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?
    Or,
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.

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