I haven’t posted for a while because I haven’t felt like it. On one level, I have the desire, but on another I just haven’t felt up to it. Honestly, this is not a very good excuse but it is the truth.
My struggle with intestinal problems, which up to now have not been precisely identified, persists. Just when it seems like I might be feeling a little better, I have a night like last night. Agonizing abdominal pressure made sleeping impossible. So today, I’m feeling pretty lousy.
Last night as I did my version of rolling and tossing (moving my hospital bed up and down), I recalled the first question of the New City Catechism, which was just recently published, and which I also purchased for personal use and as gifts for the grandchildren. Incidentally, if you’re interested you can get a great introductory deal at Westminster online bookstore (WTSbooks.com) through April 28.
Just in case you’re not familiar with catechisms, I thought it might be helpful to tell you about my first exposures to catechisms. I was first introduced to catechisms as a boy of about 6 years when I attended the Daily Vacation Bible School at Marcus Hook Baptist Church, where I grew up. It was a question and answer dialogue with the teacher asking the question and the student providing the memorized answer verbatim. At the time it didn’t seem very exciting, but I did learn a lot.
The next time I recall any experience with catechisms was when I began seminary. It wasn’t too long before I was introduced to the Westminster Confession of Faith, with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The edition I used included Scripture proofs which were a great assistance.
In preparation for my licensure and ordination examinations in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, I memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I grew to appreciate the precise wording, structure and order in both the questions and answers. They have helped me to think through many issues even though it was written with children in mind.
Since then, I’ve come to appreciate catechisms and recognize their historic place in the church as well as the home. Judy and I have introduced our children to both The Children’s Catechism and The Westminster Shorter Catechism in our family worship.
The New City Catechism is in many ways a rewrite or modernization of the Geneva Catechism and compilation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism. It has 52 question answers (one for each week of the year) and opens with a question-and-answer reminiscent to that of the Heidelberg Catechism. Question 1: “What is our only hope in life and death?” Answer 1: “That we are not our own, but belong body and soul, both in life and in death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Compare this with the longer Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.
I was thinking about the New City Catechism Q and A 1. “That we are not our own, but belong body and soul, both in life and in death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”
So, notice that the answer is cast in the plural, focusing on we not me. This reminds me that I am not the only one included in God’s gracious promises. It’s easy to read the Bible, thinking only of myself and not considering God’s love for others. Sometimes we need the spiritual hug that God loves me, but it’s also very easy to get caught up in one’s own problems and forget that other people, loved by God, are also experiencing difficulties.
The answer also reminds me, together with all God’s people, that I do not belong to myself. I (We) have been both created and purchased by God. We are not our own. And we are not on our own. We belong to God, who loved us, saved us through, the agonizing death of his Son, who continues to protect and care for us and who promises to never leave us or forsake us. Some may think this to be religious gibberish, but God’s grace is very comforting to me and many others. Through these words, God brought great comfort to me last night as I was experiencing what the medical people euphemistically refer to as discomfort.
Answer 1 also reminds me that “we are not our own,” to live as we please, or to please ourselves. It shows me that I must show my gratitude to my gracious God by obeying his commands, even though I obey him perfectly. I rejoice that I have a Savior who has made up for all my imperfections.
Finally, Answer 1 reminds me that I am not “Number 1.” Not only am I to submit my will to God’s will, I am further to consider others more important than I consider myself. I must resist the temptation to be “Number 1” because God loves each of his children and commits himself to caring for all of us, both corporately and individually.
“For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:7–8, CSB)