If you love the Heidelberg Catechism and have for a long time, read it again this year. If you learned the Heidelberg Catechism years ago and dismissed it as cruel and unusual punishment, give it another chance. If “Heidelberg” sounds like a disease to you and catechism sounds as thrilling as detasseling corn, try it anyway.
1. This year marks the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism. The first version of the Catechism had a preface dated January 19, 1563, which makes tomorrow the big anniversary date. Happy Birthday!
2. The Heidelberg Catechism is the most personal and most devotional of the Reformation era creeds and confessions. The theme is “comfort” and the emphasis is on how the person and work of Jesus Christ benefits the believer. The pattern of questions and answers make the catechism accessible, while the conspicuous use of “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine” make the theology warm and practical.
3. The Catechism is more influential than you know. Not only have Reformed churches around subscribed to the Heidelberg for centuries, but believers all around the globe have found theological ballast and personal comfort in these 52 Lord’s Days. According to Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson writing in 1999 The Heidelberg Catechism “has circulated more widely than any other book except the Bible, Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.”
4. There are a growing number of fine resources to help you understand the history and theology of the Catechism. The most important work is the Commentary by Zacharius Ursinus (the principal author of the Catechism). Lyle Bierma from Calvin Seminary has edited a scholarly introduction on Heidelberg’s history, sources, and theology. Willem Van’t Spijker’s volume, The Church’s Book of Comfort, is also a fine place to start for those wanting to know the people and context behind the Catechism. I know of at least two excellent books coming out this year (one by P&R and one by RHB). For a general look at the importance of creeds, confessions, and catechisms, be sure to read Carl Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative. And for a popular level treatment of the Heidelberg I’m partial to The Good News We Almost Forgot.
5. The Heidelberg Catechism is full of gospel. It is nothing less than a deeply moving, theologically careful, biblically faithful exploration of God’s grace. You won’t find a better man-made paragraph in all the world than Question and Answer 1. My only true and lasting comfort is that I am not my own, but belong–body and soul, in life and in death–to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
For more information on the Catechism you can also search this blog. I’ve written short articles about the history of Heidelberg, my favorite Lord’s Day, good works, tears at the Lord’s Table, Christian Hedonism, and a host of other topics related to the Catechism. We are also preaching through the Catechism during our evening services this years.