Baptism, Profession of Faith, Lord’s Supper
This is a familiar question. In particular during this time of year you start making inquiries about it. In many congregations public profession of faith usually takes place between Easter and Pentecost. It is a festive event which family, relatives and friends like to attend. Hence the question: When are you going to make profession of faith? Our personal agenda will then be adapted accordingly.
But the intent of our question can also imply something else: for instance, when are you ready to make profession of faith? When does the minister or the consistory consider you to be ready for it? And how do you think about it yourself? The answer to this question is likewise an important one. For in church we adjust the agenda of the catechism classes as required. In a few articles I would like to make some observations with reference to the practice of making public profession of faith in our churches, as well as to the catechism instruction which leads to this event.
A few answers
When the question is asked: "When do you plan make profession of faith?" a variety of answers may follow. To begin with, I will simply put a few of them in a series of responses as I occasionally have heard:
- 'I'll make profession of faith when I'm eighteen.'
- 'I think I better wait until I dare to go to the Lord's Supper.'
- 'I'll make profession of faith when I really agree with what the church teaches us.'
- 'I would like to make profession of faith before I graduate.'
- 'I really prefer to make profession of faith at the same time as my friends.'
- 'I'll make profession of faith when I'm certain of my faith.'
No doubt, these answers represent a number of entirely different motives that play a role. In any event, I recognize the following elements here:
- Making profession of faith involves a choice for God and for the future of your life.
- A strong social element can be part of making public profession of faith.
- You must be certain what it is all about.
- There is a connection between profession of faith and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
- It means that one agrees with the doctrine of the Church (hence it involves also a choice of church).
Although I bypass an in-depth discussion about these reactions, I regard all of them as having important motives. I noticed, however, that by no means all catechism students endorse the last point with equal enthusiasm (i.e. agreeing with the doctrine of the church).
The answer of the Church
At what time does the Church consider you to be ready to make profession of faith? One answer might be that the church gives an answer in the Form for the Public Profession of Faith. When making profession of faith, one gives answers to four questions. I quote the first question in its entirety:
First, do you wholeheartedly believe the doctrine of the Word of God, summarized in the confessions and taught here in this Christian Church? Do you promise by the grace of God steadfastly to continue in this doctrine in life and death, rejecting all heresies and errors conflicting with God's Word. *(Transl. note)
As mentioned before, this still leaves three other questions in the form to be answered (i.e. about God's promises, one's walk in life, and discipline).
But these themes resort completely under what the first question entails. The first question is therefore a principal and fundamental question. How fundamental this question is can be derived from the fact that it also appears in the form of baptism, and the form for the installation of office bearers. Admittedly, both of these are different situations but there is, nonetheless, a clear connection.
Looking at that first question, you'll notice that a strong emphasis is placed on doctrine.
Inquiry is made about the doctrine of God's Word and that of the Church. I make note of the fact that the Church tells her young members: You make profession of faith once you are in agreement with the doctrine of the Church as being Scriptural doctrine.
What does it mean: being in agreement with?
The question is, of course, what does it mean when you are in agreement with the doctrine of the Church? As for myself, I was brought up with a very strict understanding of this point. In effect, when making profession of faith, we believed that it meant endorsing or subscribing to the Three Forms of Unity. During the period I made profession of faith (1967) this used to be a rather commonly held notion.
This notion has a few most attractive aspects. In the first place, the coming of age of our young church members is taken most seriously. It is not just conveniently presumed that you believe whatever the Church believes. As a professing Christian you should be able to give account of the content of that confession. Further, this view makes for much clarity. We may ask the professing members to adhere to the confession of the Church. In this way the unity of faith acquires a content that has substance. No doubt, this view has contributed considerably to the character of the Liberated Churches as genuine, professing churches.
This is not an overstatement. The confession of the Church has a truly essential, and central function for the identity of our churches.
And, of course, this view had many consequences for catechism instruction. It meant, amongst others, that during catechism instruction you had to get thoroughly acquainted with the three Forms of Unity (and thus the Canons of Dort as well). Otherwise it would be onerous to respond with an honest 'yes' to that first question.
In other aspects as well, this approach makes substantial demands on the learning process during catechism. It is quite a task, indeed, having to assimilate all the material that is introduced.
In summary, the above approach formulates a clear point of departure. This, in itself, can signify much for the character of a truthful confessional church. The result is that clarity will be found in the church; but at the same time it makes great demands on the instruction of catechism.
Yet, practice proves that this approach has its negative sides as well. Here below I shall mention a few contentious points.
The organization of catechism instruction
As mentioned before, this view makes considerable demands on catechism instruction. Even from days of old we, as Reformed people, have always maintained that this instruction was the task of the family, church and school. But if you wish to make good this view, these three elements must function jointly and cooperate optimally. I believe that the present condition is certainly not an optimal one. This can be readily illustrated by referring to the subject matter that is to be taught.
In 1985 a congress was held, the objective of which was to discuss the mutual approach to catechism instruction, education and out-reach among youth. During this congress, many were of the opinion that catechism instruction ought to concentrate first of all on the catechism. Next, the Belgic Confession and then the Canons of Dort could be introduced.
Summing up, this congress did not make any hard and fast resolutions on that particular issue. But since that time, many attempts have been made in that direction. The catechism method Ik geloof ('I believe') concentrates indeed on the catechism itself (but regularly refers to elements from the other confessions). And for religious instruction the Rev. C. Bijl wrote a text book about the Belgic Confession ('Leren te geloven') ('Learning to believe'). Further, it can be said that a few of our schools go as far as to use a little workbook for the Canons of Dort.
But arriving at a truly mutually-accepted syllabus is still a rarity in day-to-day practice. At times I have made random inquiries with people who are involved in this kind of education. It became clear that various teachers of religion did not take their point of departure in the mentioned syllabus, nor were they aware of the considerations of the congress (the latter applies as well to a large number of ministers).
And so it happens that there are many students who leave secondary education behind them, without ever having made acquaintance with the Belgic Confession or the Canons of Dort in their previous environment. (This will, unquestionably apply as well to those students who have not received a Reformed education).
The result of all this will be that a great number of students in pre-confession classes **(Transl. note) are walking about with quite a few blind spots. Once the young people have made profession of faith, the church usually does no longer provide a structured approach for coming to terms with those blind spots.
Briefly then, the organization of catechism instruction is such that we can no longer make good our allegation that a catechism student has truly studied the Three Forms of Unity (or is capable of studying them).
Right away we can ask the question whether this study is factually useful and effective. Whoever wants to work his way through all three confessions will find that this can be accomplished, almost without exception, by having the text dictate the structure of the instruction. This, of course, is the traditional way of giving catechism instruction. One guides the students through the text, and by means of explanations the instruction will acquire content. But this form of didacticism has run into a great deal of opposition, and quite rightly so.
There is still another objection to this kind of didacticism. If we truly wish to work our way through the Three Forms of Unity and seek to find therein the basis for catechism instruction, then we must set the highest standards concerning the knowledge and insight of the catechism students.
There is no denying that quite a number of decisions are made in the confessions, and that these decisions require a mature insight. Suppose the catechism student were able (more or less) to respond to them with a genuine 'yes'. Still, the student would not likely have accomplished anything else but having pursued some cognitive and comprehension goals. But we have just learned from teaching methodology that there are formative goals as well, goals that have to do with the development of an attitude during a course. I take it that we, together, are convinced that in catechism instruction these goals must never be neglected. In fact, they are essential for helping children 'to live in accordance with it'.
Another element should be added. When we observe catechism students, we may find that there are quite a number for whom a thorough acquaintance with the confessions would really be demanding too much of them: Some are simply unable to cope. Still we believe that they, too, shall be allowed to take up a full-fledged position within the congregation.
In short: even with a view to didacticism we are unable to make good the allegation that catechism instruction works toward endorsing the Three Forms of Unity.
Appropriating your profession
Looking back to church practice, I would like to bring up another objection. It happens frequently that people after having professed their faith, are suddenly faced with intimidating questions which they are unable to solve.
Among other things, this has something to do with the (student's) age when profession of faith takes place. For many, this age will usually be around eighteen. And quite often, too, profession of faith occurs toward the end of the school year (graduation). This means therefore, that many young people leave their home, just before or just after having made profession of their faith. The trusted surroundings of school and home have vanished from sight. As a result, it sometimes happens that an important constituent of their former milieu will vanish as well.
During this phase you often encounter new things. Your new studies confront you with critical questions and doubts. But also, given the situation that a young employed person is seeking a place for himself in society, the encounter with unbelief and rejection can at times be head-on and painful as well. This can become a very threatening situation, but on the other hand it can also be a fascinating challenge.
Such situations can raise questions that probe deeper than you ever thought possible during past catechism classes. They often include questions that deal with the doctrine of the Church.
But it is exactly during these incidents that some critical youngsters occasionally run into the following situation: Office bearers, addressing them, remind these young members of their profession of faith: "So what's the problem, young man, you've made profession of faith haven't you?" If an elder or minister holds forth like this, it is understood to be legitimate, is it not? True, we should be able to discuss this matter with each other. But, regularly it turns out that each one of them had perceived that special event in a somewhat different way. For many a young person it is not infrequently a let-down. They did not at all experience their profession of faith as a definitive 'yes' to the confession of the church. Yet some office bearers assume (tacitly, as the case may be) that you have properly subscribed to the confession of the church, and now you must accept responsibility for this act. To make profession of faith is the completion of catechism instruction, is it not? (In the background there may be the implication that some office bearers find penetrating questions about the confession hard to digest).
Thus, in practice, it is evident that even after public profession of faith has taken place, one will quite often need some headway to 'appropriate' one's profession of faith. As it is, some young people are not yet quite ready to subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity wholeheartedly and discerningly.
Making profession of faith does not round off a stage
From the objections that have been mentioned, I conclude that we can (no longer) make good the assumption that making public profession of faith stands for an unconditional endorsement of the Three Forms of Unity. I guess that, in practice, most people have — for quite awhile — privately drawn that very conclusion. Many an elder uses similar words while addressing a catechism student who wants to make profession of faith: "Just remember now that you aren't finished with this. No, you've just begun." This is a word of wisdom on the occasion of making profession of faith. Your making profession of faith is not tantamount to obtaining a diploma for having become a full-fledged believer.
Even so, it is strange that we, in practice, do consider profession of faith as some sort of rounding off procedure, or a finishing process. First of all, there will be the finishing of the catechism material (with some kind of examination). When the weekly instruction has ended, many a catechism student finds that it feels like falling into a hole. Still, everyone seems to assume that as a confessing member you'll stand foursquare behind the choice you have made.
Evidently, what is needed here is that the Church should clarify its position by saying in a few words: "Your profession of faith does not round off a stage; it is not a completion." But then we really ought to examine the consequences of this statement.
Making profession of faith as a student
Making profession of faith should not be equated with a diploma that changes one into a full-fledged believer. Having said this, we should now acknowledge that we make profession of faith while still being typical students. This situation, then, has consequences for your agreement with the doctrine of the church. In this respect, catechism instruction offers a primer in the doctrine of the church. Thus, public profession of faith signifies that the catechism student subscribes to the church's doctrine as conforming with the Scriptures.
This view is not of recent origin, however. In fact, considering the church's catechism instruction, it has been regularly defended throughout the centuries. Thus, the actual catechism instruction's overload can be drastically reduced. It should not be necessary to work one's way through the entire doctrine of the church, with some kind of formal or final examination. Instead, a thorough acquaintance with the essentials will now be within reach, in a comprehensive and didactically responsible way. But the flipside is that this view causes many obligations. A truly confessional church must make certain that there will be opportunities to earnestly express one's agreement with the doctrine of the church, even after public profession of faith has been made.
Making profession of faith is proclaiming that the doctrine of the church conforms with the Scriptures, although this confidence will still require affirmation. This condition calls, in the first place, for continued catechism instruction. And, of course, catechism preaching plays a significant role here as well.
In final analysis, so much depends on the simple question: When will you make profession of faith? Here, our church practice reveals a few contentious spots. We see that the background itself is involved in the question: What prominence will be assigned to public confession of faith? In one respect we associate it with baptism, and in another with the Lord's Supper. Rightly so, for we have always made this dual connection. And so we have often considered catechism instruction as a means to lead baptized members on their way to celebrate the Lord's Supper. Even so, these connections can be locked in too tight, and then tensions will arise. Next time I hope to address this problem.
Baptism and profession of faith
First of all, we have always made the connection between public profession of faith and baptism. In fact, this is about the first thing we learn from the Bible with reference to baptism. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). These two are inseparable and from the beginning the Church has always observed this principle. We should understand that this connection was both visible and audible in the Church. During its early years especially, adult converts, were baptized. On this occasion they made profession of their faith. This is also the way the Apostles' Creed came into being. The formula of baptism (in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is to this very day identifiable as the basic structure of that confession. Meantime, the early situation has changed drastically.
Later, there was a time that the Church experienced a larger increase from the inside than from the outside. So instead of adult or adolescent baptism, child baptism became the rule. But, of course, it continues to be important to uphold the well-established connection between baptism and profession of faith. For as long as the child is still small, the parents (as it were) profess their faith on behalf of their child. It is the intention, however, that the child eventually learns to say his own "Amen."
An answer to your baptism
God's promise invites the 'amen' spoken in faith. One could say that baptism expresses to what degree God's promise calls for our response of faith and how it is – related to that promise. The Church has also expressed this concept in Answer 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which has "...the Holy Spirit, who works faith..." is promised to children "no less than to adults." This is why from the moment of baptism the entire process of raising one's children (as well as catechism instruction) is carried out with that promise in view. This is also the reason we have always considered public profession of faith as 'a response to our baptism.' It is therefore important that we as members of the Church should take that connection between baptism and profession of faith very seriously. "Therefore by baptism" are our children "distinguished from the children of unbelievers" (Answer 74 H.C.).
This distinction demands a reply. While bringing up our children (as well as in the process of catechism instruction) we should tell the children of the Church that God comes to them with His promises. At the same time there is the invitation to give themselves to the God of their baptism.
In the event one puts off public profession of faith, one actually weakens the distinction brought about by baptism. Viewed from the perspective of baptism, one should make profession of faith as soon as possible. One could even go as far as to put it this way: he who has as yet not professed his faith is in point of fact only half baptized. (sic).
Admission to the Lord's Supper
It is not only from baptism's viewpoint that we make a connection with public profession of faith. One can also find a distinct line to the Lord's Supper. The Form for the Public Profession of Faith illustrates this clearly: it is concerned with receiving admission to the holy supper.
The Church has verbalized this admirably in Article 35 of the Belgic Confession; i.e. when we celebrate the Lord's Supper we "confess our faith and Christian religion." When we partake of the holy supper, we confess that we are desolate souls who are lying in the middle of death, but at the same time that we "seek our life outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ." Partaking of the holy supper is at the same time confessing our sins and professing our faith.
So there is a line that runs from baptism to the Lord's Supper and from Profession of Faith to the Lord's Supper. The Form for Public Profession of Faith has these two lines form a continuation of each other by stating in the second question: Do you acknowledge God's covenant promises, which have been signified and sealed to you in your baptism? ***(Transl. note) Do you truly detest and humble yourself before God because of your sins and seek your life outside of yourself in Jesus Christ? In this question the Church shows that the line from baptism to profession of faith extends into the line that leads to the holy supper. The reply to your baptism is made by partaking of the Lord's Supper.
Do not put off the holy supper
From the viewpoint of baptism, one ought to make profession of faith as soon as possible. This was the conclusion arrived at above. If the holy supper lies on the line of a direct continuation from profession of faith, one should actually say that we ought to open the way to admission to the Lord's Supper as soon as is feasible. This conclusion was also adhered to during the time of the Great Reformation. In practice, a specific variation occurred but, in any event, young Church members between the ages of twelve and fifteen were admitted to the holy supper.
It goes without saying that this did not happen just like that. It was preceded by catechism instruction which covered the cardinal points of Christian faith. It was also discussed with the candidates individually before they received the privilege of admission to the Lord's Supper. Further, after this occurrence, catechism instruction continued as usual.
Whoever takes a look at our own practice in this respect, will notice that since that time quite a few things have changed. There is a distinct tendency to move the age of making profession of faith gradually forward. For many young people this delay presently translates into it being around the age of twenty. The result is that one will partake of the Lord's Supper only when this age is reached. This, however, creates tension. On one side a person should make profession of faith as soon as possible, because this is what baptism calls for. But on the other side, the admission to the holy supper is now deferred. This means too that in practice there is little or no opportunity to profess one's faith in public at a relatively young age. Hence, the unity, so aptly expressed in the second question of the Form for Public Profession, is jeopardized and threatened. At any rate, this unity is subjected to considerable tension.
Where does this tension originate?
One is able to point out two causes that contribute to separate baptism and holy supper. In the first place it is the changed view regarding making public profession of faith. I have mentioned that when people wish to make public profession of their faith, we in our churches have demanded strict concurrence with the doctrine of the Church (or we are still demanding it). If this is to signify that someone affirms the doctrine of the Church by whole-heartedly and responsibly saying 'yes' to it, then this would intimate that catechism instruction must be most thorough. It suggests that the instruction has completely covered the Three Forms of Unity. And the result is that an earlier profession of faith is prevented.
I have already discussed a few objections associated with that view. But here it becomes clear that, considering from the point of baptism, we are able to formulate yet another objection. When agreement with the doctrine of the Church is so strongly accentuated, we are not paying sufficient respect to the Biblical connection between baptism and profession of faith. What happens is that actually we delay the celebration of the Lord's Supper. The connection between baptism and the holy supper easily recedes into the background
When we examine the original cause, there is yet another element that can be discerned. Having made public profession of faith and thus having obtained admission to the Lord's Supper, one is now considered to be a confessing member with all its attendant privileges. Of course, this stands to reason that the Church demands agreement with its doctrine. Everything is undertaken to establish that its members become full-fledged members, which condition entails being members in full rights. This means, for instance, that one gets the right to vote in the congregation. It is clear, however, that these rights should not be granted too soon to the younger members of the Church. But I ask myself whether in today's practice our public profession of faith does not receive too great an emphasis.
The present practice
The present practice of making profession of faith in our circles has a number of drawbacks. I shall mention two of them here. First of all, we slow down public profession of faith by insisting upon a number of prerequisites. As things stand now, there is hardly any provision for making profession of faith at an earlier age. Rather, a common tendency can be observed to the effect that catechism students (and their instructors as well) are inclined to postpone public profession of faith. "I'm just not ready for it" goes the saying then. But the question is: "Not ready for what?" This delay is often tied up with lingering questions or else the problem could lie in the choice of church. There are catechism students who do not positively know whether they want to be a member of a Reformed Church. But practice shows that postponement of public profession of faith is not all that productive. Our catechism instruction is hardly set up in such a way that older baptized members can be properly attended to. Quite often they continue to put in a perfunctory appearance in the senior catechism group. But after another year of it, you no longer get to hear much that is new. In this way there is no increase in motivation. And it is not infrequent that such a catechism period fizzles out like a wet firecracker. Delay can then become indefinite procrastination.
In the second place I mention here an objection which stems from the celebration of the Lord's Supper itself. In the present situation many youngsters do not celebrate the Lord's Supper when they are in great need of it. It is of utmost importance that the Church provides a stimulus for those between the ages 15-20 so that closeness to God and communion with the Church may be fostered and strengthened. This communion is expressed most clearly in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. (I assume that the celebration of the holy supper will take place in a truly stimulating fashion, though this is not always self-evident).
The purpose of my observations is not to advocate the admission of children to the Lord's Supper. I merely refer to an engaging custom that was operative in the Reformed churches of the old days. But in the present situation we observe that at a critical liturgical juncture there is a distancing at work, and this affects our younger members. While the congregation actively professes her faith by partaking of the Lord's Supper, the younger members get this message: "It is not yet for you, young people." Does this not mean that we pass up a valuable opportunity? It is my opinion that at that moment they are not yet quite ready to subscribe completely to the (whole) doctrine of the Church. But does this then mean they cannot really profess their faith in God? For me it remains an open question whether we have rightly linked all those issues together.
Some points of contention
So far I have pointed out a number of points that are seen as unsatisfactory in the present practice of catechism instruction and public profession of faith. In the next article I hope to line up these issues one by one, and by asking questions, I intend to indicate a specific direction. However, I do not pretend to offer a definitive answer. But contacts with pastors and catechism students reveal that there are some controversial issues here. In following our Reformed tradition we ought to think these things through together.
In the beginning of this article a number of controversial issues came occasionally to light. These issues were connected with our present practice in catechism instruction and making profession of faith. They are listed here once more:
- Many catechism students do not obtain a comprehensive knowledge of the Three Forms of Unity. It is a matter of course that during the catechism instruction in particular, the doctrine of the church is introduced. Most catechism instructors, however, do not have sufficient leeway to devote much attention to the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort. In many cases public profession of faith takes place while a considerable number of blind spots persist in the knowledge of the doctrine of the Church.
- After public profession of faith has taken place, no real systematic provision is made to eliminate those blind spots. Many catechism students experience the completion of catechism instruction as being left to their own devices (from the view of catechism instruction, they will fall between the cracks). But the church does not provide for continued catechism instruction in a structured sense.
- It happens quite regularly that young church members after their public profession of faith come up against challenging questions about their faith. In some cases these questions may provoke a distinct crisis. This is related to the fact that public profession of faith more or less coincides with the completion of secondary education and leaving the parental home.
From that moment on, the horizon gets broader and a period of intensive confrontation will arrive (because of studies and/or social responsibilities). At this time one's adherence to the doctrine of the church has not yet been properly assimilated or put to the test. As it is, sometimes the most important and incisive questions crop up after rather than before public profession of faith. In most cases it is at this point of confrontation that the church is not on hand with a structured education program nor in the business of establishing contacts. As a consequence, it becomes so easy for estrangement to occur when essential matters present themselves.
- When estrangement from the doctrine of the church occurs, office bearers or parents have at times the habit of addressing the young people as follows: "Just hold on a moment ... You have made public profession of your faith, haven't you?" For many of them this approach comes as a disillusionment, because they never presumed that their answer in the affirmative meant, simultaneously, an unabridged endorsement of the doctrine of the church.
This indicates that large differences can exist in how public profession of faith is perceived (that is: by catechism students and office bearers). But the question remains whether these differences are voiced distinctly.
- In the present situation many young people do not celebrate the Lord's Supper, and that precisely during a period when they need it so badly. It is of the utmost importance that the church provides a stimulus for those in the ages between fifteen and twenty, and that this stimulus will reinforce the union with God and the communion with the church. In this context it is difficult to reconcile that at the very moment a weighty liturgical event takes place (i.e. proclaiming the death of our Lord), the church accentuates the distance from those young people, rather than practice communion with them.
When we start summing up, we notice that we are dealing with some controversial issues. Lining up these issues side by side, one wonders whether we should not move in the direction of a different practice with regard to catechism instruction and public confession of faith.
The great reformation as our tutor
Before we start reflecting upon these things, we would do well to consider how the church in former ages has treated this subject. Should we be able to learn a lesson from this, then we had better not let the matter rest here. It is, therefore, worthwhile to become a student of the great reformers. While composing the catechism, they had to face many of the same questions we have today.
Putting it briefly, their view came down to this: When children have been baptized, this event calls for the earliest response possible, the response of profession of faith. A number of years of catechism instruction worked toward the goal of having those of about 15 years of age make profession of faith (there were places where this happened at an even younger age). At this stage the youngsters received admission to the Lord's Supper. Even so, catechism instruction continued at the same time. The need for this was quite obvious, because there was plenty left that needed to be taught in depth. Public profession of faith (it was also called 'confirmation') really meant saying 'yes' to God's promise. Catechism instruction, which was leading to that goal, was therefore often centered on the Apostles' Creed, the sacraments, the Law and prayer. But, thereafter, in the framework of these fundamental issues, the doctrine of the church was carefully and systematically studied. This catechism instruction often continued until the marriage day arrived. Given a number of variations, this form of catechism was adopted by many great reformers.
An example to follow?
When I put this model from the time of the Great Reformation side by side with the points of controversy we have identified, I ask myself whether we cannot learn a great deal from this model or even adopt it. This would meet the demands of many situations. A number of them will be presented side by side:
- The Biblical interrelation between faith and baptism is revealed most advantageously by means of an early profession of faith. At the same time, the Lord's Supper and baptism are not sundered. In our own situation we see that relations between these two are quite often strained (see the last article). But in this model they will be properly connected to each other.
- In this fashion the Lord's Supper will also be accessible to the youth of the congregation. For them, too, this invigorating remedy is of great importance, in particular to support and encourage them in their daily struggle of faith.
- Much greater justice can be done to the character of catechism instruction in its function as guidance toward a personal faith commitment. This was precisely one of the elements which the great reformers moved to the forefront. In the Roman Catholic tradition this (personal faith commitment) did not truly stand out clearly. But the reformers emphatically demanded attention for the point that God's promises demand a personal response. If it should happen that catechism instruction becomes too strongly coloured by the need for subscribing to the doctrine of the church, then this personal response can easily get snowed under. But in this model it will again receive plenty of headway. And also after public profession of faith, it continues to be a central element. The personal faith commitment has not served its turn once public profession of faith has become a fact. Also, after this event it needs a careful in-depth treatment, accompanied by appropriate catechism instruction.
- In this fashion, the catechism instruction will no longer have to bear up under the heavy weight of a complete treatment of the doctrine of the church. The very fact that catechism instruction continues (as has been the normal practice, after having been admitted to the Lord's Supper) permits us to concentrate on the major issues, prior to that event. Hereafter, the catechism instruction can be pursued in-depth, while attention will be given to specific questions as well as to various, specific conditions in the lives of the young people. It is precisely this continued catechism that opens up the possibility of placing one's personal faith commitment explicitly in the perspective of the doctrine of the church. In this manner, one permits oneself to be incorporated in the communion of the church of all ages.
Further, given this approach, catechism instruction will be enabled to attain a more pronounced pastoral coloration as well, which feature will unmistakably be of great importance during a youngster's developmental phase.
- In this way a beginning is made in addressing a rather generally felt need. In day-to-day practice it is apparent that there is a great need for continued catechism instruction in the congregation so that one becomes spiritually well equipped. That we scarcely make any structured provision to address this deficiency is quite generally felt as a lack. The proposed model could start making a provision to offset this deficiency.
Children at the Lord's Supper?
I am well aware that the above heading will call up a question regarding the celebration of the Lord's Supper. It has always been our practice to decline the participation of children at this celebration, has it not? But would this participation not get an opportunity to be admitted via the back door?
I wish to emphasize that this is not at all the case here. When we talk about children partaking of the Lord's Supper, we usually have in mind that they are admitted without ever having made some form of profession of faith. Moreover, in this context we have in mind children that are much younger. But in the form that has been outlined here, the profession of faith is actually a most essential component. In this way justice is done to the reciprocal character of the holy supper.
Celebrating the Lord's Supper is making profession of one's faith.
Subscribing to the doctrine of the church
For just a moment I would like to pursue the question about subscribing to the doctrine of the church. As mentioned before, here lies one of the more controversial issues in our present practice. We generally expect too much when we anticipate that an eighteen year old will be able to wholeheartedly subscribe to the doctrine expressed in the Three Forms of Unity.
In the model outlined above, one can make far greater allowances for the young members to gradually grow into it (i.e. the doctrine).
The catechism student who makes profession of faith at an early age, accepts the doctrine of the church in his capacity as a student, or in a student situation. He or she does this while trusting that this is, indeed, the doctrine according to the Scriptures. In addition, continued catechism instruction offers scope and opportunity for growing in the knowledge of it. In this manner one can work toward subscribing to the doctrine of the Scriptures. Next, the continuation of catechism instruction provides room and opportunity for further growth in this subject matter. This provides a means to work toward furthering and defending the doctrine of the church (at the age of an adult). In this way a judicious distinction is made as to how the various liturgical forms articulate their questions with reference to the doctrine of the Christian church: by the Form for the Public Profession of Faith, The Form for the Baptism of Infants (Adults) and the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons.
It is not expected that the above has taken care of all the questions. A case in point would be, for instance, that much remains to be said about the differences between the period of the Reformation and our own time. In fact, with specific reference to psychological developments, one could certainly point out a number of differences. Further research could be done in this area. Yet, at the same time it would seem that in the model delineated above we will come upon a good number of elements that offer a solution to problems that burden our day-to-day practice. The objections to the existing practice are, indeed, so important that we must approach them with the utmost seriousness. This series of articles was written in the hope of initiating a discussion about these objections. It is a worthwhile undertaking to engage in this sort of discussion. May we become truly occupied with the question about how the church leads her young people of today into the communion of saints.