I wholeheartedly agree that our Reformed confessions are treasures, not liabilities.
When I was younger, I faithfully attended my church’s catechism classes each Wednesday. Every so often I would have to memorize a few of the Heidelberg’s questions and answers. I remember pacing back and forth in my basement, trying to memorize the answer to “What is true faith?”
Since I’ve left home for college, I’ve had several discussions with friends about faith and life. In the course of those conversations, I’ve never been asked “What is true faith?”—though I wonder whether it would ever be appropriate to rattle off a memorized answer.
Confessions remind me that I do not read Scripture alone, but as part of a church with a history.
The questions my friends and I have about life are more existential than doctrinal. We ask questions like “What should I do with my life?” You would think that doctrinal confessions would be unable to answer these questions.
What I’ve found, however, is that knowing doctrine—through the Heidelberg Catechism’s questions and answers or other confessions—is a necessary foundation for wrestling fruitfully with the existential questions. Without knowing that I belong to God, that I sin and am redeemed, and that my best response is a life of obedient gratitude, there is no way I could even get started on discerning my life’s purpose.
You might ask why Scripture alone is not enough for the church or for me. If confessions are merely summaries of Scripture, why are they so important? And is it worth splintering the church to hold fast to a strong position on, say, predestination, as subscribing to the Canons of Dort would seem to involve?
Confessions remind me that I do not read Scripture alone, but as part of a church with a history. The confessions explain why the Christian Reformed Church holds the particular positions it does, for example, regarding predestination and infant baptism. They show that the church stands behind these beliefs because it believes they are well-grounded in Scripture.
In addition, the confessions can illuminate Scripture insightfully—for instance, the catechism presents the Ten Commandments as a rule of gratitude.
Recently I read through a survey of young adults’ attitudes toward religion. The results show that most of my peers see all religions as basically the same, accomplishing the same purpose of making people better. Against such vagueness, the confessions sketch a rich theology that rewards those who dig deeper. If the church is going to boldly claim to have the Truth, we need something worthwhile and solid to present to those who seek it out.
Moreover, the confessions help give my faith substance and content in sound doctrine. Partially because I have been taught the confessions, I not only say that I believe, but I can point to specific things I believe in. The confessions draw out the communal aspect of faith. Sharing the confessions with my church and denomination means that I believe the same things as thousands of other people and that I belong with them.
After those years of catechism classes, I made my profession of faith in front of my church. The confessions helped me understand what I was “getting into” by becoming a deeper part of the church. When I said I believed, that meant something substantial, and I still stand behind what I professed.
I, for one, have been blessed by my instruction in the confessions and am glad to be part of a church that deeply values them.