Today in the class we discussed the questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism that pertain to “Lord’s Day 3.” (The Heidelberg’s 129 sets of questions and answers are divided into 52 sets, one for each Sunday of the year. Today is not really Lord's Day 3 on the Reformed calendar. But it is for our Sunday School class.) Today’s sets of questions and answers were numbers 6 through 8 (“Q&A6 through Q&A8”). These sets pertain to the miserable situation in which people find themselves without Christ. (The Heidelberg’s 52 sets are themselves divided into an “introduction” followed by three “parts.” We are now in “Part I: Misery.”) We learned last week that people are in a state of misery because they cannot live up to the requirement of God’s law perfectly. As a result, the answer to last week’s Q&A5 includes this statement: “I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.” (Note the use of the first person format here, an approach that makes the Heidelberg uniquely personal among confessions.)
Lord's Day 3 of the Heidelberg addresses the matter of God’s accountability (or lack of it) for our situation. Q&A6 asks whether God created people “so wicked and perverse,” giving the answer “No,” but then going on to describe how God did create people:
God created them good and in his own image,
that is, in true righteousness and holiness,
so that they might
truly know God their creator,
love him with all their heart,
and live with God in eternal happiness,
And live with God in internal happiness,
to praise and glorify him.
It is important to note that the Heidelberg adopts the view that, when our first parents were created, they were created with what some theologians describe as “original righteousness.” They were not, then, created “morally neutral.” In other words, they were not put on earth with simply “free will,” that is, the ability to make a choice between the right thing and the wrong thing. Like God, they had “choice” or “free will,” but they also had a righteous moral nature that would inform that choice. That’s what makes the sin of Adam so very significant, much more significant that simply being given “free will” alone, and then making the wrong choice. When the first parents made the wrong choice, they went against the very righteous nature with which God endowed them. As a result, they lost that aspect of being made in God’s “own image,” but not necessarily all aspects (a discussion for another time).
Q&A7 asks whether we are so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and totally incline toward all evil. The answer is “Yes,” but with this stipulation: “unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.” That answer this morning took us to the question of whether a person without Christ, having lost original righteousness, has the free-will to choose to follow him or whether a person is so helpless and miserable that God must act affirmatively.
The Reformed faith holds that God must act affirmatively first. This distinguishes Protestant faiths that hold to that view (Presbyterians among them) from other Protestant faiths, such as Methodists and certain Baptists, once known as “Free-Will Baptists.” We will discuss these distinctions further, but the idea of “original righteousness” and its loss will inform our discussion of later Heidelberg questions and answers.