Monday, March 25, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions About Correcting the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions

1. Why is the Heidelberg Catechism so important to More Light Presbyterians?

The Heidelberg Catechism is important to More Light Presbyterians because the inaccurate 1967 translation of the answer to Question 87 is the only reference to homosexuality in the whole Book of Confessions. Restoring the Heidelberg Catechism is important to the entire PCUSA because, as Presbyterians, we pride ourselves on our history, and placing a faithful English translation of the original German into our Book of Confessions is the best way to honor our tradition and the wisdom of our forbears.

2. What are the other four flaws in the Heidelberg Catechism and how can they be fixed?

First, in Question 19, the literal translation reads “ceremonies of the law” rather than “rites of the Old Covenant,” which inserts a theology of old and new covenants that was not present in the original passage.

Second, Question 33 asks, “Why is he called God’s only begotten son, since we also are God’s children?” The translation of the answer currently contained in our Book of Confessions reads, “Because Christ alone is God’s own eternal Son, whereas we are accepted for his sake as children of God by grace.” A literal translation of the German would describe Jesus as God’s “eternal, natural Son” and all believers as “adopted” instead of merely “accepted.” The inaccuracy in this translation loses the important theological and Biblical richness in the original German.

Third, Question 55 asks, “What do you understand by the ‘communion of saints’?” Our Book of Confessions currently translates the first part of the answer this way: “First, that believers one and all, as partakers of the Lord Christ, and all his treasures and gifts, shall share in one fellowship.” The tense of the verb “share” makes a very real theological difference here. The present translation is “shall share,” which places it in the future. The original German is in the present tense, “share,” which means that all believers are in fellowship with one another now.

Fourth, in Question 74, the distinction is being made between the sign of God’s covenant in circumcision and baptism. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism placed circumcision in the Old “Testament” and baptism in the New “Testament,” while the 1962 translators used “Covenant,” not “Testament.” For scholars, this is the most debatable section under scrutiny. Some go one way, others another on this translation.

3. How can we respond to the argument that the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism left out “homosexual perversion” because the catechism was for children and it’s mention would have been inappropriate for them?

The Preface of The Book of Confessions instructs us that “each confessional statement should be respected in its historical particularity; none should be altered to conform to current theological, ethical, or linguistic norms.” Therefore, we must not change the Heidelberg Catechism based on our current beliefs about childhood. As Jack Rogers testified at the 2008 General Assembly in San Jose, the sixteenth-century concept of “childhood” was very different from ours. Projecting
our modern interpretation of what is “appropriate for children” onto the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism disrespects the choices the actual writers made.

4. How can we respond to the argument that the Bible and the tradition of the church now and always has been that homosexuality is a perversion and therefore it is fine to include it in the Heidelberg Catechism?

The Book of Confessions was created to preserve the wisdom of our ancestors. To be true to that purpose, we must respect the decisions the actual writers of the Heidelberg Catechism made. Who are we to second-guess the wisdom and intentions of those German divines, the architects of the Heidelberg Catechism?

5. How can we respond to the argument that the General Assembly and confirming presbyteries in 1967 chose this translation of the Heidelberg Catechism and we need to honor their choice by retaining this translation?

Each generation of Christian believers has the opportunity to express and preserve their faith in confessional statements. When the United Presbyterian Church voted to include the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions, the purpose was to preserve the wisdom and faithfulness of the people of Heidelberg in 1563 for future generations to learn from, not to express their faith in 1967. The Confession of 1967 is the statement of faith of that generation, and it is helpful to recall that it does bring up sexual relations in section 9.47 without mentioning homosexuality.

6. How can we respond to the argument that removing “homosexual perversion” from the Book of Confessions will start us down a slippery slope into sexual chaos?

The greatest threat facing the Presbyterian Church USA, indeed Christianity, is that we turn away the faithful from Christ’s love. The inaccurate version of the Heidelberg Catechism has done just that by placing false witness against GLBT people into our Book of Confessions.

7. What is the full process for changing the Book of Confessions?

The process began with the overtures to the 2008 General Assembly asking for the correction. Upon approval by the GA, the Moderator appointed a Special Committee, which is currently reviewing the situation and will recommend an action to the next General Assembly, in 2010. If that second Assembly approves the correction, their decision must be ratified by two-thirds of the presbyteries to go into effect.

8. Where do things stand now in this ongoing process to correct the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions?

As of September 2009, the Special Committee appointed by the Moderator in 2008 has met and agreed that action to correct the Heidelberg Catechism is necessary. But rather than simply fix the five specific sections that contain inaccuracies, this committee is inclined to replace the entire 1962 translation with the English translation that is currently in use by our sister Reformed Churches. This may require an additional cycle of General Assembly approvals since it was not the solution presented to the committee by the 2008 GA.

9. Why is it so important to begin now to educate ourselves and others about why we must correct the flaws in the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions?

Correcting the Book of Confessions requires a two-thirds vote in the presbyteries. Despite the sound theological and ethical reasons to make this correction, the restoration of the answer to Question 87 rouses strong feelings within the church. Therefore, in preparation for the presbytery vote, we cannot repeat too many times in our presbyteries how many good reasons there are to restore the original meaning of the Heidelberg Catechism.

For more information, Contact MLP Field Organizer Michael Adee, (505) 820-7082,

“Frequently Asked Questions About Correcting the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions” is a publication of More Light Presbyterians.
Permission to copy and distribute is granted.

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