The Heidelberg Catechism was first published in 1563. Described as “a comforting, practical summary of the [Christian] faith,” the catechism has been used for nearly 450 years to teach and summarize biblical doctrines. Ligonier Ministries’ daily devotional, Tabletalk, is basing its 2012 course of study on the Heidelberg Catechism’s questions and answers, looking specifically at the biblical texts used to define the doctrinal teachings.
When Tabletalk addresses Question 22, “What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?” the ensuing discussion regarding orthopraxy and orthodoxy details yet another striking difference between Mormonism and the Christian faith. As has been amply demonstrated here at Mormon Coffee throughout the years of dialog between Mormons and Christians, Mormonism is a religion of orthopraxy – that is, it is much more concerned with right behavior than with what individual members believe. Conversely, Christianity is a religion of orthodoxy – concerned first with right belief, which leads to right behavior. From Tabletalk (2 March 2012, Vol. 36, No. 3):
What Faith Must Believe
The Christian faith, in contrast to other systems, puts a premium on belief. To be sure, belief is important to other monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam. Yet these religions are often known as “religions of orthopraxy,” or religions of right practice. Consistent with their merit-based views of salvation, these religions generally elevate the right performance of rituals over doctrinal precision and exactitude. Christianity, however, is historically a “religion of orthodoxy,” a religion of right belief. Creeds tend to be emphasized over rituals. Christians identify each other not by the number of daily prayers, the direction they face in worship, and so on, but by the content of what they believe.
Of course, we do not want to minimize the importance of right practice, for Scripture emphasizes the need to obey the Lord (Deut. 11; John 14:15). Nevertheless, there is a logical priority of belief over practice. Surely, what we do influences what we believe, but it is impossible to do what is truly right if we do not believe what is truly right. God puts a premium on our minds and our hearts because our thoughts and our loves determine who we are and what we do (1 Sam. 16:7; Ps. 26:2-3; Prov. 23:7; Isa. 26:3; Mark 12:28-30; Rom. 8:6; 12:2).
So, the Heidelberg Catechism is certainly correct to define people as Christians according to what they must believe – the gospel (Q&A 22). But what the catechism defines as the gospel is not simply the idea that we must believe in Jesus. After all, belief in Jesus cannot make us Christians if we do not believe in the right Jesus. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even Muslims all claim to “believe in Jesus.” Yet only the biblical Jesus presented in the gospel saves sinners.
As we saw in a Mormon Coffee post earlier this year, though Mormonism appears “obsessed” with Christ, the Christ it promotes is actually a different Jesus. At the close of the Tabletalk article quoted above readers are encouraged to apply right belief as they live Coram Deo — “before the face of God”:
We can imitate the example of Jesus all we want, but if we do not believe the gospel, we do not know Him. The gospel is simple—we are to put our hope of salvation only in the Son, who was sent by the Father and who pours out His Spirit on His people. At the same time, it will take an eternity to unfold the depths of the gospel. Let us continually return to the gospel and what it tells us about our triune Creator.