As we continue marking the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism this year (1563-2013), we reference the brand new book published by Reformation Heritage Books, A Faith Worth Teaching: The Heidelberg Catechism’s Enduring Heritage (2013, Edited by J.Payne and S.Heck – see this earlier post on this new title). The first chapter in this book is by Lyle D.Bierma, professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Seminary. He writes on “The History and People Behind the Heidelberg Catechism”, which includes a section on the “purpose of the catechism”. Here Bierma has a fine paragraph in which he quotes from Frederick III, the Elector of the Palatinate, the region that included the city of Heidelberg. He shows well why Frederick was so intent on having this Reformed catechism written and taught in his realm:
…If government, church, and family are to flourish, he writes, ‘it is essential that our youth be trained in early life, and above all, in the pure and consistent doctrine of the holy Gospel.’ Thus, he concludes, the Palatinate needed a single, clear guide to biblical truth. Thus, he explains, ‘We have secured the preparation of a summary course of instruction or catechism of our Christian Religion, according to the Word of God.’
Frederick wanted this new catechism first, then, for the training of children and young people – what today we would call youth ministry! But it was not only so that youth could be trained in doctrine and piety, it was ‘also that the Pastors and Schoolmasters themselves be provided with a fixed form and model, by which to regulate the intruction of youth, and not, at their option, adopt daily changes, or introduce erroneous doctrine.’ All such instructors should thankfully accept this catechism, diligently explain it to the youth in the schools and the common people in the pews, and pattern their own lives after it. For if youth in early life are instructed aright in the Word of God, one can have the assured hope that ‘it will please Almighty God also to grant reformation of public and private morals, and temporal and eternal welfare’ (pp.9-10).
That is certainly good reason to continue the practice of “HC” instruction in the Reformed churches, both in the classroom and in the pulpit. I am thankful to be part of a denomination that still maintains this practice (Protestant Reformed Churches). The fruits of it – even as Frederick stated – are evident in our homes and churches. Soli Deo Gloria!