Any real Reformed Protestant would know that 2013 marks the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Conference on Reformed Theology, sponsored in part by the Selbständige Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche Heidelberg, will be held in Heidelberg from July 18 to July 20, with a worship service on the following Lord’s Day. The speakers include a variety of international scholars and pastors.
In addition to the conference, the conference organizers, Jon D. Payne and Sebastian Heck, have edited a volume of essays on the Catechism, A Faith Worth Teaching: The Heidelberg Catechism’s Enduring Heritage. Here is an excerpt from my chapter:
Ever since English colonial powers took control of the North American region to the north of Chesapeake Bay and turned New Netherland into New York, the Heidelberg Catechism has taken a back seat to the Westminster Assembly=s Shorter Catechism. As members of the Church of England, the eventual governors of New York were not particularly zealous about a catechism that had originated during the tumultuous war of the 1640s and that had failed to unify the English churches or Parliament. But once the English gained the upper hand over the Dutch in North American colonial developments, that victory sealed the fortunes for the catechism that was the primary teaching device and doctrinal standard for German- and Dutch-speaking Protestants. From the late seventeenth century on, the most influential and numerous churches in North America would be of English descent. This meant that in the New World and, later, the United States, Westminster=s Shorter Catechism would enjoy greater popularity than Heidelberg, and that the latter would be restricted to immigrants and settlers of Dutch and German descent.
This implicit ethno-confessional rivalry between Heidelberg and Westminster was not intentional but it was inevitable thanks to the United States’ debt — despite political independence — to the people, language, and churches of the United Kingdom. Estimates of each catechism from respected leaders in the United States= Reformed and Presbyterian churches illustrate that Heidelberg has always took a back seat to the Shorter Catechism among Reformed Protestants in the United States.
I won’t be speaking, but I wish I could go. It’s a wonderful city, a great cause, and an impressive line-up.