Shhh! A whole lot of Christians are quietly afraid that someday, someone will ask them about their faith.
We need some outline points, like the pegs on a coat rack. No hooks and you just have a pile of stuff on the floor. Add a row of pegs and you can hang up a whole lot of stuff in an understandable orderly way.
The Heidelberg Catechism (the 450 year old summary of Biblical Christianity used by Reformed churches around the world) includes several excellent ways to get a quick and accurate grasp of the whole of Christian believing.
1. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude
The Catechism has three big sections — first comes the misery of the human situation due to sin, second is God’s good work to deliver us through Christ, and third comes the life of thankfulness we live in response to that gracious gift.
People who use the Catechism often organize their faith with the summary “guilt, grace, and gratitude.” It is an excellent way to think about it.
But it isn’t the only way, even in the Catechism.
2. The Apostles’ Creed
When the Catechism is talking about the things a believer believes — the information content of the Christian faith — it offers a very traditional summary: The Apostles’ Creed.
It has its roots as far back as the third century in a Roman baptismal liturgy. In countless churches it is still used every Sunday in worship as a way for the congregation to say, together, what they believe.
In the sixteenth century, when the Catechism was written, the Creed was taken to be a thumbnail sketch of the key teachings of the Bible. Some read it today and are surprised at the topics that are missing, but that is a subject for another day.
It is another very workable summary.
3. The classic teaching texts
Woven into the Catechism, as had been the case in Luther’s catechisms, are actually three ancient texts that had long been used in the West to prepare people for confirmation.
- There is the Apostles’ Creed, as I said — a summary of what Christians should believe.
- One also finds the Ten Commandments — a summary of how Christians should behave.
- Finally there is the Lord’s Prayer — Jesus’ own teaching of how Christians should communicate with God.
Know those three things and you have the basic shape of the Christian faith.
But there is one more summary hidden in there.
4. The Persons of the Trinity
When the Catechism starts to explain the Apostles’ Creed, the first thing it points to is its structure:
24 Q. How are these articles divided?
A. Into three parts:
God the Father and our creation;
God the Son and our deliverance;
And God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.
Within the Creed, and therefore within the Catechism, we find an at-a-glance summary of two absolutely crucial things.
- First, a summary of who God is: The Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
- Second, a summary of what God does: God has created us, and delivered us to new life, and is in the ongoing business of making us holy.
There is more to say about all of these things. Shelves of books have been written to plumb the depths of Christian faith, biblical teaching, and Reformed theology.
The Catechism gives us a huge help, though, by giving us these manageable outlines. Know an outline and you can start filling in the details. Know an outline and you have good news to confidently share with a friend.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: What is your working summary of the Christian faith?