Most churches have a door marked, “Consistory”. Outside that door many a child has stood and peeked inside wondering with child-like curiosity as to what was going on inside. The clink of money, the clearing of throats, the quiet conversation, the smell of stale smoke—all made up a rather strange combination. Before that door many a young elder or deacon paused with second thoughts, weighing his future with some degree of trepidation. Before that door many a sinner bowed with humble submission, burning with shame, but more, so longing for the forgiveness of Christ and His church. Before that door an occasional member stands with wrath and fury, waiting to vent his wrath upon those who are entrusted with the rule of Zion. Before that door appear the troubled who seek peace, the weary who long for rest, and sorrowing who come to find comfort.
Young people also find it necessary to stand before that door. That moment is filled with its own kind of emotions, a mixture of anticipation, of fear, of somber reflection, of relief. It is all, involved in what we call making confession of our faith.
Some of you youthful readers may be planning on appearing at your consistory’s door soon. Others of you may be giving this some “thought.” This is written particularly for you.
Those, words are frightening; they arouse all sorts of horrendous memories from past experiences. Examination!
This examination is of a different kind. You have never had such an exam before in your life. You will not appear before the consistory for an interview for a job. This is not an interview to see whether you qualify for a promotion. Neither is it an oral exam to determine whether you will graduate and get some diploma. This is different. This exam has to do with faith!
You can be sure, then, that the emphasis and purpose is not first of all academic; it. is not first of all a personality profile; it is not first of all to determine emotional stability. Rather it is spiritual. You have come to express your faith and what that means to you and how you will gladly speak of it to others.
The questions will be directed to achieve this end. You can be sure that your minister or elder is not asking questions to try to trick you, try to give you a hard time, try to make you look bad in the eyes of others. They desire to know what you believe as well as how you live. Your presence in the consistory places you in the midst of officebearers of the church who function in the love of Christ. There is joy in their hearts simply by having you in their midst and telling them you desire to make confession of your faith.
Faith involves believing. Your presence before the consistory must indicate that you do believe. The questions asked will be formulated to show to the consistory that you know what you believe and believe what you know. In addition to this, they will be interested in discerning that your faith is sincere and that it is confirmed also by a godly walk in the midst of this world. You must expect to be asked questions that have to do with your knowledge of the Bible, of Reformed truth as taught in our churches, of your personal understanding of these truths and whether they are for your own salvation and eternal hope in Christ.
Let me emphasize something that we consistory members look for at such a time. True, we rejoice when young people are able to answer questions about doctrine and prove these from the Bible. True, we are thankful when our young people can express their belief in the historic Reformed faith and are willing to reject the errors so prevalent in our day. We are also thrilled to hear them say they have to struggle against sin and that they intend by God’s grace to walk uprightly in the world. All this we seek and believe is necessary. But the attitude of young people makes such a difference. Sincerity is the key word. Knowledge without conviction is a farce, piety without godliness is a sham. Give this some thought before you stand before the consistory door.
It’s sad but true that some young people become very cynical when they talk about making confession of faith. This is particularly true of older young people, of whom it might have been considered normal to have made confession of faith, but they haven’t. Rightly or wrongly, such young people usually have an arsenal of reasons why they haven’t seriously considered appearing before the consistory. Sometimes with a degree of maliciousness, they castigate other young people who have made confession of faith and tauntingly point out, “O sure, they make confession of faith, but do you know why? It’s just expected of them; like so many robots who have completed the catechism course, they parade to the consistory without even giving it thought as to why. Why, so and so just wants to get out of going to catechism, that’s all. You know how it is with so and so, his folks put such pressure on him that the poor fellow isn’t even able to think for himself.”
Is there any truth to all of this?
Ask yourself and be honest.
If there is, then standing before that door would be less than honest and one can better wait until the proper motive comes to the fore.
And what is the proper motive?
Jesus expressed it this way, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father in heaven,” Matt. 10:32. We must distinguish between possessing faith and confessing faith. Surely, covenant young people possess faith early in life. Within the sphere of a Christian home, church, and school, young people are surrounded with God’s Word. You know this from your own experience, more than likely. You were taught to read the Bible, to think of your sins, to believe that Jesus died for your sins and that your heavenly Father forgives you when you come to Him in true repentance. You studied the truth of God’s Word and learned in greater detail Who God is, our natural depravity, our only Mediator, Jesus Christ. By your own spiritual growth you learned the need of prayer, the joy of singing, the blessedness of quiet meditation. You sat in church and in different ways and in various degrees began to understand the Word preached and your need for that instruction, admonition, warning, and comfort. You began to realize that this is what faith is all about. From a child you repented and believed in response to the call of the gospel.
Now you desire to make confession of faith before the church. This is something special. Making confession of faith is an opportunity for you to express before the church that the promises of the gospel are real as far as you are concerned. Your parents and the church believe that the promise is unto believers and their children. They had placed the sign of the covenant, baptism, upon you as an infant in obedience to that glorious truth. Now you have come to an age in your life when you want all to know that that sign of the covenant was not placed on you for your destruction, but as a sign of your salvation. You are old enough to announce to the church that you possess that faith in common with all the members of the body of Christ. You desire to receive all the benefits of being a member of Christ’s church, not only the preaching of the Word, but also the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. You are willing to accept the responsibility of membership in Christ’s Church and want all to know that you willingly do that. Therefore you go to the consistory to confess (speak together with the church) and stand before the church to profess (speak before the church) your faith. It is a blessed experience that must not be postponed if it can be done honestly and sincerely now.
But, how can you know whether you are ready for such a step?
Here is a time in your life when you have to determine your spiritual maturity. It is important that you do not confuse this with spiritual perfection. None of us ever become so mature that we do not have to continue to grow. We can always learn more of the truth, the Bible, and how this must be applied to our daily life. Making confession of faith does not mean that you have to conclude that you know everything and that you are walking in victory over all sin. Take courage, this will never happen until we leave this life for glory. Don’t wait with making confession of faith for this.
Rather, evaluate whether you are mature enough to answer the three questions presented to you (see page 59 of our Psalter). Maturity involves three things, that you are knowledgeable of the truth, that you understand what faith is and why you make confession of faith in a Protestant Reformed Church. Secondly, you have come to that conviction that this truth is right and that you are thankful to God that you may be known as a believer. You hold the truth of the Scripture to be precious and are not ashamed to be known as a Reformed Christian. Conviction saves one from being cast to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Thirdly, you must also be filled with the love of God in Jesus Christ, so that you are assured that you are one of God’s elect and that you are thankful for your salvation and will gladly, in loving obedience, serve the Lord with all your life.
You may ask: well, how can I determine whether or not this is true of me? What guidelines are there for such personal evaluation?
Test your intellectual understanding of the truth by reviewing the booklet, “Doctrinal Review”, by Rev. H. Hoeksema. Read those questions over, think about the answers; and if you can answer those questions, you have the knowledge of the truth in a brief form.
Concerning your convictions, think along these lines. Do you have any doubts about the Bible, the Reformed Confessions, or what is preached in church. If you do, you must honestly work these out before making confession of faith. You can study more; there is plenty of material available. You should go privately and discuss these with your parents or your minister; they will do all they can to open for you the Scripture. By all means, pray about it and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. How do you evaluate your relationship with the church? Are you serious about membership? Do you sincerely pray to God that He may keep you as a faithful member and that you intend to contribute everything that you have for the good of the church and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom? Or do you have reservations, maybe intentions of leaving the church? There may be different reasons for this, a job far removed, an impending marriage, a career in the armed services, etc. If you know that you will not be remaining with the church, you should not make confession of faith in the church; this is hypocrisy. You should be sincere in answering the questions.
Finally, ask yourself what Christ means to you personally. Do you doubt your salvation? This, too, must be resolved if it exists. You must come to a point when you can say, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I committed unto him against that day,” II Tim. 1:12. You must be sincere in your desire to walk as a Christian, not to be seen of men, but to express gratitude to your Father for His salvation. This is a difficult way, marked by tears, burdened by jeers, and weighed with self-denial. Yet it is most blessed.
When you stand before the consistory door and it is opened to you, enter with believing heart, and trust that God will put words upon your lips that will express the desire of your heart. You may be sure that God will supply all your needs in Christ Jesus.
As you leave, may the Lord seal that profession with His blessing.