“Studying a sixteenth century document has nothing to do with real living faith!”
The objection is close to the surface whenever I talk about using the Heidelberg Catechism in real life — say, to teach youth or adults what the Christian faith is about.
This is followed by a second, corollary objection:
“I can’t memorize anything!”
The corollary is easy to respond to. I used to do a lot of stage acting. You can memorize a whole lot of things if you really want to–like a whole play. (Check out this cool TED talk on the topic!) really, memorization is not required — though it wouldn’t hurt.
But there is still the main point: knowing a text, even a text about Jesus, is not the same as knowing Jesus.
The Heidelberg Catechism helps, though, by pushing us to think about what and who we know when we know Jesus. If Christianity is a relationship with Jesus, then what kind of relationship is it?
Q.31 says that when we know Jesus we know him in three important kinds of relationship. He is our prophet. He is our priest. He is our king.
Now before you write this off as three outdated culturally irrelevant metaphors, let’s look at their source and meaning. “Christ” or “Messiah” means “anointed one.” These are three kinds of people who got anointed (i.e. got doused with olive oil–or the Holy Spirit) in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfills all these roles in the richest possible way.
- As “prophet” Heidelberg says Jesus teaches us God’s will for us. This is not about getting daily directions about what job to take or whom to marry. It is big picture stuff: God’s will for you is life, freedom, salvation, now and forever. It is also heart stuff: Jesus reveals what human life was supposed to look like before we botched it up. We know Jesus as the one whose every action teaches us the character we are intended to grow into.
- As “priest” the Catechism says Jesus does two things. First, way back when, he offered himself as sacrifice on the cross, making forgiveness possible. But that is just the beginning: Jesus is still our priest, standing before the Father to pray for us — constantly in our every need. We know Jesus as the one who goes before us to bring the help we need.
- Having Jesus as “king” might sound a bit bossy — but it means that our lives are governed by One who loves us. Our futures are in the hands of One who has the power to do all that is needed for us to flourish. We know Christ as our king who “guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.”
I’ve always known Jesus as my Friend. Thinking about him as my Prophet, my Priest and my King deepens and broadens my sense of who my Friend really is.
What roles most quickly come to mind when you think of who Jesus is toward you?
How are Prophet, Priest, and King helpful — or problematic?