Ronald L. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
At the end of our last article, we were busy discussing the basis for public confession of faith. We saw that the responsibility to make public confession of faith is based, first of all, on the general calling of the believer to confess Christ’s Name in the world. Confession of our faith is something to which the Word of God everywhere calls us. It is simply an integral part of the Christian life.
A second reason why Reformed churches have always insisted on a public confession of faith by the young people is the duty of the consistory to guard the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord has entrusted the sacraments to the church. The church is called to administer the sacraments. Besides, the church has been given by God the responsibility to protect the sacraments from abuse and desecration.
I Corinthians 11:17-34 teaches clearly that if the church knowingly allows profane persons to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the church sins and because of this gross neglect falls under the judgment of God. This responsibility of the church is spelled out in the Heidelberg Catechism.
Q. 82. Are they to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly?
A. No; for by this, the covenant of God would be profaned, and his wrath kindled against the whole congregation; therefore it is the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and his apostles, to exclude such persons, by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, till they show amendment of life.
Since the time of the Reformation, Reformed churches have exercised supervision over the Lord’s table by means of public confession of faith. By insisting on a public confession of faith prior to admission to the sacrament, the consistory makes sure that those who partake do so worthily.
The third basis for the responsibility of the young people to make public confession of faith has to do with the responsibility to partake of the Lord’s Supper itself. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Christ said, “Take, eat, this is my body. Drink ye all of it.” It ought not to escape our attention that these words of Christ are a command, imperatives: “Take! Eat! Drink ye!” Christ obligates every adult believer to partake of this means of grace, the Lord’s Supper. As much as we are obligated by God to hear the preaching of the gospel, so we are obligated to partake of the sacrament. Young people, you must be impressed with the duty that is yours before God to use the sacrament. And being impressed with your duty to use the sacrament, you cannot but also be impressed with the attendant duty of making public confession of your faith.
There are at least two dangers that must be guarded against with regard to making confession of faith. The first is the danger of making confession of faith recklessly and insincerely. Some young people make confession of faith only because everybody else is doing it, and they don’t want to be the odd man out. Or they make confession of faith so that they can quit going to catechism. They have probably gone through the Essentials catechism book a couple of times, are tired of memorizing questions, taking notes, and writing tests, and so make confession of faith. Others make confession of faith because they have married someone in the church, and confession of faith is viewed by them simply as a way of “joining the church.” They do not make confession of faith because they personally and heartily agree with “. . . the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian church . . . .” But they simply make confession of faith for the sake of a husband or a wife.
This is wrong! Those who make confession of faith for these sorts of reasons sin grievously. Those whose confession with the mouth does not have its source in the heart, make a mockery of confession of faith. Better not to confess at all, than to make this kind of confession.
But besides this danger, there is also the danger of wrongly putting off confession of faith. There may be reasons for this. It may be that undue pressure is being exerted by parents or pastor, and the young person balks at making confession of faith lest he be making confession simply because of this outside pressure. Or it may be that a young person puts off making confession of faith because he feels that he just does not know enough. Or a young person may put off confession because he is mistakenly waiting for some special sign from God, some special occurrence in his life, that would indicate to him that now the time is right to make confession of faith.
Needlessly putting off making confession of faith is also a danger to be guarded against, although it may be said that quite often the reasons given by the young person for doing so at least indicate that he is taking confession of faith seriously.
This matter of putting off confession of faith seems to be a trend in our own churches. It seems that in the past several years young people are making confession of faith at an older age than was common in the past. Whereas in the past many young people made confession of faith in the middle and late teens, it is common for young people to make confession of faith today in the late teens to the early and mid twenties. It is doubtful that this is a good trend. As parents and officebearers we ought to do what we can to reverse this trend. The responsibility of officebearers to work with young people who may be needlessly putting off making confession of faith is brought out in the questions that are asked of the consistory at the time of the annual church visitation. One of those questions is, “Do the children of the congregation, when they come to years of discretion, seek admission to the Lord’s Supper? And if they are remiss, are they pointed to their obligation and treated as the need requires?”
Obviously, no hard and fast rules can be laid down as to when a person ought to make public confession of faith. The Scriptures lay down no set age at which a young person in the church ought to be partaking of the Lord’s Supper. One ought to make confession of faith when he has come to spiritual maturity. Just as physical and psychological maturity take place at different ages in different people, so does spiritual maturity. Undoubtedly there are some 12 or 14 year olds who could make confession of faith, while others ought to wait until their later teens or even their early twenties.
The basic requirement for making confession of faith and for partaking of the Lord’s Supper is laid down by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11:28, 29: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
The basic requirement for confession of faith and for partaking of the sacrament is “discerning the Lord’s body.” The man or woman who does not “discern” Christ’s body, partakes of the sacrament to his or her condemnation. Whoever partakes discerning the Lord’s body, partakes worthily.
What is it to discern the Lord’s body? Discerning the Lord’s body is not simply a matter of understanding that the bread of the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the body of Christ, and the wine a sign of His blood. Discerning the Lord’s body in the sacrament is understanding the meaning and significance of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ as that suffering and death are set forth in the Lord’s Supper. Discerning the Lord’s body is discerning the reason for the suffering and death of Christ, which is the sins of His people. It is discerning the One Who suffered and died—the very Son of God Himself in human flesh. It is discerning the nature of His suffering and death, that it was satisfaction to God for all those on behalf of whom He died. It is discerning the extent of His death, that His death is a limited atonement or a particular redemption. It is discerning the efficacy of that death, the truth that by His suffering and death the sins of all those for whom He died are actually forgiven. It is discerning the calling that comes to those for whom He died to live thankful and holy lives in the world. All this is involved in discerning the Lord’s body.
And it is a personal matter. Discerning the Lord’s body is a matter of personal discernment. It is precisely for this reason that in the same text in which he calls us to discern the Lord’s body before we come to the Lord’s Supper that the Apostle says, “Let a man examine himself . . . .” Coming to the Lord’s Supper is not a matter of mere head knowledge, that you know in your mind all the truths connected with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. But in partaking of the Lord’s Supper and making confession of faith, this personal, subjective element is on the foreground.
Coming to the Lord’s Supper is not just a matter of acknowledging the truth that the death of Christ was necessitated by sin; but that He died for MY sins. It is not merely a matter of acknowledging that the One Who suffered and died was the Son of God, Christ the Lord; but that He is the Son of God, Christ the Lord for ME. It is not just a matter of acknowledging that by His death He made satisfaction for sin; but that by His death He covered in the sight of God MY sins. It is not just a matter of acknowledging that His death was a limited atonement; but that I personally belong to the number of those for whom He died. It is not merely a matter of acknowledging that the calling of those for whom He died is to live thankful and obedient lives; but the personal conviction that this is MY calling, on account of My salvation.
This personal element stands out in the Lord’s Supper. The one who approaches the Lord’s Table does so with the words of the psalmist on his lips, “O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee: my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is,” Psalm 63:1. A young person about to make confession of his faith must be able to take on his lips the opening statement of the Heidelberg Catechism:
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
The young person who discerns the Lord’s body, who discerns the Lord’s body in this personal, experiential way ought to make confession of faith. You have no reason to delay! No reason to put if off! Confess your faith! Partake of the sacrament! In this way honor the Lord whom you love! In this way experience His rich blessing!