The Study Catechism: Full Version. Approved by the 210 th. General Assembly (1998) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Question 1. What is God’s purpose for
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The Study Catechism: Full Version Approved by the 210th General Assembly (1998) of th e Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Question 1. What is God’s purpose for your life? God wills that I should live by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the love of God, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Question 2. How do you live by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? I am not my own. I have been bought with a pr ice. The Lord Jesus Christ loved me and gave himself for me. I entrust myself comple tely to his care, giving thanks each day for his wonderful goodness. Question 3. How do you liv e for the love of God? I love because God first loved me. God loves me in Christ with a love that never ends. Amazed by grace, I no longer live for myself. I live for the Lord who died and rose again, triumphant over death, for my sake. Therefore, I take those around me to heart, especially those in particular need, knowing that Christ died for them no less than for me. Question 4. How do you live in th e communion of the Holy Spirit? By the Holy Spirit, I am made one with the Lo rd Jesus Christ. I am baptized into Christ’s body, the church, along with all others who confess him by faith. As a member of this community, I trust in God’s Word, share in the Lord’s Supper, and turn to God constantly in prayer. As I grow in grace and knowledge, I am led to do the good works that God intends for my life. I. The Apostles’ Creed Question 5. What does a Christian believe? All that is promised in the gospel. A summary is found in the Apostles’ Creed, which affirms the main content of the Christian faith. Question 6. What is the first article of the Apostles’ Creed? “I believe in God the Father Almi ghty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Question 7. What do you believe when you confess your faith in “God the Father Almighty”? That God is a God of love, and that God’s love is powerful beyond measure. Question 8. How do you understand the love and power of God? Through Jesus Christ. In his life of comp assion, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, I see how vast is God’s love for the world Š a love that is ready to suffer for our sakes, yet so strong that nothing will prevail against it.
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Question 9. What comfort do you receive from this truth? This powerful and loving God is the one whose promises I may trust in all the circumstances of my life, and to whom I belong in life and in death. Question 10. Do you make this co nfession only as an individual? No. With the apostles, prophets and martyrs, with all those through the ages who have loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and with all who strive to serve him on earth here and now, I confess my faith in the God of loving power and powerful love. Question 11. When the creed speaks of “God the Father,” does it mean that God is male? No. Only creatures having bodies can be either male or female. But God has no body, since by nature God is Spirit. Holy Scri pture reveals God as a living God beyond all sexual distinctions. Scripture uses diverse images for God, female as well as male. We read, for example, that God will no more forget us than a woman can forget her nursing child (Is. 49:15). “‘As a mother comforts he r child, so will I comfort you,’ says the Lord” (Is. 66:13). Question 12. Why then does the creed speak of God the Father? First, because God is identified in the New Testament as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Second, because Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of this Father. Third, because when we are joined to Christ through faith, we are adopted as sons and daughters into the relationship he enjoys with his Father. Question 13. When you confess the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, are you elevating men over women and endorsing male domination? No. Human power and authorit y are trustworthy only as they reflect God’s mercy and kindness, not abusive patterns of domination. As Jesus taught his disciples, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matt. 23:11). God the Father sets the standard by which all misuses of power are exposed and condemn ed. “Call no one your father on earth,” said Jesus, “for you have one Father Š the one in heaven” (Matt. 23:9). In fact God calls women and men to all ministries of the church. Question 14. If God’s love is powerful be yond measure, why is there so much evil in the world? No one can say why, for evil is a terrible abyss beyond all rational explanation. Its ultimate origin is obscure. Its enormity perplexes us. Nevertheless, we boldly affirm that God’s triumph over evil is certa in. In Jesus Christ God suffers with us, knowing all our sorrows. In raising him from the dead, God gives new hope to the world. Our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is himself God’s promise that suffering will come to an end, that death shall be no more, and th at all things will be made new.
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Question 15. What do you believe when you say that God is “Maker of heaven and earth”? First, that God called heaven and earth, with a ll that is in them, into being out of nothing simply by the power of God’s Word. Second, that by that same power all things are upheld and governed in perfect wisdom , according to God’s eternal purpose. Question 16. What does it mean to say that we human beings are created in the image of God? That God created us to live together in love and freedom Š with God, with one another, and with the world. Our distinctive capacities Š reason, imagination, volition and so on Š are given primarily for this purpose. We ar e created to be loving companions of others so that something of God’s goodness may be reflected in our lives. Question 17. What does our creation in God’s image reflect about God’s reality? Our being created in and for relationship is a reflection of the Holy Trinity. In the mystery of the one God, the three divine persons Š Father, Son and Holy Spirit Š live in, with and for one another eternally in perfect love and freedom. Question 18. What does our creation in Go d’s image reflect about God’s love for us? We are created to live wholeheartedly for God. When we honor our Creator as the source of all good things, we are like mirrors reflecti ng back the great beam of love that God shines on us. We are also created to honor God by showing love toward other human beings. Question 19. As creatures made in God’s im age, what responsibility do we have for the earth? God commands us to care for the earth in wa ys that reflect God’s loving care for us. We are responsible for ensuring that earth’s gifts be used fairly and wisely, that no creature suffers from the abuse of what we are given, and that future generations may continue to enjoy the abundance and goodness of the earth in praise to God. Question 20. Was the image of God lost wh en we turned from God by falling into sin? Yes and no. Sin means that all our relations with others have become distorted and confused. Although we did not cease to be with God, our fellow human beings, and other creatures, we did cease to be for them; and although we did not lose our distinctive human capacities completely, we did lose the ability to use them rightly, especially in relation to God. Having ruined our connection with God by disobeying God’s will, we are persons with hearts curved in upon ourselves. We have become slaves to the sin of which we are guilty, helpless to save ourselves, and are free, so far as freedom remains, only within the bounds of sin. Question 21. What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is the image of God?
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Despite our turning from God, God did not turn from us, but instead sent Jesus Christ in the fullness of time to restor e our broken humanity. Jesus lived completely for God, by giving himself completely for us, even to the point of dying for us. By living so completely for others, he manifested what he was Š the perfect image of God. When by grace we are conformed to him through faith, our humanity is renewed according to the divine image that we lost. Question 22. What do you understand by God’s providence? That God not only preserves the world, but also continually attends to it, ruling and sustaining it with wise and benevolent care. God is concerned for every creature: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15). In particular, God provides for the world by bringing good out of evil, so that nothing evil is permitted to occur that God does not bend finally to the good. Scripture tells us, for example, how Joseph said to his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). Question 23. What comfort do you receive by trusting in God’s providence? The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ watches over me each day of my life, blessing and guiding me wherever I may be. God strengthe ns me when I am faithful, comforts me when discouraged or sorrowful, raises me up if I fall, and brings me at last to eternal life. Entrusting myself wholly to God’s care, I r eceive the grace to be patient in adversity, thankful in the midst of blessing, courageous against injustice, and confident that no evil afflicts me that God will not turn to my good. Question 24. What difference does your faith in God’s providence make when you struggle against bitterness and despair? When I suffer harm or adversity, my faith in God’s providence upholds me against bitterness and despair. It reminds me when hope disappears that my heartache and pain are contained by a larger purpose and a higher power than I can presently discern. Even in grief, shame and loss, I can still cry out to God in lament, waiting on God to supply my needs, and to bring me healing and comfort. Question 25. Did God need the world in order to be God? No. God would still be God, eternally perfect and inexhaustibly rich, even if no creatures had ever been made. Yet without God, all cr eated beings would simply fail to exist. Creatures can neither come into existence, nor continue, nor find fulfillment apart from God. God, however, is self-existent and self-sufficient. Question 26. Why then did God create the world? God’s decision to create the world was an act of grace. In this decision God chose to grant existence to the world simply in order to bl ess it. God created the world to reveal God’s glory, to share the love and freedom at the h eart of God’s triune being, and to give us eternal life in fellowship with God.
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Question 27. Does your confession of God as Creator contradict the findings of modern science? No. My confession of God as Creator answers three questions: Who?, How? and Why? It affirms that (a) the triune God, who is self-su fficient, (b) called the world into being out of nothing by the creative power of God’s Word (c) for the sake of sharing love and freedom. Natural science has much to teach us about the particular mechanisms and processes of nature, but it is not in a position to answer these questions about ultimate reality, which point to mysterie s that science as such is not equipped to explore. Nothing basic to the Christian faith contradicts the findings of modern science, nor does anything essential to modern science c ontradict the Christian faith. Question 28. What is the second article of the Apostles’ Creed? “And I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the ri ght hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Question 29. What do you believe when you confess your faith in Jesus Christ as “God’s only Son”? That Jesus Christ is a unique pers on who was sent to do a unique work. Question 30. How do you understand the uniqueness of Jesus Christ? No one else will ever be God incarnate. No one else will ever die for the sins of the world. Only Jesus Christ is such a person, only he could do such a work, and he in fact has done it. Question 31. What do you affirm when you confess your faith in Jesus Christ as “our Lord”? That having been raised from the dead he reigns with compassion and justice over all things in heaven and on earth, especially over those who confess him by faith; and that by loving and serving him above all el se, I give glory and honor to God. Question 32. What do you affirm when you say he was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”? First, that being born of a woman, Jesus was truly a human being. Second, that our Lord’s incarnation was a holy and mysterious event, brought about solely by free divine grace surpassing any human possibilities. Third, th at from the very beginning of his life on earth, he was set apart by his unique origin for the sake of accomplishing our salvation. Question 33. What is the significance of affirming that Jesus is truly God?
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Only God can properly deserve worship. Only God can reveal to us who God is. And only God can save us from our sins. Being truly God, Jesus meets these conditions. He is the proper object of our worship, the self-revelation of God, and the Savior of the world. Question 34. What is the significance of affirming that Jesus is also truly a human being? Being truly human, Jesus entered fully into our fallen situation and overcame it from within. By his pure obedience, he lived a life of unbroken unity with God, even to the point of accepting a violent death. As sinners at war with grace, this is precisely the kind of life we fail to live. When we accept hi m by faith, he removes our disobedience and clothes us with his perfect righteousness. Question 35. How can Jesus be truly God and yet also truly human at the same time? The mystery of Jesus Christ’s divine-human unity passes our understanding; only faith given by the Holy Spirit enables us to affirm it. When Holy Scripture depicts Jesus as someone with divine power, status and au thority, it presupposes his humanity. And when it depicts him as someone with human weakne ss, neediness and mort ality, it presupposes his deity. We cannot understand how this should be, but we can trust that the God who made heaven and earth is free to become God in carnate and thus to be God with us in this wonderful and awe-inspiring way. Question 36. How did God use the people of Israel to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus? God made a covenant with Israel, promisi ng that God would be their light and their salvation, that they would be God’s people, and that through them all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. Therefore, no matter how often Israel turned away from God, God still cared for them and acted on their be half. In particular, God sent them prophets, priests and kings. Each of these was “anointed” by God’s Spirit Š prophets, to declare God’s word; priests, to make sacrifice for the people’s sins; and kings, to rule justly in the fear of God, upholding the poor and needy, and defending the people from their enemies. Question 37. Was the covenant with Israel an everlasting covenant? Yes. With the coming of Jesu s the covenant with Israel was expanded and confirmed. By faith in him Gentiles were welcomed into the covenant. This throwing open of the gates confirmed the promise that through Israel G od’s blessing would come to all peoples. Although for the most part Israel has not accepted Jesus as the Messiah, God has not rejected Israel. God still loves Israel, and God is their hope, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). The God who has reached out to unbelieving Gentiles will not fail to show mercy to Israel as the people of the everlasting covenant. Question 38. Why was the title “Christ,” which means “anointed one,” applied to Jesus?
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never judges apart from grace. In giving Jesu s Christ to die for us, God took the burden of our sin into God’s own self to remove it onc e and for all. The cross in all its severity reveals an abyss of sin swallowed up by the suffering of divine love. Question 46. What do you affirm when you say that “on the third day he rose again from the dead”? That our Lord could not be held by the power of death. Having died on the cross, he appeared to his followers, triumphant from th e grave, in a new, exalted kind of life. In showing them his hands and his feet, the one who was crucified revealed himself to them as the Lord and Savior of the world. Question 47. What do you affirm when you say that “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”? First, that Christ has gone to be with th e Father, hidden except to the eyes of faith. Second, however, that Christ is not cut off from us in the remote past, or in some place from which he cannot reach us, but is present to us here and now by grace. He reigns with divine authority, protecting us, guiding us, and interceding for us until he returns in glory. Question 48. How do you understand the words that “he will come again to judge the living and the dead”? Like everyone else, I too must stand in fear and trembling before the judgment seat of Christ. But the Judge is the one who submitted to judgment for my sake. Nothing will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord. All the sinful failures that cause me shame will perish as through fire, while any good I may have done will be received with gladness by God. Question 49. Will all human beings be saved? No one will be lost who can be saved. The lim its to salvation, whatever they may be, are known only to God. Three truths above all are certain. God is a holy God who is not to be trifled with. No one will be saved except by grace alone. And no judge could possibly be more gracious than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Question 50. Is Christianity the only true religion? Religion is a complex matter. When used as a means to promote self-justification, war- mongering or prejudice, it is a form of sin. Too often all religions Š and not least Christianity Š have been twisted in this way. Nevertheless, by grace, despite all disobedience, Christianity offers the truth of the gospel. Although other religions may enshrine various truths, no other can or does affirm the name of Jesus Christ as the hope of the world. Question 51. How will God deal with the followers of other religions? God has made salvation available to all human beings through Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. How God will deal with those who do not know or follow Christ, but who follow another tradition, we cannot finally say. We can say, however , that God is gracious and
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merciful, and that God will not deal with pe ople in any other way than we see in Jesus Christ, who came as the Savior of the world. Question 52. How should I treat non-Chri stians and people of other religions? As much as I can, I should meet friendshi p with friendship, hostility with kindness, generosity with gratitude, persecution with forbearance, truth with agreement, and error with truth. I should express my faith with humility and devoti on as the occasion requires, whether silently or openly, boldly or meekly, by word or by deed. I should avoid compromising the truth on the one hand and be ing narrow-minded on the other. In short, I should always welcome and accept these others in a way that honors and reflects the Lord’s welcome and acceptance of me. Question 53. What is the third article of the Apostles’ Creed? “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” Question 54. What do you believe when you confess your faith in the Holy Spirit? Apart from the Holy Spirit, our Lord can neither be loved, nor known, nor served. The Holy Spirit is the personal bond by which Jesus Christ unites us to himself, the teacher who opens our hearts to Christ, and the comforter who leads us to repentance, empowering us to live in Christ’s service. As the work of the one Holy Spirit, our love, knowledge and service of Christ are all inseparably related. Question 55. How do we receive the Holy Spirit? By receiving the Word of God. As the midwif e of the new creation, the Spirit arrives with the Word, brings us to rebirth, and assures us of eternal life. The Spirit nurtures, corrects and strengthens us with the pure spiritual milk of the Word (1 Pet. 2:2). Question 56. What do you mean when you speak of “the Word of God”? “Jesus Christ as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death” (Barmen Declaration, Article I). Question 57. Isn’t Holy Scripture also the Word of God? Yes. Holy Scripture is also God’s Word because of its content, its function and its origin. Its central content is Jesus Christ, the livi ng Word. Its basic function is to deepen our love, knowledge and service of him as our Savior and Lord. And its ultimate origin is in the Holy Spirit, who spoke through the prophets and apostles, and who inspires us with eager desire for the truths that Scripture contains. Question 58. Isn’t preaching also the Word of God? Yes. Preaching and other forms of Christian witness are also God’s Word when they are faithful to the witness of Holy Scripture. By the power of the Spirit, preaching actually
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gives to us what it proclaims Š the real pres ence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith comes by hearing God’s Word in the form of faithful proclamation. Question 59. Does the Holy Spirit ever sp eak apart from God’s Word in its written and proclaimed forms? Since the Spirit is not given to the church without the Word, true proclamation depends on Scripture. Since the Word cannot be grasped without the Spirit, true interpretation depends on prayer. However, as the wind blows where it will, so may the Spirit speak or work in people’s lives in unexpected or indi rect ways, yet always according to the Word, never contradicting or diluting it. Question 60. Aren’t people without fait h sometimes wiser than those who have faith? Yes. The important question for the church is not so much where an insight may come from as the norm by which to test it. Truth is where one finds it, whether inside or outside the church, and whether supporting or contradicting one’s ow n most cherished opinions. Our faithful discernment of what is true, however, depends finally on God’s Word as conveyed in Holy Scripture. The church is therefore reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God. Question 61. Doesn’t modern critical scho larship undermine your belief that Holy Scripture is a form of God’s Word? No. The methods of modern scholarship are a good servant but a bad master. They are neither to be accepted nor rejected uncritica lly. Properly used they help us rightly and richly interpret Scripture; improperly used they can usurp the place of faith (or establish an alternative faith). Wise inte rpreters use these methods in the service of faithful witness and understanding. The methods of modern scholar ship remain a useful tool, while Holy Scripture remains reliable in all essential matters of faith and practice. Question 62. What do you affirm when you speak of “the holy catholic church”? The church is the company of all faithful people who have given their lives to Jesus Christ, as he has given and gives himself to them. Since Christ cannot be separated from his people, the church is holy because he is holy, and universal (or “catholic”) in significance because he is universal in significance. Despite all its remaining imperfections here and now, the church is ca lled to become ever more holy and catholic, for that is what it already is in Christ. Question 63. What is the mission of the church? The mission of the church is to bear witness to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. Question 64. What forms does this mission take? The forms are as various as the forms of God’s love, yet the center is always Jesus Christ. The church is faithful to its mission when it extends mercy and forgiveness to the needy
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in ways that point finally to him. For in th e end it is always by Christ’s mercy that the needs of the needy are met. Question 65. Who are the needy? The hungry need bread, the homeless need a ro of, the oppressed need justice, and the lonely need fellowship. At the same time Š on another and deeper level Š the hopeless need hope, sinners need forgiveness, and the world needs the gospel. On this level no one is excluded, and all the needy are one. Our mission as the church is to bring hope to a desperate world by declaring God’s undying love Š as one beggar tells another where to find bread. Question 66. What do you affirm when you speak of “the communion of saints”? All those who live in union with Christ, whether on earth or with God in heaven, are “saints.” Our communion with Christ makes us members one of another. As by his death he removed our separation from God, so by his Spirit he removes all that divides us from each other. Breaking down every wall of hos tility, he makes us, who are many, one body in himself. The ties that bind us in Christ are deeper than any other human relationship. Question 67. How do you enter into co mmunion with Christ and so with one another? By the power of the Holy Spirit as it works through Word and sacrament. Because the Spirit uses them for our salvation, Word a nd sacrament are called “means of grace.” The Scriptures acknowledge two sacraments as in stituted by our Lord Jesus Christ Š baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Question 68. What is a sacrament? A sacrament is a special act of Christian worship, instituted by Christ, which uses a visible sign to proclaim the promise of the gos pel for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The sacramental sign seals this promis e to believers by grace and brings to them what is promised. In baptism the sign is that of water; in the Lord’s Supper, that of bread and wine. Question 69. How do you understand the rel ationship between the word of promise and the sacramental sign? Take away the word of promise, and the wate r is merely water, or the bread and wine, merely bread and wine. But add water, or bread and wine, to the word of promise, and it becomes a visible word. In this form it doe s what by grace the word always does: it brings the salvation it promises , and conveys to faith the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sacraments are visible words which uniquely assure and confirm that no matter how greatly I may have sinned, Christ di ed also for me, and comes to live in me and with me. Question 70. What is the main differen ce between baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
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