The Holy Catholic Church and Public Profession of Faith

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

My recent editorial on the holy catholic church and denominations prompted me to think of some corollaries that pertain to present practice in the Christian Reformed Church.

I was recently involved in helping write some new forms for Public Profession of Faith (PPF). The older forms all emphasize that in making profession of faith we also agree with the creeds and confessions of the Church, specifically, the three forms of unity. The 1978 form asks:

“Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God revealing Christ and his redemption, and that the confessions of this church faithfully reflect this revelation?” (This language reflects the Church Order, Art 59:This public profession of faith includes a commitment to the creeds and confessions of the Christian Reformed Church.”)

I see several problems with this. One practical problem is that increasingly children are encouraged to make PPF earlier. Answering that question is quite impossible for them, and maybe even for teens.

Perhaps we should then have a second stage of PPF that marks a more “adult” involvement in the church. We first love Jesus and then, later, we proclaim our allegiance to the Heidelberg and Canons of Dort.

But I think there’s a deeper issue involved here pertaining to our belief in the holy catholic church. One becomes a member of the church by baptism, which, in many cases happens apart from the consent of the infant or young child. We used to make a distinction between baptized members and confessing members, or even say that PPF was “becoming a member,” until we realized that the only scriptural entrance into the church is baptism. So now we ask those making PPF to “affirm their baptism,” which is a more accurate description of PPF.

But can we ask them to agree with the confessions? One could say that church membership by baptism is not membership in the CRC, but in the holy catholic church. We affirm that it is valid in any Christian church, and we accept the baptism of any Christian church. Can we ask of members in the CRC any more than we can ask of members in the one holy catholic church? Can we ask for more than agreement with, say, the Apostles’ Creed? 

Let’s think of it in another way. Let’s say that a person wants to become a member through evangelism or is transferring from another denomination. He or she obviously loves the Lord, but is not sure about, say, the way the Canons of Dort explain the doctrine of election. Do we admit her to membership or do we send her to another church whose doctrinal beliefs more closely match her own? Or do we have the obligation to accept into membership all those whom Christ accepts?

But that leads to another problem. If we simply accept those whom Christ accepts, do we then have to become some generic Christian church? No. We may rightly ask different and more specific agreement to our doctrines and confessions from those who hold office or who teach in the church. It seems to me perfectly acceptable to require agreement with the confessions from a minister or elder, or even a church school teacher, while not requiring it from other members.

On our writing team we arrived at a compromise. Instead of asking for agreement with the creeds and confessions, we agreed on two alternative questions:

Will you be a faithful member of this congregation,
accept its teaching, and participate in its worship, fellowship, and mission?
Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God revealing Christ and his redemption, and that the teachings of this church faithfully reflect this revelation?

I think that those questions honor the holy catholic church as well as the unique commitments of the denomination. This proposed form will go out to congregations soon, and the churches will have their chance to comment.

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

See comments (3)


Thanks again, Leonard, for an article that reveals your heart.  According to this article, it seems that your articles about “Doctrine Matters” no longer applies to most of our members, unless, of course you are an office bearer, including the minister.  As far I can tell you want to go the way of many mainstream historic denominations that have buried their early confessions or any confessions, for that matter.  They might recite the Apostles’ Creed but that just demonstrates to the congregation that there is still a historic connection to the Christian church.  Maybe a few years down the road there will be the suggestion that members just confess a belief in God.  That way we can admit Muslims, Hindus, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses and not just Baptists and Pentecostals.  Why should the church be so narrowly focused, as long as there is someone (elders and ministers) who know our historic roots.  We might as well get rid of our identification tag as being “Reformed,” as well.  And why do we make issues so important, such as abortion, euthanasia, Christian education, homosexuality or political issues (as the CRC is getting involved in lately).  These carry even less weight as to who we think God is and how he relates to human kind.  It seems inconsistent to be concerned with what new members think about issues over what they think about God.

As to baptism, I think you are wiping out the distinction between “water baptism” and “spiritual baptism.”  Spiritual baptism, the baptism that is most often referred to in the New Testament, is one’s self identification with Christ and all that he stands for and teaches, which historically meant the teachings of our forms of unity, the forms that unify our members.  Water baptism is simply an outward sign of an inward reality, and for children it is a parent’s identification of his/her child with the believing community or covenant community (the circumcision connection).  There’s nothing magical about water baptism but there is for spiritual and inward baptism.  Inward reality versus outward sign.  In the CRC we haven’t required a redo of water baptism for those coming from other churches, but we have required a redo as far an alignment with what one believes.  We have required a “profession of faith” class to teach the essentials of the Reformed faith as opposed to the Baptist or Pentecostal or non-denominational faith.   Although you say you are not going “generic,” your comments demonstrate otherwise.

It doesn’t bother me personally if the CRC is increasingly going generic.  But let’s be up-front in doing it and not try to hide it in a mask of conservatism.  If our denomination is wanting to go the route of other mainstream denominations, admit it and take pride in it.  And let’s not talk out of two sides of our mouth at the same time.  Thanks for your editorial, Leonard, but no cigar for you.

Why would we as protestants need to honor the holy catholic church?

Hi Heather,

The phrase "holy catholic church" taken from the Apostle's Creed is a reference to the church universal, not the Roman Catholic Chuch (notice the small "c" versus the capital "C").  It references a belief in the true body of Christian believers spread across time and location but united in Christ.  Of course this body of believers knows no denominational boundaries, and yes, it does also include believers in the Roman Catholic Church (I would argue that is true despite official RCC teaching, not because of official RCC teaching).  Hope that helps.