ, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into all the European and many Asiatic languages and continues to be translated. The first edition was published early in 1563. The catechism was adopted by the Synods of Wesel (1568), Emden (1571), Dort (1578), the Hague (1586), as well as the great Synod of Dort (1618-1619). It has been foundational to other church leaders, theologians, and doctrinal statements, not least of which the Westminster Divines and their Confession and Catechisms. It is still used today by many denominations and churches all over the world.
1 Misery refers to all the sad and painful consequences of the fall into sin of the human race: further sinful acts, temporal judgments, innumerable sufferings, physical death, and, if no change, eternal death and judgment.