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Theological Term of the Week

Heidelberg Catechism
A Reformed confessional document, written by Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) in Heidelberg, consisting of a series of questions and answers used to teach Christian doctrine and practice.   

  • From the Heidelberg Catechism

    1. Q. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

    A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. 

  • From Christ in the Heidelberg Catechism by Robert Godfrey:
  • From the beginning the catechism was intended for preaching as well as teaching. The Reformers of Heidelberg were convinced that not only children needed catechizing, but all God’s people needed careful, regular instruction in the basics of the faith. The catechism was divided into 52 Lord’s Days with the purpose of facilitating weekly preaching from the catechism. Especially in the Dutch Reformed tradition that intention has been preserved to our day. The sermon in one service each Sunday (usually the afternoon or evening service) is based on the catechism for that Sunday.

    The personal and Christ-centered character of the catechism is clear right from the beginning. The first question asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer is as fine a summary of the gospel as can be found anywhere: “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.”

    This first answer is long and stands in marked contrast with the rather short questions that begin other catechisms. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The Anglican Catechism is even briefer (and easier). Its first question is “What is your name?” But Heidelberg takes the catechumen to the heart of the gospel right at the beginning. Christ stands at the head of the catechism and the whole catechism is an explication of what it means to belong to him.

Learn more:

  1. Justin Holcomb: The Heidelberg Catechism
  2. Carl Trueman: The Heidelberg Catechism (mp3)
  3. Robert Godfrey: Christ in the Heidelberg Catechism
  4. Zacharias Ursinus: Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
  5. Doug VanderMeulen: Series of sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism (mp3s)
  6. URC Learning: Heidelberg Catechism Curriculum for Families (mp3s and pdfs)
Related terms:

Filed under Creeds and Confessions.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.


A Catechism for Girls and Boys

Part II: Questions about The Ten Commandments

Disclaimer: I believe Christ fulfilled the Sabbath and there isn’t such a thing as a “Christian Sabbath.” I’m not sure how I’d change this question if I were to use this catechism.

Do you agree with this question and answer? If not, would you change it? How?

50. Q. What day of the week is the Christian Sabbath?
      A. The first day of the week, called the Lord’s Day.

(Click through to read scriptural proof.)

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Round the Sphere Again: Reformation Day

Still a Sticking Point
Scott M. Manetsch points out, among other important things, that “the definition of justification presented in the [Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification] is a decidedly Catholic one” (Themelios). It breaks my heart that so many so-called Protestants don’t truly understand the doctrine justification when our confidence in our right standing with God depends on it.

Last Minute Get Up
Need a quick costume? No worries (Resurgence).

Responding in Sacred Song
The Reformation and Music (Michael Milton).


Sunday's Hymn: Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts

Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;
Thou savest those that on Thee call;
To them that seek Thee Thou art good,
To them that find Thee all in all.

We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Wherever our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blessed when our faith can hold Thee fast.

O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed over the world Thy holy light.

Ber­nard of Clair­vaux

Other hymns, worship songs, sermons etc. posted today:

Have you posted a hymn (or sermon, sermon notes, prayer, etc.) today and I missed it? Let me know by leaving a link in the comments or by contacting me using the contact form linked above, and I’ll add your post to the list.


Saturday's Old Post: Christ's Active and Passive Obedience and Our Justification

Since I usually don’t have time for blogging on Saturday, I’ve decided to occasionally feature a favorite old post from the archives. This might be the post I like best of all the ones I’ve written in the seven years I’ve been blogging. It was originally posted in July of 2007.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness 
My beauty are, my glorious dress….

(Nicolaus Zinzindorf, 1700-1760,
translated by John Wesley, 1703-1791)

Recently, everywhere I look I see the mention of the active and passive obedience of Christ, and what (or whether) both aspects of Christ’s obedience contribute to our justification. The concepts of the active and passive obedience of Christ were included in the last three questions from the Westminster Larger Catechism that I’ve posted, although those particular terms weren’t used. But the ideas are there, with the catechism clearly teaching that both the active and passive obedience of Christ are necessary for the justification of sinners. And one of the books I read and reviewed recentlyBy Faith Alone, dealt a bit with the active and passive obedience of Christ and whether both are necessary grounds for our justification. So I’ve been thinking about the two kinds of obedience and what they contributed to our justification, and if I’m thinking about it, you know I’m going to write about it.

Passive Obedience
Christ’s passive obedience refers to his bearing the curse of the law for us in his death on the cross. The word passive as used here does not mean that Christ’s sacrificial death was simply something done to him, and that he played no active role in it. (We know that’s not the case, for Jesus tells us clearly in John 10:18 that he laid down his life of his own accord and authority, making him an active participant in his own death.) Rather, the term passive in passive obedience comes to us from the Latin obedentia passiva, in which passiva refers to Christ’s suffering. You’ve seen the pass root used like this elsewhere, as in the term passion used to refer to refer to Christ’s suffering and death.

Christ’s passive obedience—his obedience in bearing the curse of the law for us—is the basis upon which our sins are forgiven. His death was an atoning death, and he was our substitute. Our sins were placed upon Jesus Christ on the cross and he endured the penalty for our sin in our place. This payment of our penalty through Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf is the reason we can be pardoned.

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