Archives For Definitions

On January 19, 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism was first published by Reformed scholars in Germany. This Catechism was written by Peter Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, and espouses a Reformed view of theology. Shortly after its publication, it was accepted by most of the Reformed churches in Europe. It was originally written “to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers.”

As a catechism, its structure is that of a question followed by an answer. It also includes Scripture references supporting the responses. It consists of 129 questions and answers, and soon after it was published, it was structured to be read in a year, and thus divided into 52 sections to reflect the 52 weeks of the year. In the sixteenth century, the National Synods of the Reformed Church adopted the Three Forms of Unity, which consisted of the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dort (1618-1619).

Here is a brief introduction to the Catechism:

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year.

The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections, so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches each Sunday of the year. In The Netherlands this Heidelberg Catechism became generally and favorably known almost as soon as it came from the press, mainly through the efforts of Petrus Dathenus, who translated it into the Dutch language and added this translation to his Dutch rendering of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1566. In the same year, Peter Gabriel set the example of explaining this catechism to his congregation at Amsterdam in his Sunday afternoon sermons.

The National Synods of the sixteenth century adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, requiring office-bearers to subscribe to it and ministers to explain it to the churches. These requirements were strongly emphasized by the great Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into many languages and is the most influential and the most generally accepted of the several catechisms of Reformation times.  

The first two questions frame the whole Heidelberg Catechism, and are foundational for the whole of the Christian life. These two questions and answers are worthwhile to memorize.

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

A. That I am not my own,[1] but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,[2] to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.[3] He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.[5] He also preserves me in such a way[6] that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;[7] indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.[8] Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life[9] and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.[10]

[1] I Cor. 6:19, 20 [2] Rom. 14:7-9. [3] I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14. [4] I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2. [5] John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8. [6] John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5. [7] Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18. [8] Rom. 8:28. [9] Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14. [10] Rom. 8:14. 

2.Q. What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A. First, how great my sins and misery are;[1] second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;[2] third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.[3]

[1] Rom. 3:9, 10; I John 1:10. [2] John 17:3; Acts 4:12; 10:43. [3] Matt. 5:16; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 5:8-10; I Pet. 2:9, 10.

I have used the Heidelberg Catechism as a supplement to my Bible reading. I have also used it with my family as part of our family worship/devotions. I commend it to you as well.

In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows:

Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.

The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use. At their best, they have been foundational and formative to Christians and the propagation of the Christian faith for centuries. If one does not use a catechism for spiritual formation, what is being used? It is not that young people and adults are not being formed and shaped. The concern is that what they are being formed and shaped by and to is not substantive biblical and theological truth.

At our upcoming Theology Conference, “Reformation, 500: Theology and Legacy,” one of our lectures will address The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here, and you can register here.

This past Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I used it as a day of learning. Throughout the day I listened to a number of podcast interviews related to the different aspects of the issue of race. I encourage you to listen and learn as well.

What White Christians Need to Know About Black Churches (about 35 minutes, January 15, 2017): Leith Anderson interviews Claude Alexander and they discuss the history of the black church, leaders in the movement, and distinctions between white and black theology.

Leith Anderson serves as president of the National Association of Evangelicals since 2006, and was the senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for 35 years before retiring in 2011.

Claude Alexander is the senior pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he has been for over 25 years, the immediate past president of the Hampton University Ministers Conference, and currently serves on the boards of Christianity Today, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Wycliffe Bible Translators. He has degrees from Morehouse College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

In this podcast, you’ll hear Bishop Alexander, a leader in the African American church, share:

  • How African American Christians think about racism;
  • What prevents black Christians from attending predominately white churches;
  • How the black church can teach the white church; and
  • What excites him about the future of the black church.

Theology of Race (about 30 minutes, March 15, 2016): Leith Anderson interviews Walter Kim about race and the Bible.

Leith Anderson serves as president of the National Association of Evangelicals since 2006, and was the senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for 35 years before retiring in 2011.

Walter Kim is associate minister of Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals. Prior to Park Street Church, he served in extensive ministry in Asian American and Asian Canadian contexts and in a chaplaincy at Yale University. Kim has taught at Boston College and Harvard University and has been published in the area of biblical studies and Hebrew language. He received a B.A. from Northwestern University, an M.Div. from Regent College, and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from Harvard University.

We talk about race a lot in the United States. Whether it’s the growing population of Asian Americans, trends in Latino immigration, or racial unrest in metropolitan cities, race plays a major role in the American experience. As evangelicals, we want to start with the Bible. In this podcast, you’ll hear from a respected pastor and theologian on:

  • What — if anything — the Bible says about race;
  • How the Tower of Babel and Pentecost relate to diversity;
  • The racial situation among first century Christians; and
  • How Christians today ought to respond to racism and racialization.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Power of Unearned Pain (about 30 minutes, January 13, 2017): Collin Hansen interviews Mika Edmondson on King’s Theology of Redemptive Suffering.

Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition.

Mika Edmondson serves as pastor of New City Fellowship OPC, a church plant in southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. He recently earned a PhD in systematic theology from Calvin Seminary, where he wrote a dissertation on King’s theology of suffering, recently published as The Power of Unearned Suffering: The Roots and Implications of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theodicy, the first volume in the Religion and Race series from Lexington Books.

Probably no religious leader in American history is so closely identified with suffering as Martin Luther King Jr. Even before his assassination nearly 49 years ago, he pushed for civil rights through demonstrative suffering on the streets of Montgomery, in the jails of Birmingham, and the bridges of Selma. As a pastor and theologian, then, how did King account for this suffering that he pursued but did not deserve?

Finally, I reread King’s powerful, profound and prophetic Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963), and the two letters that preceded and prompted this response, The White Ministers’ Law and Order Statement (January 16, 1963) and The White Ministers’ Good Friday Statement (April 12, 1963).

I thank the Lord it was a fruitful day of learning!

One of my commitments is to read and study the biblical and theological truths associated with the celebrations of the Christian year. Having just celebrated and worshiped as we focused on the arrival of Jesus Christ, the birth of the God-man, the incarnation, I read a few excellent books about this wonderful truth. One of them, as I noted, was Tim Keller’s, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ.

I share a couple of pertinent and challenging quotes.

The God of Christmas

In an interview about this book, Keller was asked the following question: “Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?” He replied,

Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.

Neither moralism nor relativism are the answer, and both leave us completely helpless and hopeless.

Keller addresses this further in the book. If “God who was only holy,” he would not have done anything for us and expected us to do it ourselves. We would have died in our sins, and justly so. If he was a “deity that was an “all-accepting God of love,” he would not have had to do anything either, since he would have simply overlooked sin. God, the God of the Scriptures, the one and only true God, is both “infinitely holy” and “infinitely loving,” so he did for us what we could not do, sending his Son to address our sin and to secure our salvation. Keller writes (46-47),

The claim that Jesus is God also gives us the greatest possible hope. This means that our world is not all there is, that there is life and love after death, and that evil and suffering will one day end. And it means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our ending failings. A God who was only holy would not have come down to us in Jesus Christ. He would have simply demanded that we pull ourselves together, that we be moral and holy enough to merit a relationship with him. A deity that was an ‘all‐accepting God of love’ would not have needed to come to Earth either. This God of the modern imagination would have just overlooked sin and evil and embraced us. Neither the God of moralism nor the God of relativism would have bothered with Christmas. The biblical God, however, is infinitely holy, so our sin could not be shrugged off. It had to be dealt with. He is also infinitely loving. He knows we could never climb up to him, so he has come down to us. God had to come himself and do what we couldn’t do. He doesn’t send someone; he doesn’t send a committee report or a preacher to tell you how to save yourself. He comes to fetch us. Christmas means, then, that for you and me there is all the hope in the world.

The Doctrine of the Incarnation

Often we get caught up in the sentimentalism of Christmas. We like the feelings, emotions and memories it elicits and creates. We do not want to be weighed down with the doctrine or dogma of Christmas. For those who conclude feelings are more important than beliefs, experience trumps truth, Jesus unites and doctrine divides, that doctrine just does not matter, they often do not realize all of those statements reveal a great deal about a person’s beliefs, their doctrine. For most of them, it is doctrine without substance. More specifically, it is a doctrine of salvation by works. In contrast, Christmas is about the doctrine of salvation by grace. According to Keller (131),

When you say, ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter; what matters is that you live a good life,’ that is a doctrine. It is called the doctrine of salvation by your works rather than by grace. It assumes that you are not so bad that you need a Savior, that you are not so weak that you can’t pull yourself together and live as you should. You are actually espousing a whole set of doctrines about the nature of God, humanity, and sin. And the message of Christmas is that they are all wrong.

We give thanks to the God of Christmas for the God-man sent at Christmas! We are also thankful that the doctrine of salvation by grace, the message of Christmas, has been experienced, which is reflected in worship and a life lived joyfully hoping and trusting in God.

As the calendar turned this year, I was reminded of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. By signing this Proclamation, the legal status of more than three-million slaves in the Confederate states in the south (those states which seceded from the American states during the Civil War, from 1861-1865), changed from slave to free. In conjunction with this historic signing, churches in the north held candlelight vigils honoring and commemorating this event.

Four brief matters to note.

First, a Presidential proclamation, an executive order, was issued to overturn an evil against human beings. As Christians, we recognize governments are put into place by God and are “God’s servant for your good,” that is the good of all, not a few. We are thankful when human laws reflect key truths about human dignity and worth revealed in God’s law.

Second, even though a law was signed stating these slaves were free, the immediate effect of this law did not result in the freedom for all these slaves. We also know that even if a law is in effect, as important as that is, it does not mean a person will be looked at or treated equally, as a fellow image-bearer of God. History is replete with examples of this, which continues to this day.

Third, the churches in the north set aside time, both purposefully and intentionally, to thank the Lord for the passing of this law, for they believed this human Presidential proclamation upheld God’s law about the worth and dignity, the equality of all, that all humanity is created in the imago Dei, and this ought to be upheld and celebrated. It is also true that churches ought to engage in vigils of sorrow and grief and repentance when God’s laws and commands are not reflected in human laws, and when the imago Dei is undermined or not acknowledged in the life of the other.

Fourth, and to move into the present day, the last couple of years have reflected increased racial tensions, indicating the issue is not ultimately the law. Rather, the problem is with the human heart. In a posture of prayer, trusting in the kind providence of God, may this be the year that the church of Jesus Christ reflects the reality of the new heavens and new earth in the realm of race relations, and may we in the EFCA, by his grace and for his glory, humbly and courageously, dependently on God and interdependently on one another, lead the way in our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy, in our belief and our behavior, in our teaching and our living.

The Incarnation

Greg Strand – December 30, 2016 2 Comments

At this time of year, we celebrate the incarnation: “the act whereby the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without ceasing  to be what he is, God the Son, took into union with himself what he before that act did not possess, a human nature, ‘and so [He] was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.’”

Many of have been taught about the incarnation through reading the historical accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And there are other biblical texts that also address the incarnation, e.g.. John 1:1, 14; Romans 1:3; 8:3; Galatians 4:4; 1 John 4:2 , along with some early Christological hymns such as Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-22; and Hebrews 1:2b-4. Added to this are the recollections of the Christmas story being reenacted as part of the annual church children’s Christmas program. And added to this are the hymns and choruses associated with the truths we celebrate at Christmas, including the heart of Christmas: the incarnation.

I remember well when many of these teachings of the person and work of Christ crystallized for me in the fall of my first semester at TEDS. One of my first courses was God, Man and Christ. It was an incredible learning and worshipful experience. We would begin each class with singing and prayer, and then the professor would begin the lecture. It wedded together theology and doxology, biblical truth and worship.

At the conclusion of the semester, my wife and I traveled home to visit family for the Christmas holidays. It was a lengthy trip, so we listened to Christmas music. As I was driving, Charles Wesley’s classic Hark the Herald Angels Sing came on the radio. Having learned this song as a child, I sang along. Now on the other side of this course at TEDS, I sang with a new, different and deeper meaning. In verse 1, the expression “God and sinners reconciled”  had new significance. When we got to verse 2 and I sang the phrase “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity” I was overcome with the importance and reality of the incarnation and I wept.

Since that course, and many others, and since that experience, and many others, I have been drawn to know God in all his fullness. Although I confess sometimes it can be knowing for the sake of knowledge, in my more sanctified moments it is theological knowledge for the sake of knowing God for the purpose of the worship of God.

Any understanding of the incarnation begins with the text of Scripture, as noted above. Then those texts must be understood within the canon of the Scriptures, so that there is an engagement with the theology of the texts of Scripture, a theological theology, which begins in God and ends with God. Furthermore, we consider how the church has understood these issues and articulated them throughout the history of the church.

This methodological format has been followed in the recent book written by Steve Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. In light of the remembrance of Christ’s incarnation, which we remember and celebrate at Christmas, Steve highlighted 10 Things You Should Know about the Incarnation. He has focused on texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries. I include only the summary statements, so I encourage you to read the whole essay as an aid to the worship of God in all his fullness, particularly as we focus on the incarnation.

  1. The person or active subject of the incarnation is the eternal Son.
  2. As the eternal Son, the second person of the triune Godhead, he is the full image and expression of the Father and is thus fully God.
  3. As God the Son, he has always existed in an eternally-ordered relation to the Father and Spirit, which now is gloriously displayed in the incarnation.
  4. The incarnation is an act of addition, not subtraction.
  5. The human nature assumed by the divine Son is fully human and completely sinless.
  6. The virgin conception was the glorious means by which the incarnation took place.
  7. From conception, the Son limited his divine life in such a way that he did not override the limitations of his human nature.
  8. But the Son was not limited to his human nature alone since he continued to act in and through his divine nature.
  9. By taking on our human nature, the Son became the first man of the new creation, our great mediator and new covenant head.
  10. God the Son incarnate is utterly unique and alone Lord and Savior.

Steve will be joining us for our EFCA Theology Conference. He is one of a line-up of excellent speakers we have to address key biblical, theological, historical and pastoral issues related to the Reformation, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary Luther’s posting of his 95 theses, along with its legacy in in the EFCA.

You can register here. Plan to join us!