Profession of Faith – Not an Initiation Rite Baptised children are not inferior members
There is a little quirk of terminology that we often get wrong – and it has big implications for our children. Often I have witnessed the profession of faith of a baptised church-member, and subsequently heard the professor congratulated that he is “now a member” of the church. I’ve even done it myself! But this is not a Biblical idea.
My concern here is that when we do this we forget that our baptised children are already truly members of the church. Yes, I really mean true members. No, they are not communicant members – they do not have all the privileges and responsibilities of adults – but they are members. Just like your son is really a full son even before he allowed to drive the family car.
When a baptised young person professes his faith, we easily say to him, “Welcome,” “Glad to have you join us”, or “Welcome to membership in the church!” But has he just become a member of the church? No! He was a member from the time of his birth to Christian parents!
Already at his baptism, God called him one of his people, drew him into the covenant, and gave him the blessings of the covenant. At baptism he was also given the responsibility to respond to God in faith. His profession is merely a response to God working in his life – precisely because he is already a member of God’s people. And God is being faithful to his covenant promises – working that faith in him.
So, in order that we may be reminded of how God sees our children, let us review the structure of things as they are in the Bible:
The sacrament of membership
Circumcision (the OT cutting off of sin), and Baptism (the NT washing away of sin) are both:
- The signs of separation from sin to be God’s own people, members in his covenant “he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had...” (Rom. 4:11)
- God’s seal (guarantee) of faithfulness to his people “all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus ... walk in newness of life ... For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:3, 4, 14; cf 1 Pet. 3:21)
Thus, we see that baptism is the sign of membership in the God’s people, the covenant, or the church.
Profession of faith
- A vow of belief in and commitment to God “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me”. (Ruth 1:16, 17) (cf. 1 Tim. 6:12, 13; Heb. 3:1; 4:14; 10:23)
- A response to God’s faithfulness “Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt ... We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” (Josh. 24:16-18) (cf. Deut. 27:9ff)
So, we see that a Profession of Faith is not the sign of beginning membership in God’s people. Rather, observe the following.
Two cases where profession of faith can occur
- When a new convert wishes to affirm and promise allegiance to God.
- When existing members re-affirm their allegiance
Thus finally, we see that while profession of faith may be made by new Christians before baptism, it may also be made many more times. The new convert is still not a member until they are baptised! Again, it is baptism, not profession, that is the sign of membership. A person may make a profession of faith many times while already being a member of God’s people. This exact thing happened recently in our church, where folk from another church overseas wished to publicly reaffirm their allegiance to God in our church, and gave a public profession of faith.
So, next time you’re tempted to say “Welcome to the church” to a young professor, think again about what that says of your own children. The young professor may already have been a member of the church for his whole life, just like your own children.
But if you’re not going to welcome them into the church, what will you say? To be sure, you ought to say something to that person to acknowledge what a beautiful profession he has made. But what will it be?
Let’s just stick with the Biblical idea of the profession of faith. It is a vow of commitment to our Lord as a result of His covenantal grace and faithfulness to us. Then we would say, “May God bless you in your profession,” “We wish you God’s strength,” or “Praise God for his faithfulness to you!”