The Catechism & You
The Heidelberg Catechism is well-known for its warm, personal tone. It begins right away in LD 1. A pertinent, and rather penetrating, question is squarely directed at each one of us: "What is your only comfort in life and death?" No beating around the bush here. The Catechism launches straight into one of the most basic questions of life, which becomes all the more pressing when we contemplate the reality of our mortality. What really is our comfort? On whom do we rely? Where do we find true help and hope that sustains us throughout life, and even after life?
The Catechism then goes on to give a similarly personal answer. It also pushes us out of our natural comfort zone. "I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ." Naturally speaking, if there is one thing we feel is ours, it's our own person. "I belong to me" is the gut reaction and firm belief of most people in the world today. The Catechism turns that common convinction upside down and inside out. It teaches us that when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, he owns you. You belong to him, not to yourself.
This personal quality of the Catechism is maintained throughout all 52 Lord's Days, but it comes out strongly in certain, key Lord's Days. For example, when we need to face the stark reality of sin, the Catechism will not allow us to generalize. Rather it reminds each one of us that "I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour" (LD 2). Likewise, the whole matter of faith is not vague or general. Rather, LD 7 helps us realize that "true faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word." This personal emphasis returns explicitly in other Lord's Days such as LD 9 (concerning our relationship to God the Father), LD 15 Q&A 39 (concerning Christ's crucifixion), LD 19 (concerning Christ's second return) and LD 21 (concerning membership in the Church of Christ).
If you've never read the Heidelberg Catechism before, or perhaps only seen a short quotation here or there, the best place to begin may well be to simply start reading it through slowly, Lord's Day by Lord's Day. It may take you a few sittings. Or you may become so wrapped up in it that you read through it in a single sitting! Don't worry if you don't understand everything. If you have questions, you can always jot them down on a piece of paper.
The important thing to begin with is that you familiarize yourself with the structure, content and style of the Catechism. It's a matter of surveying the lay of the catechetical land, so to speak. Hopefully, you'll come to appreciate the Catechism's succinct, warm and personal presentation of the truth of Scripture, just like so many other Christians around the world. Once your appetite is whetted, you'll be ready for more.
Since you're already on this website, the easiest way to start reading through the Catechism is to go to this page containing Lord's Day 1. You can then use the navigation links on the bottom to move forward through the Catechism. If you prefer to read off of paper rather than on a computer screen, you can download and print out a complete copy of the Catechism by clicking here.
Once you've familiarized yourself with the Catechism, it's time to take a closer look and dig deeper. During your initial read through the Catechism, you may have had questions about what was said in certain Lord's Days. Now's a good time to return to those particular Lord's Days and begin to explore the prooftexts that are listed underneath each question and answer. It's easy to do on this website because the actual Bible passage pops up as soon as you hover over the Bible reference.
Often it's not only the particular verse(s) listed in the footnote, but also the context of that verse which is relevant. If you hover over a prooftext, then there is a "More" link in the bottom, left-hand corner. If you follow that link it will take you to a Bible website on which you can read the context of the passage in the Bible translation of your choice.
Working through a few Lord's Days, with their prooftexts, will help you appreciate how to use the Catechism as a guide into the revealed riches of Holy Scripture.
Soon enough you will discover that the words of the Catechism have been very carefully chosen by the authors. There is a lot more to it than first meets the eye. Thankfully, the Catechism has been used by knowledgeable people for more than 450 years. Over those centuries, a wealth of Catechism resources have been written: sermons, teaching outlines, articles, and full-length books. More recently, audio and video material is becoming available as well.
If you are looking at one particular Lord's Day on this website, and you want help in understanding it, look at the sidebar to your right. There you will find quick and easy access to various resources which deal only and specifically with the Lord's Day you're studying. If you want more general help in understanding the Catechism as a whole, you can find that by going to our resource page or by entering a key word or two in the search bar which is always there on the top, right-hand side of our website.
Finding a church that uses the Catechism
Reading and studying the Catechism on your own is a spiritually encouraging and enlightening experience. Making use of the resources on this website will certainly help make your path of discovery more profitable. However, there is an even better way. Growing in faith is not merely an individual pilgrimage but it is something that should occur together with other, fellow believers (Eph 3:18). The seminary which sponsors this website is linked to a federation of churches, the Canadian Reformed Churches, which make catechism teaching and preaching a regular part of church life. There are also other confessional, Reformed churches around the world which use the Catechism. Hopefully, you will be able to find a Reformed church close to you that actively uses the Heidelberg Catechism.