Professing your Faith
In many of our churches at this time of year catechism instruction is in full swing. Among the various classes being held there will most likely also be one called “the pre-confession class.” In it young people who have expressed a desire to become communicant members of the church are being instructed in the fundamentals of the faith. And that is a most beautiful thing!
Nevertheless, it has struck me that it is often not without some questions and challenges. As a result, it merits some special attention and additional explanation. We begin by looking first at the reason for it.
Why – Profession?
With regard to its rationale, the short answer is that public profession is something that has always been a part of the Christian faith. There comes a time or a moment when a person has to declare openly and personally what he or she believes. It is not enough to have your name inscribed automatically on the register of a church somewhere. It is not sufficient for everyone to assume that you naturally belong.
Rather those who have been born into God-fearing homes and who have received the sacrament of baptism as infants need to indicate that they have made the Christian faith their own. There is this basic call to take ownership of the gospel and to verbalize your commitment to the Lord. There is this need to embrace it and to live out of it every day.
It is with this background in mind that the Bible says to believers, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Hebrews 4:14) and, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (Hebrews 10:23).
Now, some of you may wonder why such a profession cannot simply remain a private affair. Why does it have to be done publicly? The answer to this resides in the words of the Lord Jesus found in Luke 12:8-10. There He speaks about “whoever acknowledges me before men” (v. 8). Christ demands a public profession, both before the church and before the world.
Having thus looked briefly at the reason for public profession of faith, we should also deal with those who make this profession.
Who – Profession?
Several Scripture passages are helpful when it comes to identifying properly the true participants of profession. In Acts 16 we come across the case of the jailer in Philippi who asks in desperation, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30) He receives the answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household” (v. 31). From Romans 10:9 we learn that this is something that must be done from the heart. Those who profess must believe sincerely from the heart. They must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and especially Paul says, in his resurrection from the dead.
At times you can hear people give wrong reasons for taking this step. Some remark later that they took it because they were tired of going to catechism class. Others reveal that they did it because all of their friends were doing it. Still others say that the parental pressure was on. And then too there are those who relate that they were simply doing what was expected of them.
All such reasons, however, miss the mark. For profession should not be considered an escape, or be part of a herd mentality, or be connected to pressure or tradition. No, true profession, as we have seen, involves personal faith in the risen Christ and a heart commitment to Him.
Of relevance here is also what the Belgic Confession states about the marks of true Christians (Art 29). They include the following:
Believing in Jesus Christ the only Saviour
Fleeing from sin
Loving the true God and their neighbour
Crucifying their flesh and its works.
Having looked now at the “why” and the “who,” there is also a need to look at the content of profession of faith.
What – Profession?
The day has arrived and you are standing there “before God and his holy church,” the questions are asked one by one, and then the answer “I do” is given. But to whom or what are you giving your “I do”?
There are those who insist that when you profess your faith you are really committing yourself to a particular church and to staying in that church no matter what for the rest of your life.
There are others who say that “church” really has very little to do with it because profession is something solely between you and God. You are making a promise to Him alone. So, what is it – church or God?
People who frame the question in this way are creating a wrong dilemma. They are setting profession up as an “either-or” scenario. Yet the truth of the matter is that it is really a case of “both-and.”
When you profess your faith you are first and foremost professing your faith in God – in the Triune God. You are declaring that you love the Father who created you, the Son who saved you, and the Spirit who renews you. Profession is always in a person and Christian profession is always in God.
Having said this, we must not think, however, that such a profession has no consequences for our relationship to the church. If we believe, as the Scriptures tell us, that the church is the body of Christ, how can we say that our profession relates only to Christ and not to his body? Such a position makes no sense.
Where does that leave us? With insisting that while profession of faith is a profession in God, it is not without consequences for the church. If Christ loves the church, his followers must love her too. Believers have a calling to love, serve, and defend the church. Membership in the church is both a privilege and a responsibility.
We have looked briefly now at the “why,” “who,” and “what” of profession, but that still leaves the question of “where.”
Where – Profession?
There is no shortage of churches today and this naturally raises a question about the place of our profession. Can it be done anywhere, in any church?
Unfortunately, these questions cannot be answered in the affirmative. Why? For the simple reason that not all churches have a proper respect for the authority of the Bible. Many question, ignore, or distort its teachings. You need to profess your faith in a church that considers the Bible to be the inspired and infallible Word of God – the only rule of faith and life.
And something else as well: you need to profess your faith in a church that adheres to those confessions that faithfully summarize the main message of the Bible. Which confessions are they? We would be so bold as to assert that those confessions called “Reformed” do this best. Among them are included the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. Together with the “ecumenical” creeds (the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian), they represent bold, clear, and accurate statements of the faith.
So where should you make your profession? In a church that is biblical and Reformed. In a church that acknowledges the absolute authority of the Bible and the subordinate authority of the ecumenical creeds and the Reformed confessions.
Finally, there is one more word that starts with the letter “w” that we need to examine. It is the word “whither.”
Whither – Profession?
Profession of faith is not the end of the road; rather, it represents an important stop on the road of the Christian life. Sometimes people are confused about this. There are those who treat their profession as if it were a graduation ceremony, or else a retirement ceremony. However, it is neither. In some ways profession of faith may be compared to a lifting-off ceremony. It is like a rocket that ignites, rises from the ground, detaches itself from its secure base, and moves out into space to fulfil its purpose.
Well, much the same applies to profession of faith. It represents lift-off time. It represents that stage of your life when you need to step out and get busy applying yourself and your talents in the service of the Lord Almighty. Strive through the power of the Holy Spirit to be
A sincere and holy believer
A dedicated student of the Bible and its confessions
A living member of the church
A true witness in the world.
Profession of faith really is one of those great moments in the Christian life. It’s that special moment when you thank God for adopting you as one of his children and receiving you into his covenant. It’s that moment when you acknowledge that fundamentally this wanting to profess is not your doing but a desire that God graciously works in your heart by his Holy Spirit. Lastly, it’s that moment when you look forward with anticipation as it gives you access to that special supper of the Lord Jesus Christ and so to the strengthening of your faith.
What an event! May all of you young people out there realize what a privilege it is to profess your faith and may God bless you richly as you live it out every day.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.Romans 10:10