Tradition can be a powerful force. Not only can traditions be very hard to change, they can be hard to appreciate, too. Through all of her history, the Protestant Reformed Churches have stressed the importance of Heidelberg Catechism preaching. If that seems to be a long time, about seventy years, consider the fact that catechism preaching has been a Reformed tradition since just after the Heidelberg Catechism was published in 1563!
Catechism preaching is so important to our churches that is required by our Church Order in Article 68, which reads:
“The ministers shall on Sunday explain briefly the sum of Christian doctrine comprehended in the Heidelberg Catechism so that as much as possible the explanation shall be annually completed, according to the division of the Catechism itself, for that purpose.”
The reasons for rules may not always be self-evident, and we might even wonder why some rules are made. Perhaps you feel that some rules are there just to make life difficult. When your parents make rules, they are not trying to make your life difficult. Just as their rules have your personal safety and your spiritual well-being at heart, Article 68 was made by our church fathers with our doctrinal and spiritual well-being at heart.
Yet there are complaints about catechism preaching sometimes. Some say that it is full of doctrine and doctrine is dull. It really does not have anything to do with my life and my challenges today. Some might even say that if we would quit catechism preaching, our denomination might be more attractive and grow in membership.
In spite of these criticisms, Heidelberg Catechism preaching is beneficial for us. Although the catechism is full of Reformed doctrine, it is not impractical. What you believe, what you really believe in your heart, will become evident in your life.
Do we realize the greatness of our sin and misery so that we have a desperate need for Christ as our Mediator, or do we think that we are pretty good so that if we cannot save ourselves in some way, we can at least help God a little bit in the work of salvation by accepting a gracious offer?
Do we really believe in God the Father, Almighty, so that when troubles come to our lives we know that these troubles are from God’s merciful hand, or are we shaken in our faith because we believe that we have been temporarily turned over to the whims of Satan?
Do we really fight against the sin of idolatry and hold to the one, true and living God, or do we harbor in our hearts a false god who winks at our sins and is not so holy as to be terribly offended by our transgressions?
When we pray to God, do we really desire His beautiful name to be hallowed, or do we show that we really don’t mind if His name is dragged through the mud because of our poor witness?
These are just a few examples of how doctrine is practical for everyday life. Your minister, by faithfully preaching God’s gospel as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism will show to you week by week just how vitally important these doctrines are to your godly life as you face the challenges of today’s world.
Catechism preaching is not repetitive either. I am very grateful for the different perspectives my ministers have brought to their catechism preaching. It has been very evident that they did not prepare fifty-two sermons so that when they reached the end of the catechism, they merely “turned over the pile” and preached the same sermons over again. Surely such dedicated preaching and application of the catechism to the particular needs of congregations takes many hours of labor.
Concerning the repetitive nature of catechism preaching, I am reminded of an old-school joke. A kindergartner has completed his first day of school. When his mother tells him the next morning, “Wake up! It’s time to get ready for school!” The youngster replies, “What, again?” He has no idea how much there is for him to learn. The same applies to us. There is never a time when we can really say that we have learned all that we need, wish or want to know about the truths contained in the Heidelberg catechism.
How often in the history of the church has it not been the case that a departure from solid, Reformed preaching on the catechism has led to a departure from the green pastures of God’s truth? Any departure from the truth will manifest itself in our lives. Such departure will lead only to greater compromises of God’s Word.
It is through faithful catechism preaching that the truth is maintained. It might be the case that our numbers could increase were we to forego catechism preaching, especially the preaching on those uncomfortable Lord’s Days which instruct us of our miserable sinful condition. Would it really be worth it?
God has graciously given His truth to us. As a denomination, we are eagerly anticipating bringing God’s truth to other people on mission fields. We would not be honoring God by spreading anything other than His truth, and Heidelberg Catechism preaching can help us spread the Word.
We must be thankful for good preaching based on the catechism. Such preaching is certainly for our spiritual edification.
Brian is a member of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church and teaches at Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School.