I was walking past the youth room in a church I used to attend when I overheard the following: “Why do we have to study the Heidelberg Catechism anyway? I don’t see how it relates to us today at all. Those old confessions are just that—old.”
I stuck my head through the doorway to see which one of the kids was complaining. To my surprise, I saw a couple of middle-aged men. They were complaining that their children had to study the same things they were forced to study when they were young. They argued that no one is interested in the past, anyhow, so why force our children to study it?
Current cultural trends, however, indicate that many people today are truly interested in their past. Maybe the confessions these men viewed with disdain are actually among our greatest treasures.
Not too long ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ran a fantastic series called “Who Do You Think You Are?” The show followed 13 well-known Canadians who researched their family trees for tantalizing stories of intrigue. One episode (Oct. 13, 2007) followed Shaun Majumder, whom Canadians know best from his role in the comedy “This Hour Has 22 Minutes.”
Shaun, an East Indian/Canadian, searched out both sides of his roots in the show. He traced his mother’s lineage all the way back to John Barrett of Poole, Dorset, England, who purchased a plantation in Old Perlican, Newfoundland, in 1711.
Shaun was also able to trace his father’s Indian heritage to the mid-19th century. The show ends with Shaun standing in India, on the bank of the Ganges, pouring some of his mother’s ashes into the sacred river.
Through his search, Shaun was able to connect to both sides of his heritage and discover his own character flowing from rich traditions.
Mainstream evangelicalism, however, seems to be moving in a different direction. James Schaap, in his address during the CRC’s Sesquicentennial Conference in 2007, noted that many denominations within North America are trying to shed their past like an old cloak. They are trying to reinvent themselves as something fresh, something new, something different.
“Yet,” said Schaap, “some Protestant congregations are reinvesting in the doctrinal foundations that are the legacy of their own denominational life.”
There are people, often those whom we would least expect, who are saying, “No, I really want to know what it means to be an Episcopalian. I want to know what it means to be a Lutheran. I want to study about it, and I want to learn and really invest in an identity and tradition.”
People within our own denomination are saying the same thing. I know a young woman in her 20s who asked, “Why don’t we learn more about the Heidelberg Catechism?” She feels as though she is missing a connection to her past. She wants to examine her religious family tree to have a better idea about who she is and where she came from. I’ve heard this longing expressed repeatedly by young people in our churches.
Maybe the creeds and confessions that have defined us for generations are not a detriment, but an asset. Not outdated documents, but valuable links to a past that shaped us into who we are today.
After all, our spiritual ancestors risked their lives to believe in them. Rather than being liabilities to the church, they are rich resources that can fuel our faith.
About the Author
Rev. Chad Vandervalk is pastor of Charlottetown (PEI) Christian Reformed Church.