I grew up hearing about how “warm and friendly” the Heidelberg Catechism is, and I’m glad some people feel that way. To me, however, it’s a bit more reminiscent of an exam or an interview. At times it makes me feel like a “way-ward soul” called before the Elders or the Classis to “give an account of my understanding of the Christian faith.”
It isn’t that I disagree with the Heidelberg Catechism – not at all. I think it boils down to the fact that, once I met the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism simply couldn’t compare.
Talk about “warm and friendly!” (At least, as these kinds of things go….) The Belgic Confession is a testimony. It is like sitting at the bedside of a dying person and hearing someone talk about what really matters. In the Reformed Church in America, we have 4 “Standards of Unity.” Each has its beauty (although, the beauty of the Canons is sometimes a bit difficult to see), but to my mind, the others don’t come close to the Belgic Confession.
Take Article 17, as an example:
We believe that our good God,
by marvelous divine wisdom and goodness,
seeing that Adam and Eve had plunged themselves in this manner
into both physical and spiritual death
and made themselves completely miserable,
set out to find them,
trembling all over,
were fleeing from God.
And God comforted them,
promising to give them his Son,
born of a woman,
to crush the head of the serpent,
and to make them blessed.
How can you beat that kind of language?
Dear Guido describes a God who “set out to find them, though they, trembling all over, were fleeing from God.” It is the gospel hidden in edenic clothes – the entire Bible, in half a sentence.
There are those who look at “old, dusty documents” like these and declare them “unsuitable for a contemporary culture.” Indeed, I can’t count the times I’ve heard people frump over the fact that the RCA (at least historically) is a confessional denomination – proclaiming that they “haven’t wasted their time on those things since seminary…” or college… or childhood catechism classes.
It’s too bad.
Language like this could help inoculate us against a watered-down, just “get-em-saved” type of Christianity that obsesses over the afterlife and fixates on failure. Guido isn’t somehow dismissing Adam and Eve’s cannonball into sin; he simply isn’t all that interested in it. Indeed, the story really isn’t about sin anyhow – it’s about a God who remains faithful even when we do not… a God proactively for us even when we are actively hiding… a God who mitigates against the consequences of our behavior by comforting us and promising better things to come rather than meeting out punishment in an attempt to ensure we have adequately suffered for our mistakes.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a message this world needs to hear.
Grace and peace,
PS. I’m starting a new devotionally-focused (rather than commentary-like) series on the Belgic Confession over at personal blog; feel free to join.