Musings on the Heidelberg Catechism
I'd love to write non-stop about preterism. Really I would. But my life and theological studies by necessity pull me often away from the subject into other things. Of important note recently has been walking through portions of the Heidelberg Catechism during family worship. Because of this, it seems natural to share some of my thoughts on the questions and answers that we've been teaching our children.
All good things should have a stellar start. The Heidelberg is no different. Its first question is an instant classic and rivals the usefulness and theological importance of Q1 from the Westminster Catechism.
Q1. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?
A1. That I am not my own,
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Many of us who are confessional might be able to say this in our sleep. This is the opening set of lines to the first answer that we are teaching our children. Hearing the words come out of our own mouths is pretty normal stuff. My wife and I both grew up Baptist and had our conversion moments as well as believer's baptism. But we've since both converted to the covenant tradition and have had both of our children baptized. Now we are practicing family worship and that includes teaching our kids these essential catechism questions.
So imagine sitting at a table with your kid speaking these words after you. A two-year-old uttering, from memory mind you, "my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ" is about as tear inducing as it gets. But that's what covenant children are all about. They are being raised in an understanding that Christ has sacrificed Himself for them as part of His Covenant people and community. They do not belong to themselves but belong to Him. They have made no "profession" yet. They have not had a "conversion experience." They are born into a special blessing of God looking down at them and saying "I am God to you. And you are a part of my people." (Gen 17:7).
It is here that the rubber hits the road. Do Christian parents acknowledge that their children begin in the good graces of God their Father? I'm not trying to contradict that they are "children of wrath" (Eph 2:3) but even sinners in covenant with God experience great blessing. Do we raise them as if they begin in that position of blessing and encourage them to continue to walk in the blessings of God? Or do we make a malediction of the proclamation of God by teaching them that they need to do some physical act of obedience to bring themselves into a right relationship with God? As trite and picky as it might sound, conversion oriented theology borders on Arminianism at this point. But for those truly reformed think it—the premise of conversion theology—through: requiring from the outset that man, or child, must do something external to bring himself into a relationship with God.
This question, shared in its application by Lutherans and Reformed alike, puts to task the parents who teach it to their children. Are we in fact willing to confess that the children of covenant parents can utter these words without lying? If not, then the children should not learn them. But if these words are true, then we must treat our children as if they in fact are not our own but belong to Jesus Christ, their faithful Savior, in both body and soul.