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The controversial question and answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which condemns the “popish Mass,” seems to some a harsh statement in this document otherwise admired for its warm pastoral style and genial tone. Viewing this question and answer as unnecessarily polemical and injurious to the Catechism’s usefulness as a contemporary statement of the Christian faith, some Reformed denominations have removed it from the text. Cornel Venema provides historical background and biblical teaching to defend the Catechism’s inclusion of question and answer 80, arguing that it must be retained today, as it “reflects a fundamental evangelical passion to uphold the sufficiency of Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and to condemn idolatry in whatever form.”
Table of Contents:
1. The Historical Occasion, Authorship, and Purposes of the Heidelberg Catechism
2. The Inclusion of Q&A 80
3. Assessing the Original Validity of Q&A 80
4. Assessing the Continued Value of Q&A 80: A Present Case
5. Conclusion: The Benefits of Retaining Q&A 80
Cornelis P. Venema is the president and professor of doctrinal studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, Indiana. He serves as an associate pastor of the Redeemer United Reformed Church.
“Cornel Venema’s study of Heidelberg Catechism question 80 carefully addresses both the meaning and circumstances of its addition to the catechism and the highly problematic modern effort to rid the document of any offense to Roman Catholics. Venema’s analysis of question 80 both establishes the significance of the theological point in its historical context and the continued relevance of its theology. In so doing, he also highlights the lack of wisdom of contemporary attempts to erase or ignore the past for the sake of smoothing over the more difficult issues in ecumenical dialogue.” — Richard A. Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology, Emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary
“In 1878 Philip Schaff captured modern discontent with question 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism when he complained that it is unduly controversial. Since that time at least two Reformed bodies have sought to marginalize question 80, yet the question remains: Is it true? Cornel Venema calmly and clearly shows that however troubled some may be by question 80’s tone, what we confess there is true, and it is no more controversial than God’s Word. This is a truly helpful work, much to be commended.” — R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology, Westminster Seminary California