How do you make sense of the Bible? It comes in two testaments written in multiple languages and cultures across a vast span of centuries. The list of its literary genres includes poetry, law, letters, micro-fiction, history — and it tends to include multiple versions of key stories. A whole lot of us could use a tour guide to point out what really matters for life and salvation. We don’t want to miss the good stuff.
One of my early posts about the Heidelberg Catechism was on the meaning of faith. I called faith a “leap into the light” because for Heidelberg and others in the Reformation the essential kind of faith is trust.
It isn’t a leap into the dark. You hear a loving and powerful God making promises and you, quite reasonably, trust that God’s promises are true — and especially you trust that those promises apply to you.
I’m returning to the topic of faith. I plan to make several posts looking at key aspects of Heidelberg’s treatment of the topic. It is a great way of clarifying what being a Christian is about.
Note the change of Christian language over time: Instead of “faith” we tend to talk about “relationship.” Does a day go by without hearing someone say “Christianity is a relationship with God/a personal relationship with Jesus/not a religion but a relationship”?
Here is the key: since for Reformation theologians faith is about trust in a Person and his promises, faith is about relationship.
“BUT,” you say, “we ALSO hear about being ‘Bible believers.’ Isn’t believing the Bible is true also important?”
Well, yes, Heidelberg would agree.
But what does it mean to believe the Bible?
Back in Q21, in the big definition of faith, it says we
“hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture”
But what is “revealed”? Like every statement in the Catechism, it leads to another question:
22 Q. What then must a Christian believe?
A. All that is promised us in the gospel…
This gives some direction to our understanding of Scripture. Many in our culture will assume that every word of Scripture on every possible topic is direct revelation from God. Heidelberg’s writers seem to think we should look to Scripture for the kinds of things we really need to know to find salvation in Christ: not biology or geology but the promises found in the good news of Jesus Christ.
Let me just say that this kind of focus can relieve the pressure of many Christian arguments.
But it is not suddenly simple. We still have to make sense of the contents of the Bible. The Catechism suggests one particular tour guide: the “Apostles’ Creed.” Here’s the full answer to Q22:
All that is promised us in the gospel,
a summary of which is taught us
in the articles of our universal
and undisputed Christian faith.
Question 23 simply quotes this ancient creed in full. Then from Question 24 to 59 the Catechism explains it line by line, linking every part to biblical texts.
The writers of Heidelberg may have been wrong that this was a “universal” creed. That would have been more true of the Nicene Creed which is used in the Orthodox East as well as the West.
They would certainly not be correct today in saying that the Apostles’ Creed is “undisputed.” You can find people in the Church who disagree with a good many lines.
One thing the Catechism is right on target about, though: the Apostles’ Creed is an excellent guide to the heart of the biblical faith — the things we really need to believe as Christians.
What helps you make sense of the Bible’s message? Any tools or ideas you are willing to share?
If you like the post I hope you’ll share it! (You can use the buttons below.)
If we aren’t yet connected on Facebook I hope you’ll “like” my page. (You can use the button in the right hand column above.)