The Heidelberg Catechism begins in such a different way than Westminster, which is probably far more familiar to most. The Westminster Catechism opens with this question:
Q1: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
It’s a grand question with a grand answer. It reminds me of high-vaulted cathedrals and fiery preachers. It’s a sweeping, cosmic thought. It starts with our ultimate goal and ties it to ultimate reality. I love it, I really do.
Heidelberg is quite different. It opens with this:
Q1: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.
This question is far more intimate. It makes me feel like I’m sitting down by a fireplace with a grizzled old preacher who knows his theology and who cares for my soul. It speaks to ultimate realities, yes, but from that point of view of a man gazing up at a mountain. Westminster asks a question from the perspective of God, Heidelberg from the perspective of man.
I have no interest in trying to pick between these two, or establish one of them as better than the other. Calvin says that if we would know God, we must know ourselves, and if we would know ourselves then we must know God. Trying to pick between the two of these would be like trying to determine whether Mark or John has a more accurate view of Christ.
I hold that Christianity is simple, in so many ways. Its message is simple, its application is simple– so much so that a child can believe and obey the gospel. But Christianity is also dizzyingly complex, is it not? Its the only system of thought that can take in everything– the world and all it contains, history and science and art, the whole gamut of human experience, God and life and death and sin and redemption– Christianity is a rich, layered, beautiful complexity. This means, among other things, that I don’t have to choose between Heidelberg and Westminster questions 1. Between truths and untruths I must choose, but not between different facets of one grand diamond.
The church is under attack from many angles today, and it is more necessary than ever that we defend the truths of the faith; I’m certainly not advocating anything on the level of the blind-men-and-the-elephant tripe. I’m simply communicating my hope that in defending the truths of the faith, we don’t make the mistake of becoming rigid and inflexible so that we cannot hear the truth from its many different perspectives. Truth is truth, amen? And because it is God’s truth, it is more varied and beautiful than you or I know how to express it. This lends itself a good and beneficial diversity within the church, as we each find expression of the same truth of God in overlapping and conciliatory ways.