7 POINTS ABOUT THE TEACHING OF THE REFORMED CHURCHES
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
1. WE TEACH CHILDREN TO BELIEVE IN JESUS BY TEACHING THEM THEY ARE CHRISTIANS WHO BELONG TO HIM.
According to the Heidelberg Catechism, the person being catechized is a Christian, is saved, is loved by God, and is going to inherit eternal life. There is no discussion about some mysterious group of unidentified people in history (“the elect”) who one might or might not belong to.
2. WE TEACH CHILDREN TO BELIEVE WHAT GOD TELLS THEM IN THEIR BAPTISMS
Indeed, the catechized person is taught that baptism assures him of this fact:
Question 69. How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?
Answer: Thus: That Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereto this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.
Question 70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
Answer: It is to receive of God the remission of sins, freely, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which he shed for us by his sacrifice upon the cross; and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and unblamable lives.
Question 71. Where has Christ promised us, that he will as certainly wash us by his blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?
Answer: In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”, Matt.28:19. And “he that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”, Mark 16:16. This promise is also repeated, where the scripture calls baptism “the washing of regenerations” and the washing away of sins. Tit.3:5, Acts 22:16.
Question 72. Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?
Answer: Not at all: for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost cleanse us from all sin.
Question 73. Why then does the Holy Ghost call baptism “the washing of regeneration,” and “the washing away of sins”?
Answer: God speaks thus not without great cause, to-wit, not only thereby to teach us, that as the filth of the body is purged away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ; but especially that by this divine pledge and sign he may assure us, that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins as really, as we are externally washed with water.
Question 74. Are infants also to be baptized?
Answer: Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.
3. WE TEACH CHILDREN TO TRUST NOW AND TO KEEP TRUSTING JESUS RATHER THAN WAIT FOR A “CONVERSION.”
Notice that nothing whatever is written or implied about the expectation of a future violent conversion experience in later years. No, the redemption is promised to them no less than to adult believers. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches the catechized child that he is a Christian. It teaches each boy and girl that his or her guilt has been dealt with by grace so that they should live a life of faith and grattitude. Since, in the Reformed churches, these children have been baptized, it is clear that the catechism is not speaking from its own authority (i.e. the authority of the author or of the denomination that uses the catechism) but from God’s own authoritative message in baptism.
4. WE, PRESBYTERIANS, ALSO HAVE CHRISTIAN CHILDREN.
People often claim the Westminster Confession and Catechisms are substantially different on this point, but that is a myth. While the documents contain different emphasis at different places, as we will see below, Westminster is substantially similar to Heidelberg.
5. WE TEACH CHILDREN JESUS IS THEIR REDEEMER SO THAT THEY TRUST HIM TRULY.
Like the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Catechisms teach the persons catechized to regard themselves as Christians and chosen by God’s grace. “What does the preface to the ten commandments teach us?” asks the Westminster Shorter Catechism. And the answer is given for the catechumen to say by memory, “The preface to the ten commandments teaches us that because God is the Lord, and our God, and redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.” The word, “redeemer,” has already been used in the document:
Question 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
Answer. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.
Question 21. Who is the redeemer of God’s elect?
Answer. The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.
6. WE TEACH CHILDREN THEY HAVE BEEN RESCUED FROM SPIRITUAL SLAVERY.
To say that God is “our redeemer” is to say by faith that we belong to Jesus Christ. The Larger Catechism expands on this meaning of the preface to the decalogue, saying that it reveals, “that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivers us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.
Here we see the same covenantal dynamic as we found in the Heidelberg Catechism in which guilt, grace, and grattitude are personally applied to the person being catechized. The person catechized is supposed to obey God’s law because he has bee delivered from spiritual slavery by Christ his redeemer.
7. WE TEACH CHILDREN TO DEVELOP BY FAITH ALONE IN WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN GIVEN BY GRACE ALONE.
It is especially interesting that when the catechisms want to anchor the person being catechized we find no instruction to look back to one’s effectual calling. Rather, it is baptism that is held out as the point in one’s biography which one should hold on to and grow in:
The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body (WLC 167).
The sacraments, of which baptism is the initiating one, are Christ-appointed holy ordinances, “wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers” (WSC 92).
What I concluded about the Heidelberg Catechism applies just as well to Westminster: Notice that nothing whatever is written of implied about the expectation of a future violent conversion experience in later years. No, the redemption is promised to them no less than adult believers. The Westminster Catechisms teaches the catechized child that he is a Christian. It teaches each boy and girl that his or her guilt has been dealt with by grace so that they should live a life of faith and grattitude. Since, in the Reformed churches, these children have been baptized, it is clear that the catechisms are not speaking from it’s own authority (i.e. the authority of the author or of the denomination that uses the catechisms) but from God’s own authoritative message in baptism.