Monthly Archives: May 2017

Wisdom of “old stuff” – Heidelberg Catechism question #1

Heidelberger Katechismus 1563.jpg
By http://heidelblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/catechismus1563.jpg, Public Domain, Link

Having grown up “low church” I didn’t encounter creeds, confessions, and catechisms until much later in life. I’ve seen the Heidelberg catechism question number 1 show up in some worship services in the last handful of years as part of the responsive reading within the liturgy.

In our 21st century minds, it is easy to think all the “new” stuff is the best stuff and to dismiss the “old.”

Take a look at the reflections below from the 16th Century. If truth is capital T truth then it should stand the test of time.

What do you think?

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own(1), but belong – body and soul, in life and in death(2) – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ(3). He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood(4), and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil(5). He also watches over me in such a way(6) that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven(7); in fact, all things must work together for my salvation(8). Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life(9) and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him(10).

1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17

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Question: Do we have guardian angels?

Cortona Guardian Angel 01

image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardian_angel#/media/File:Cortona_Guardian_Angel_01.jpg

When you lead a small group Bible study, various questions related to the text you are studying will come up. For instance, if your passage for the night has an angel saying or doing something, you might get asked if we have guardian angels?

During the time of the group discussion, you may want to let the conversation go briefly on the topic but do NOT let it consume the whole time. At some point, if necessary, firmly intervene by saying, this is an interesting topic that we could discuss more AFTER the study; let’s return to the specific passage before us.

Some group members will probably let the topic go after the Bible study is concluded for the evening but some may continue to be curious so you should be ready to address their  interest.

One can go to the “all-knowing” Google search engine and you will get a lot of web pages! Some are quite reputable while others are perhaps less trustworthy. However, for this blogpost, let’s take a quick look at what French Reformation theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) had to say about it. If you haven’t heard by now, the Reformation is marking its 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses while a professor at the University of Wittenberg. In addition to Luther, John Calvin was one of several other leading theologians of the Reformation.

Interestingly, in his magnum opus (first published in 1536; expanded and revised until 1559) theological work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he has a section on angels in book 1, chapter XIV, sections 3-12 and within those reflections he touched on the topic of guardian angels.

For the very quick survey of pertinent Bible passages see Dan. 12:1, Matt. 18:10, and Acts 12:15.

For a brief survey of Calvin’s comments in Book 1, Chapter XIV, sections 3-12 read on …

Calvin was very committed to Scripture as the basis of theological understanding whether or not one fully agrees with his interpretations. Thus, he identified the handful of Bible passages regarding angels and built his reflections around those verses. Some are highlighted below.

Calvin summarized, “Scripture strongly insists upon teaching us what could most effectively make for our consolation and the strengthening of our faith: namely, that angels are dispensers and administrators of God’s beneficence toward us.”

However, on the specific subject of “guardian angels,” he said, “whether individual angels have been assigned to individual believers for their protection, I dare not affirm with confidence.”

Calvin noted there are passages of the Bible that clearly teach the “protective” role of angels. He cited that the angel Michael “stands guard over the sons of your people” (Dan. 12:1). In the Gospels, Jesus taught “do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). Calvin observed that the strongest hint of personal guardian angels can be seen in Acts 12:15, “They kept saying, ‘It is his angel’” referring to a possible guardian angel for Peter. He observed that angels when given physical description are winged suggesting “they are ever ready to bring help to us with incredible swiftness should circumstances require it.”

He cautioned about excess speculation about the details of angels beyond the limited specifics provided in Scripture. He urged that we shouldn’t be too curious or speak too confidently about these matters.

Nonetheless, from the Bible, Calvin points out that angels are utilized by God for our benefit: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14)?” Acts 7:53 and Gal.3:19 stated that angels participate in the giving of the Law to humanity. Additionally, angels are also deeply invested in the restoration of humanity and celebrate at the repentance of any one of us (Luke 15:10).

He concluded his reflections on angels by writing, “these helps have been prepared for us by the Lord that we may not be frightened by the multitude of the enemy.” Calvin reminded that the vision of Jacob’s (Gen. 28:10-17) ladder with angels ascending and descending was cited by Jesus and applied to Himself (John 1:51) indicating that only through Christ’s intercession does the ministry of angels come upon us.

Thematic Bible Conference 2017

Cogito, Credo, Petam

TBC2017_eventcoverThe Mystery of the Kingdom of God. First weekend of July, main site in Princeton. New York and Philadelphia are both only an hour away. Think about it. I hope you can go!

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