One of the requirements, according to Article 61 of our Church Order, for admission to the Table of the Lord is that the participants shall make a confession of the Reformed Religion. This refers first of all to those who are members of the church by baptism although it applies also to those who come from churches other than those of Reformed persuasion. Confessing the Reformed Religion applies to the practice that is commonly denoted in our circles as making confession of faith. The expression that is found in the Church Order has preference in this case because it is more specific and implies that one who makes confession expresses agreement with the particular creed of their church. Confessing faith in the Reformed Churches involves more than assenting to the broad and general principles of Christianity. It involves agreement with the particular creed of the church as well as the promise to ward off any heretical or contrary teaching.
Rev. Ophoff in his Church Right makes the observation that our churches should have a definite set of questions that are to be asked of one making confession and also a “form” to be used upon the occasion when that confession is made publicly in the assembly of the church. His reasoning is that, “We have forms for the administration of the sacraments but not for this solemnity.” In this judgment we do not concur. If such a set of questions were officially adopted for use in our churches, the matter of making confession of faith would be in danger of becoming too mechanical. One would then merely memorize the answers to these questions and be prepared to appear before the consistory to make his confession. It is, in our opinion, far better if the applicant does not know what questions are going to be asked. The consistory, by open interrogation, can determine much better not only how well versed one is in the doctrines taught by the church but also the individual’s sincerity. It is no doubt true that this procedure makes it more difficult for the one making confession of faith but a matter of such importance should not be made too easy.
A few things might also be said in this connection about the custom of conducting pre-confession classes for those who express a desire to make confession of faith. These classes are conducted for a period of several weeks for the purpose of preparing those who will make confession of faith for that time when they shall appear before the consistory for interrogation. Some things may be said both for and against this practice. In favor of it may be said that such classes are useful in impressing upon the confessors the seriousness and solemnity of the occasion. It may also be helpful in building up confidence in those that are timid. And it may also be said that a brief refresher course in the fundamental doctrines of the Reformed Faith is always beneficial. In that respect it might be well to have all the members of the church take such a course every four or five years. However, we would also point out that if the pre-confession class serves only the purpose of informing those who are about to make confession of their faith of the questions which they will be asked when they appear before the consistory, it would be better to omit them altogether. Then our same objections hold which we raised against adopting a definite set of questions which are to be used for this purpose. Confessing faith must be a free and spontaneous act—an outpouring of the soul—and those practices that tend to make it a mere mechanical act are to be avoided.
In our churches three questions are asked when confession of faith is made publicly before the church. The first deals with acknowledging the doctrine of the church; the second with a promise to adhere to this doctrine and to reject all heresy; and, finally, a question in which it is promised to submit to the government of the church in case of delinquency. When a favorable answer has been given to these questions the minister will exhort and encourage from the Word of God those who have made their confession to adhere, by the grace of God, to the way of truth and to be faithful even unto death. No form is read.
In the Christian Reformed Church a form for the public profession of faith has been adopted. It reads as follows:
“Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ:
“We thank our God concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that you were made desirous of professing your faith publicly, here in the presence of God and His holy church, and of obtaining the privileges of full communion with the people of God.
“You are now requested to answer sincerely the following questions:
“First: Do you heartily believe the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and taught in this Christian church, to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation, and do you promise by the grace of God steadfastly to continue in this profession?
“Second: Do you openly accept God’s covenant promise, which has been signified and sealed unto you in your baptism, and do you confess that you abhor and humble yourselves before God because of your sins, and that you seek your life not in yourselves, but only in Jesus Christ your Savior?
“Third: Do you declare that you love the Lord, and that it is your heartfelt desire to serve Him according to His Word, to forsake the world, to mortify your old nature, and to lead a godly life?
“Fourth: Do you promise to submit to the government or the church and also, if you should become delinquent either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?
“I charge you, then, beloved, that you, by the diligent use of the means of grace and with the assistance of your God continue in the profession which you have just made. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord I now welcome you to full communion with the people of God. Rest assured that all the privileges of such communion are now yours. And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
The questions that are asked in this form are a revision of those formerly used and still used in our churches. In connection with this we would call attention to just two things. First of all, the question dealing with the promise to reject all heresies repugnant to the true doctrine is no longer asked. This can only mean that in the Christian Reformed Church those who make confession of faith are no longer required to do this. The reason for this is also obvious from these revised questions for, in the second place, we must notice that a new question is inserted which in part reads, “Do you openly accept God’s covenant promise . . . ?” This question indicates that their conception of the promise of God is that it is a conditional offer, an offer on the part of God that becomes valid only upon our acceptance. This itself is heresy for it is in direct conflict with the Word of God which teaches us that the promise of God is His oath-bound word to His people (Hebrews 6:14-18). Hence, it is quite impossible to ask of those who make confession of faith that they will reject all heresy when at the same time they are requested to embrace heresy. Consistency demands that the former question be dropped as it has also been.
There is one phrase in Article 61 that has led to some misconception. It is the part which we italicize. “None shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper except those who according to the usage of the church with which they unite themselves . . . .” This phrase has led some to think that making confession of faith is equivalent to “joining the church.” We frequently hear people speak this way. Young people ask each other when they are going to join the church. This is incorrect and stems from a thoroughly non-Reformed conception of the covenant of grace. According to our Reformed views, believers and their seed are members of the church. The children of believing parents are members of the church by virtue of their baptism for the question is asked of the parents whether their children, though conceived and born in sin, ought, as members of Christ’s church, to be baptized? They do not become members of the church when they make confession of faith any more than natural born citizens of the United States become citizens of this country when they reach the age of twenty-one years. In the latter case they simply receive their rights and privileges of citizenship when they become of age. In the church of Christ the children of believers are members even though they do not exercise their rights and privileges as members. This they do when they attain spiritual maturity and confess their Lord and Savior. Doing this they seek admission to His table and to all the privileges of the communion of saints.
In The Church Order Commentary the authors suggest that, “If ever Article 61 should be revised it might be well to make it read somewhat as follows: ‘None shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper except those who, according to the usage of the church with which they stand connected by reason of their baptism, shall have made confession . . . .'” We would favor such a revision although it is doubtful whether that alone would eradicate the misconception from the minds of many who think that confessing faith is equivalent to joining the church. To accomplish this will require more than the revision of an article in the Church Order. The church must be instructed in the truth with regard to the covenant, church membership, baptism, and similar doctrines. Where these are understood, we will refrain from speaking of joining the church as though it were only a society or some other organization in which membership is a voluntary thing. God Himself places us in His church and makes us members of the same when He causes us to be born in the generations of His people. The obligations and seriousness of that membership must be impressed e upon us from childhood in order that when we come to years we may know our duty to confess His Name and seek our place in the communion of His church where we may enjoy the privileges and blessings of the means of grace.