Recently, I have been reading and meditating on Paul’s letters to Timothy. Most striking to me is how many times Paul has to remind Timothy to confront false doctrines or correct certain teachings.
It seems that even after people come to Christ, they still need to be carefully taught sound doctrine.
For that same reason, we’re studying the Heidelberg Catechism here in Detroit, Michigan. Every Friday morning, Mark VanAndel and I lead a discipleship group as part of Hesed Community Church, the church we’re planting.
In our neighborhood, we see the influence of Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism, and almost every kind of other “ism” there is.
The people around the table on Fridays also come to our Thursday afternoon Bible studies, which are open to anyone in the neighborhood. But on Fridays, we’ve invited a few people to join us for deeper study. Most of them haven’t been Christians long, and we’ve noticed that their beliefs, like the beliefs of the rest of the neighborhood, aren’t always orthodox—in other words, what is generally accepted as right and true about the Christian faith.
In our neighborhood, we see the influence of Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism, and almost every kind of other “ism” there is. The people in our discipleship group carry these beliefs in their hearts and minds as well, not because they’re trying to be heretical or difficult, but because no one has taken the time to invite them into a discipleship relationship and then lead them through what “we the church” believe.
By leading a study on the Heidelberg Catechism, Mark and I are doing just that—helping the people in our neighborhood understand what the Reformed tradition believes. Mark and I take turns teaching on everything from the purpose and power of prayer to holiness to walking with the Spirit. As a group, we’ve had many victories and seen much transformation. Addictions have been addressed, deep wounding has begun to be healed, healthy relationships are being formed, and we even have a member who has committed to reconciliation with family members who have deeply hurt her.
Even though the catechism was written in the mid-1500s, and even though it’s often used in children’s Sunday school classes, it feels alive and relevant to our group of twenty-first-century adults.
Consider Q&A 15 of the Heidelberg Catechism. It teaches that for us to be saved, we need someone “who is a true and righteous human, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.” When our discipleship group hears that, they immediately equate “human” with “one of God’s creatures.” So Mark and I remind them that Jesus isn’t created. Even though the Bible says he’s the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), Jesus is not a creature; he’s divine.
And that matters. It matters because cults have been built around an erroneous view of God the Son. A correct understanding of the person and work of Christ is the center of our gospel message.
"We are embracing our role to disciple the church in Detroit’s inner city by teaching sound, ancient doctrine"
It is a sober reminder of the task of the church—and particularly of the teachers within the church, like Mark and me—to correctly pass on what we believe. As the common paraphrase of Hosea 4:6 goes, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.”
So we’re carefully, diligently going through the Heidelberg Catechism in inner city Detroit and watching our group heartily embrace a centuries-old standard. Reading it has changed their hearts. Two members of our group in particular have resented God for what they have perceived as an injustice on his part. They couldn’t make sense of the evil in the world, in light of God’s love. Until they read Q&A 9 of the catechism. It reads:
But doesn't God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?
Lightbulbs went off in the minds of these two group members. The teaching opened their eyes to a different perspective—one deeply rooted in Scripture, as evidenced by the Q&A’s footnotes to Bible passages—and set them free from bitterness toward God.
Now we are embracing our role to disciple the church in Detroit’s inner city by teaching sound, ancient doctrine. Thousands of years ago, Paul wrote to Timothy, saying, “Remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4). That’s exactly what we’re doing, too. We’re just doing it in Detroit.
Nate Bull is a church planter in southern Michigan.