Some preachers are tempted to do as little "doctrinal" preaching as possible. After all, people expect preachers to be relevant, to relate the gospel to the here and now. How does a preacher do that with an old document filled with intellectual statements about faith that seemingly have very little to do with life?
Perhaps such ministers should take another look at the doctrinal standards of their church. Some of these old confessions—the Heidelberg Catechism, for example—are written in warm personal language that is as relevant to the lives of twentieth-century Christians as it was to those in past centuries. As Allen Verhey observed in his book Living the Heidelberg, "In spite of its age, this sixteenth-century document remains relevant to our life as a community of God's people in and for the world."
The suggestions that follow highlight the possibility of a more life-touching approach to doctrinal preaching, an approach that examines how the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ in personal, communal, and even cosmic contexts. The suggestions are based on Lord's Days 20-24 of the Heidelberg Catechism, questions and answers that provide an excellent framework for a series of services during the Pentecost season.
Scripture readings may be selected from the footnotes in the catechism. Other passages may come to mind as you review the comments on each Lord's Day.
We have also included suggestions for hymns, anthems, and concertatos for the five Sundays. Note that hymn numbers are given for the four hymnals listed below:
Psalter Hymnal (PH)
CRC Publications, 2850 Kalamazoo Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560.
Rejoice in the Lord (RL)
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 255 Jefferson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
Trinity Hymnal (TH)
Great Commission Publications, 7401 Old York Road, Philadelphia, PA 19126.
The Hymnbook (HB)
Westminster Press, 512 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219.
The Holy Spirit Is Gift and Giver
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 20
It's incredible: God the Father gives the Son (Christmas); the Father and the Son give the Holy Spirit—eternally God himself (Pentecost). The Spirit allows himself to be a gift to the world, to the church, to me. In the Holy Spirit God places himself in our situation more completely than he ever has before. He identifies himself with us. He puts the finishing touch on us.
The Holy Spirit is the giver of Christ and all his blessings. In the Spirit heaven identifies with earth, eternity with time, spirit with body, the holy with the profane, and God with people. And by identifying with us, God helps us to discover our true humanity.
Although the coming of the Holy Spirit is a gift, it is a gift we must accept deliberately. When we do that—when we accept the gift of the Spirit in true faith—we will discover that we receive an ongoing gift that climaxes in the resurrection and in life everlasting. The Spirit remains with us forever!
Come, Thou Almighty King (PH 317, RL 618, TH 89, HB 244)
Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid (PH 393)
For Your Gift of God the Spirit (RL 382)
Come, Holy Spirit. (J. Brahms. Motet for SATB choir. G.I.A. Publications, G 1436.)
O Holy Spirit, Lord of Grace. (Christoper Tye. Motet for SATB choir. In Four Motets. Hinshaw, RSCM 508.)
Come, Thou Holy Spirit, Come. (Palestrina. SATB; may also be sung with two choirs. In The Oxford Easy Anthem Book.)
The Holy Spirit Works His Territory
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 21
World history is church history; church history is world history. A crumbled, terrorized, destitute, hungry humanity is a gathered, protected, preserved community. Bold faith sees that blood thicker than water gave and gives life to the one holy universal church. Because the church is primarily Christian—belonging to Christ—and not Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, Western, or white, everything is now possible.
The church is the communion of saints. The saints have communion with the Holy One: Jesus Christ; with holy things: his body and blood; with holy ones: forgiven sinners—people with a hopeless past and with a hopeful future.
Forgiven sinners are holy, but sometimes they don't act holy. Paul warns us to shape up and, in view of God's mercy, to practice love (Rom. 12). The communion of saints is not complete unless and until the holy ones "use [their] gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment" of their fellow saints.
Come Down, O Love Divine (RL 444)
What Shall I Render to the Lord (PH230,TH537, HB 32)
All Glory Be to Thee, Most High (PH319,RL620,TH92)
I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord (PH 479, RL 409, TH 280,HB 435)
In Christ There Is No East or West (RL 410, HB 479)
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (RL 392, TH 268, HB 433)
We Praise Thee, O God (Healey Willan. Unison. Concordia, 98-1059.)
All Hail, Adored Trinity (F. H.Barthelemon, last verse arr.by David Willcocks. SATB
hymn arrangement. In Hymns for Choirs. Oxford University Press.)
The Church's One Foundation (Carl Schalk. Congregation, choir, 2 trumpets [ad libitum], organ. Concordia, 98-2344.)
The Holy Spirit Breaks Open Our Horizons
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 22
Within the horizon of human existence, flesh—sinful humanity—dies. Breaking through into this horizon, the Flesh—killing sin—rises.
The salvation of my soul is made visible in the resurrection of my body. But I am both saved soul and resurrected body. That creates a tension in the "peaceful" cemetery: the people there are both dead and alive. Sometimes the tension is so great that the dead prematurely burst from their graves (Matt. 27:52).
Thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the human being is immortal. I die, and I have eternal life by faith in Christ. The experience of the open horizon already begins within the horizon. The principle of life works its way toward completion. From life-saving surgery to relief work in a needy world, the signs are undeniable.
The breakthrough is coming —beyond words, sight, or imagination. Finally my body will come into its own. That's why God will be praised. In the meantime, life cries out, "O Lord, how long?"
When in the Night I Meditate (PH 22, HB 68)
Alleluia! Alleluia! (PH 360)
The Day of Resurrection (PH 364,RL317,TH197,HB208)
Thine Be the Glory (RL 327, HB 209)
Lift High the Cross (Arr. Donald Busarow. 2-part mixed, or SATB with trumpet and optional congregation. Augsburg, 11-1890.)
Lead On, O King Eternal (Arr. David N. Johnson. SAB, optional trumpet. Augsburg, 11-1843. Note: The words from PH 364, "The Day of Resurrection," may be substituted.)
The Holy Spirit Gives Rights of Grace:
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 23
Since I am right with God, I don't merely live: I live by rights to do the right. By rights? I have only the right to die, but through grace I receive the right to eternal life. It's the amazing story of receiving a right to what is not rightfully mine—the rights of an heir. That's the testimony of the last will of him who died.
So little I do is right. Nevertheless, "even though my conscience accuses me," God grants and credits to me Christ's perfections. My faith, more dependable than my conscience, convinces me of this: Christ has so much lived himself into my situation—even the grave of sin—that God doesn't make a distinction anymore between Christ and me. When he saw Christ rise, he saw me rise "as if I had never sinned.. . ." Faith in such a God knows better than my conscience.
I give myself—my burdened self—away to Christ. But how I love to hang on to me! Still, faith demands a self-surrender rewarded by two wonders I learn to confess: his glorious love and my unworthiness.
Praise the Savior (PH 361, TH 174)
We Praise Thee, O God (PH 311, RL62,TH83,HB17)
Father, Long Before Creation (RL353, HB 107)
All My Hope on God Is Founded (RL 157)
O Holy Spirit, Grant Us Grace (Melchior Franck. SATB chorale setting. In The Church Choir Book. Concordia, 97-6320.)
O Love of God (Eric Thiman. SAB. Novello and Co., M.T 1195.)
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Goodness
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 24
I don't become good by doing good. If I am good at all, it's only because the goodness of God has been transferred to me by faith in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Christ has broken the chains that kept me enslaved to my birth problem: sin. Hearts that have surrendered to him become good, undivided, pure hearts that produce good words and good deeds. The Holy Spirit leads us into the freedom of doing good. He puts us on a diet, that we might fit into our new clothes of righteousness: do good to all people!
We do not engage in good works to earn God's favor or to anticipate rewards. Even if God accepts our work and grants us his love, such love is not so much a reward but, again, a gracious gift.
Fill Thou My Life (PH 449, RL 147, TH 495)
How Vast the Benefits Divine (PH 386, TH 95)
O God, My Faithful God (RL 69)
O Holy Spirit, Enter In (Philip Nicolai; harmonized by G. G. Wagner. SATB chorale setting; tune: "Wie Schoen Leuchtet." In The Church Choir Book. Concordia, 97-6320.)
Rejoice, O Land (Healey Willan. Mixed voices and organ [piano]. Petters, 6986.)
Sidney Dewaal is pastor of Third Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta.
Marnie Giesbrecht-Segger is director of music for the same congregation.
In a Word
Words are like people—they sometimes broaden out and then narrow down again. At one time liturgy (in its Greek form leitourgia) meant work or service done by the people, or public service. In the New Testament the word is sometimes used narrowly to refer to priestly service (cf. Heb. 8:6), at other times more broadly to include a more general Christian service (Phil. 2:30).
In later church history Christians often used the word to refer to worship acts, or the order of worship. And in our speech today we sometimes narrow it even more, using the word only to refer to the worship practices of Episcopalian or Roman Catholic churches. ("She used to be a good Baptist, but now she goes to a liturgical church.") At the very least we should rescue the word from this latest narrowing. When a Southern Baptist preacher says, "Y'all turn around and shake hands with the folks near you," he is asking his congregation to engage in a liturgical act.
Often the word liturgy can serve as a synonym for service or as another designation for an "order of worship." We should try to recapture some of the word's early meaning: liturgy is the people's (worship) service of God.
Although the Westminster Confession is not ordinarily used as a preaching guide in the same way as the Heidelberg Catechism is, many of the same doctrines are covered in both confessions. The similarities can be seen in the following listing. (The HC 20-22 follows the sequence of the Apostles' Creed.)
|Lord's Day/Heidelberg Catechism||Chapter/Westminster Confession|
|20 The Holy Spirit||2 Of God and the Holy Trinity (and other references)|
|21 The Holy Catholic Church||25 Of the Church|
|The Communion of Saints||26 Of the Communion of Saints|
|The Forgiveness of Sins||11 Of Justification|
|22 The Resurrection of the Body The Life Everlasting||32 Of the State of Man after Death and of the Resurrection of the Dead|
|23 True Faith||14 Of Saving Faith|
|24 Good Works||16 Of Good Works|