Monday, September 16, 2013

Confessional Theonomy: Part 4: The Heidelberg Catechism

One of the most influential Reformed creeds is the Heidelberg Catechism, published in 1563. It was written at the prompting of Frederick III, or Frederick the Pious. The Popular Encyclopedia of Church History writes the following about its background:
A beloved standard, it is one of the most widely translated and distributed works in the world. The Heidelberg Catechism originated in Heidelberg, in the Palatinate, a state in southern Germany. In that era, the region witnessed frequent religious struggles between Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed Christians. ... 
The father of the Heidelberg Catechism was Frederick III (1515-1576), the Elector of the Palatinate. A devout Christian, Frederick III had a sincere but cautious Reformed agenda. His threefold vision for the Heidelberg Catechism was for catechizing (teaching children gospel precepts), preaching (providing a standard in the churches), and theological unity (for doctrinal consistency in the Palatine). The creation of the Heidelberg Catechism was entrusted to a learned committee from Heidelberg. The primary author was Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), a Heidelberg professor who had already composed two catechisms. Another key contributor was Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), the court preacher in Heidelberg. That the Heidelberg Catechism was drafted by such young men is remarkable.[1]   
Zacharias Ursinus, the Heidelberg
Catechism's primary author
While the Heidelberg Catechism does not have a section devoted to the duties of civil rulers, it nevertheless takes theonomy for granted in its section on the Ten Commandments. This is not surprising, since Frederick III was a theonomist, and would later promote The Second Helvetic Confession, which includes a section on the magistrate that is very theonomic.

The Heidelberg Catechism assumes that violating the Second Table of the Law warrants civil punishment in its discussion of the sixth commandment, which holds that civil rulers should punish murder; and in the discussion of the eighth commandment, which holds that civil rulers should punish thieves and robbers. 

Not only this, but the catechism also assumes that civil punishment is warranted for violating the First Table of the Law. In its discussion of the third commandment, the catechismciting Leviticus 24:16acknowledges that those who profane God's name deserve the death penalty.

 The Third Commandment

Question 100.
 Is then the profaning of God's name, by swearing and cursing, so heinous a sin, that his wrath is kindled against those who do not endeavour, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid such cursing and swearing?

Answer: It undoubtedly is, (a) for there is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of his name; and therefore he has commanded this sin to be punished with death. (b)

(a) Prov.29:24 Whoso is partner with a thief hateth his own soul: he heareth cursing, and bewrayeth it not. Lev.5:1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.  
(b) Lev.24:15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. Lev.24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.

              The Sixth Commandment

Question 105. What does God require in the sixth commandment?

Answer: That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonour, hate, wound, or kill my neighbour, by myself or by another: (a) but that I lay aside all desire of revenge: (b) also, that I hurt not myself, nor wilfully expose myself to any danger. (c) Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword, to prevent murder. (d)

(a) Matt.5:21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: Matt.5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matt.26:52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Gen.9:6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. 
(b) Eph.4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Rom.12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Matt.5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Matt.18:35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
(c) Rom.13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Col.2:23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. Matt.4:7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
(d) Gen.9:6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Exod.21:14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. Matt.26:52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Rom.13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

               The Eighth Commandment

Question 110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

Answer: God forbids not only those thefts, (a) and robberies, (b) which are punishable by the magistrate; but he comprehends under the name of theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we design to appropriate to ourselves the goods which belong to our neighbour: (c) whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right, as by unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, (d) false coins, usury, (e) or by any other way forbidden by God; as also all covetousness, (f) all abuse and waste of his gifts. (g)

(a) 1 Cor. 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God
(b) 1 Cor. 5:10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. Isa. 33:1 Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee. 
(c) Luke 3:14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. 1 Thess. 4:6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 
(d) Prov. 11:1 A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight. Prov. 16:11 A just weight and balance are the LORD'S: all the weights of the bag are his work. Ezek. 45:9 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Let it suffice you, O princes of Israel: remove violence and spoil, and execute judgment and justice, take away your exactions from my people, saith the Lord GOD. Ezek. 45:10 Ye shall have just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath. Ezek. 45:11 The ephah and the bath shall be of one measure, that the bath may contain the tenth part of an homer, and the ephah the tenth part of an homer: the measure thereof shall be after the homer. Ezek. 45:12 And the shekel shall be twenty gerahs: twenty shekels, five and twenty shekels, fifteen shekels, shall be your maneh. Deut. 25:13 Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Deut. 25:14 Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. Deut. 25:15 But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. Deut. 25:16 For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God. 
(e) Ps. 15:5 He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. Luke 6:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 
(f) 1 Cor. 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God
(g) Prov. 23:20 Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: Prov. 23:21 For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags. Prov. 21:20 There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.

Read the Heidelberg Catechism in its entirety

For more background, read The Reformation of the Palatinate and the Heidelberg Catechism at The Monarchomaque (site is in French, but Google Chrome has a translate option)

[1] Ed Hindson and Dan Mitchell, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Church History: The People, Places, and Events That Shaped Christianity (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2013), 171.

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