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The Heidelberg Catechism is not preached as often anymore. Christian Reformed preachers and teachers may think this is familiar stuff students already know.

I finally discovered a most effective way to teach the young people of our church. But first, some background:

Synod 2002 endorsed an identity statement that outlines three major Reformed emphases:  the “doctrinalist” emphasis stresses understanding biblical doctrine as reflected in the Reformed confessions; the “pietist” emphasis centers on a personal relationship with Christ; and the “transformationalist” emphasis underscores Christ the King commissioning us to spread the gospel and to exercise leadership in all aspects of life.

The statement concludes: “It’s important to observe that a well-balanced Christian life and theology need all three of these integrated emphases” (“What It Means to Be Reformed,” 46).

When I was young, it seemed the church tilted toward “doctrinalist.” The Heidelberg Catechism was drilled into my head, and I got tired of it. My attitude began to improve when I was asked to speak at an Easter sunrise service. I didn’t have a clue as to what to say, so I asked my mom for ideas. My wise mother simply said, “You may want to look up the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 45.” I couldn’t imagine how that old, boring document could help me, but I was desperate. I ended up basing my little talk on the three benefits of Christ’s resurrection.

So I’ve learned to better appreciate the “doctrinalist” emphasis, but I still believe our denomination was lopsided toward that mindset. Praise God we have since then made some good strides in both the “pietist” and “transformationalist” emphases. But do we now tilt too much in that direction? How are we doing in knowing what we believe?   

The Heidelberg Catechism is not preached as often anymore. Christian Reformed preachers and teachers may think this is familiar stuff students already know. But they don’t. Just ask our college chaplains. Churches that do teach the catechism might struggle with the problem of inconsistent attendance—on one Sunday, students may learn about the doctrine of justification in Lord’s Day 23; the next Sunday, it might be a different set of students learning about sanctification in Lord’s Day 24.        

What I found very helpful in teaching our young people was to replace the weekly catechism class with monthly Sunday retreats for high school juniors and seniors. In August, I met with students and their parents to lock down monthly dates, stressing that except for illness they were expected to be there. The retreats went from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and included a lunch prepared by church volunteers.

I divided the two hours of teaching time evenly among those three Reformed emphases. As “pietists” we prayed and worshiped together. Each participant came prepared to share a meditation on a Scripture passage. As “doctrinalists” we studied the confessions. The first year we covered key topics of the Belgic

Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism; the next year we explored the Canons of Dort. As “transformationalists” we discussed social justice issues. We also practiced sharing the gospel message with others. Adults were invited to talk about how they were trying to live out a certain emphasis.

At each retreat students were asked to paraphrase the teaching of Lord’s Day 12 on what it means to be a Christian. That Lord’s Day includes all three emphases, so if the students learned nothing else, they knew the importance of not being a lopsided Christian!

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