Monday, July 01, 2013

Body & Soul: Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism

Body & Soul: Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism on amazon

With a 3,000-mile wide profusion of "church starts" along with older churches in the USA trying to reinvent themselves after a retail consumer model, how timely is this thoughtful, faithful, handbook by Princeton Theological Seminary's President M Craig Barnes! The front part offers real-life applications of the catechism's exposition of scripture, with full text of the Heidelberg Catechism, including scripture references, at the end.

from a decade ago internet conversation:

• participant 1: "You can't ask kids to memorize catechism these days―their fragile egos!"

• participant 2: "But catechisms are useful for bopping kids over the head!"

• participant 3: "How about bopping them over the head with the entire Book of Concord?"

• me: "In good UCC style, I'll bop them over the head with the Book of Concord and the Book of Confessions; that'll make a dent!"

Ya think so? Author Barnes explains the inspired genius, power, and place of the church's creeds, confessions, and catechisms; he describes a trio of conversational voices that emerges with: (1) scripture itself; (2) representative(s) of the faith community in the "contemporary context" of the church; (3) the catechism (or the confession or creed that's at hand) as a teacher of the Word. After all, in Churches of Reformation heritage, we affirm those documents as faithful expositions of scripture. Being grounded in the faith our ancestors in every place and time confessed and lived helps free us "...from the anxieties of the self-conscious life." [page 28] Our Holy Spirit-created individual faith "is always the common faith of the church." [page 58] High school age confirmands frequently write their own Statement of Faith, but as Barnes points out, how terrible it would be if some loner stood up in church, and rather than reciting one of the historic creeds or more recent corporate statements of faith, s/he announced, "I believe I will win the lottery this time." Creeds and catechisms shape each of us into the to-die-for faith and practice of two millennia, the trust in the Lordship, in the saving person and work of the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus Christ, in the "Strong Name" of the Trinity.

Barnes reminds us how Yahweh gave the Ten Commandments to the nascent Israel after they left Egyptian slavery, while they were still journeying to promise-landed freedom. In the Reformation traditions – as well as in most Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches – the assembly gathered around Word and Sacrament on a Sunday or Festival continues its baptized, eucharistic lifestyle when it returns to its weekday / workaday routine. Amidst temptations of idolatrous excesses and (apparently) innocuous diversions out there in the world that sometimes dares profane life and liberty, "the commandments teach us how to keep our freedom." [page 116]

Probably my fave part of Body & Soul is on pages 101-103, where the author tells about his city grandmother setting her dinner table with lace, linen, china, and candles in the dining room, his country grandmother serving country fare on a red-checked tablecloth in the kitchen, with manners, demeanor, and conversation around each table parallel to those settings. He says city grandmother would love how we often carefully set the Lord's Table with fine linen and silver, dress in our best, sit, stand, and sing at proper times. But, he says, even more of our Eucharistic theology is about the kind of joy and "sheer delight" found at his country grandmother's.

A few years ago I taught Book of Confessions in our Adult Sunday School Class, welcoming the opportunity to reread and rethink those essentials, if in not much more than basic outline form. And yes, a decade after that conversation, I'm willing to bop a few kids over the head and suggest they learn the content of the Heidelberg, Luther's Small, or another catechism. I am ready to stand at the front, back, side, or any other door of a few nearby "new" and "reinventing" churches trying to ingratiate themselves to church-shopping consumers. Every one of us needs to know the faith we have inherited, the ecumenical creeds all Christians share, the catechisms and historically-conditioned confessions. What better way to begin than by reading M Craig Barnes easily readable, not very long, yet very convincing Body & Soul: Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism?

my amazon review: my only comfort, our only comfort in life and in death

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