The Heidelberg Catechism (my favorite 450 year old Reformed summary of biblical Christianity, and a topic I’ve been blogging on since 2013) spends 23 questions painstakingly exploring issues that are not especially pressing to today’s Christians:
They explain the Apostles’ Creed line by line.
That’s good: the Creed is a classic summary of the important events leading to our salvation.
But along the way, the writers of the Catechism want us to see that Christian teaching, our theology or doctrine, is really useful to us. It matters for our well being and growth.
That’s why we get Question 51. After working through the events long associated with Christ’s glory as head of the Church (his ascension, and sitting at God’s right hand), they ask
51 Q. How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?
If you thought the Creed’s details of Christ’s life death and reign were mere facts of the Bible, you might have answered “Not so much, actually.”
The writers of the Catechism are always convinced otherwise.
They figured that every bit of biblical teaching about our salvation in Christ is going to be helpful to us — and in some distinctive way.
Jesus Christ’s new job description
You might say the Catechism ends up answering a slightly different question:
If Christ is in heaven, what is he doing up there there?
Or, in other words, after the ascension, what is Jesus Christ’s new job description?
Here’s the Catechism’s answer:
A. First, through his Holy Spirit
he pours out gifts from heaven
upon us his members.
Second, by his power
he defends us and keeps us safe
from all enemies.
Christ doesn’t sit enthroned in heaven to have more time to read. He is there for us.
That is the way he has always been. Christ became human to restore the image of God in us. He taught and healed us, went to the cross and rose from the grave to bring us to salvation.
Jesus is pursuing the same priorities in a new context.
Now that his work of salvation is begun in you and me, Christ will be busily bringing it to completion to the end of our days.
So the Catechism’s answer points out two big categories of Christ’s ongoing work on our behalf. And each of them points to a deeper, more encouraging, faith building understanding of who he is and how the Christian life is going to work.
Answer 1: Christ is our generous giver of gifts.
Christians today are familiar with the idea of spiritual gifts. A simple reading of Scripture associates this with the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts of faith, wisdom, healing, etc.
So why does the Catechism says Christ, rather than the Spirit, is the giver of gifts? Check out Ephesians chapter 4, which the footnotes cite twice on this question.
Paul mentions the Spirit there, but he attributes the giving of gifts to Christ.
The Catechism places the gift-giving ministry of the Holy Spirit under Christ’s role: Christ enthroned as head of the Church.
Yes the Spirit gives us what we need to sustain us, grow us, and equip us for ministry — but this is not something that happens apart from Christ.
Answer 2: Christ is our powerful protector.
If Christ enthroned is busy giving us gifts to equip us, he is also busy working in the circumstances around us.
According to the Catechism, Christ actually
keeps us safe from all enemies.
Personally I wonder if they went a bit far on that one. “Safe”? Lots of Christians face some very real enemies, and many die from their onslaughts.
But what is “safe”? In the ultimate sense, the sense the writers have kept in mind since question 1, the issue is the security of our salvation; our deepest well-being; our eternal safety.
Now it’s your turn: Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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