Making public confession of faith has been called the Christian’s Mount Sinai. What Sinai was for the children of Israel, that confession of faith should be to the Christian. At Mount Sinai the children of Israel did not become the covenant people of God. They were God’s covenant people already. It was only because they were the covenant people of God that God had delivered them out of the land of Egypt. But it was at Mount Sinai that the children of Israel willingly assumed their full responsibility as God’s covenant people. There they received God’s Word and Law. And there they willingly responded, “All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8). So it is with the believer who makes confession of his faith. At the moment of confession of faith he does not become a member of the church. The young person who makes public confession of faith is not by his confession “joining the church.” Too often this seems to be the understanding of confession of faith. But this view is essentially Baptistic and ought not be the way in which confession of faith is viewed in Reformed churches. The fact is that by virtue of their baptism the infants of believers are members of the church. That’s brought out in the first question asked parents at the time they present their children for baptism: “Whether you acknowledge, that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His church ought to be baptized?” Reformed believers hold that, already in their earliest infancy, even while they are yet in their mother’s womb, the children of believers are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. For this reason God’s Word in I Corinthians 7:14 speaks of the children of believers as “holy.” By virtue of the work of the Holy Spirit within them, already as infants and children, they are members of God’s church. Yet, by making public confession of faith, like Israel at Sinai, they assume the full responsibilities for members of God’s church and covenant. At this occasion they not only profess faith in God, but they say too, “All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do.” A baptized member of the church, therefore, is an undeveloped, immature member. During his childhood and youth he matures and grows. Ordinarily, as he grows physically and psychologically, he also grows spiritually. At the time when he arrives at spiritual maturity, the time when he understands the privileges and obligations of church membership and is ready willingly to assume these, he ought to make public confession of faith.
Confession of faith is a momentous occasion. It is a momentous occasion in the life of the young person who makes confession of faith. It is a momentous occasion for his parents and pastor who have labored with a view to and prayed to God for his confession of faith. It goes without saying that no young person ought recklessly to make public confession of faith. The seriousness of confession may not be trifled with. And certainly no young person ought to dare to make confession of faith for a wrong reason. You may not make confession of faith because everyone else your age seems to be doing it. You may not make confession of faith because some of your friends are doing it. You may not make confession of faith because your parents are pressuring you, or because you want to get out of going to catechism, or from some other ulterior motive. Confession of faith demands sincerity. The young person who is considering making confession of faith must be thoroughly convinced that he will make confession before the very face of God and that God will certainly hold him responsible for his confession. He must be impressed with the fact that confession of faith amounts to swearing an oath before God and His church. It is serious business, to be sure.
And yet, the young people of the church must be impressed with the fact that confession of faith is also a solemn responsibility. This aspect of confession of faith must never be lost from sight. Confession of faith is a great privilege. The young person who makes confession of faith ought to count it a great privilege that he may make confession of faith. He ought to count it a great privilege to have been born of believing parents, to have been brought up in the truth of God’s Word. He ought to count it a great privilege that God has seen fit to work faith in his heart, under the preaching of the Word and in the church. No question about it, it is a great privilege to be able to stand up in the congregation and confess our faith in the Lord Jesus. But besides being a privilege, confession of faith is also a responsibility.
Sometimes I fear that the young people are not sufficiently impressed with that. Is it perhaps because you fail to see this that some of you hesitate making confession of faith? And not only the young people themselves are to blame. Have we as pastors and officebearers and parents done all that we should to impress this upon our young people, their responsibility before God to make confession of faith? Have we explained carefully to them why this is their responsibility? Has this responsibility been laid before them in the sermons?
There are those who question or deny this responsibility of making public confession of faith in the church. There are many denominations which maintain that the church does not have the right to require this confession. A few centuries ago, the Arminians in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands denied this authority to the church. These people point out that nowhere does Scripture explicitly require this confession when the young people arrive at years of discretion and before they are allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper. How can this practice in our churches be maintained, therefore? And on what do we base the responsibility of making public confession of faith?
The responsibility to make public confession of faith is based, first of all, on the general calling that the Scriptures place upon the people of God to confess God’s name in the world. Many passages of Scripture bring out this calling. Christ Himself says in Matthew 10:32, 33: “Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” Not only does Christ lay before us our calling publicly to confess Him, in this passage, but He also makes plain here that there are only two alternatives. If we are not confessing Him, we are guilty of denying Him. Not to confess Him is to deny Him. In Romans 10:9, 10we read: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Surely there is nothing strange or un-Biblical in the fact that the church should require of adult members a confession of faith. This is something to which the Word of God everywhere calls us. Confession of our faith is simply part of our life. It ought to be as spontaneous as breathing.
But, secondly, there is another reason why Reformed churches insist on a confession of faith by the young people when they arrive at years of discretion. This reason has to do with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The question whether the church has the authority to demand a confession of faith is closely bound up with our view of the Lord’s Supper. Those in the past who denied this authority to the church maintained what is called “open” or “free” admission to the Lord’s Table. They maintained that attendance at the Lord’s Table is exclusively a matter of the personal conscience of the individual attending. Whether or not he would attend was his decision alone. Those who maintained the authority of the church to require public confession of faith did so because they also maintained that attendance at the Lord’s Table is not only a personal matter, but subject to the jurisdiction of the church. Responsibility for the Lord’s Supper is a responsibility which the church has. This is the Reformed view of the sacrament. This is the view which we, as a Reformed church, have. The Scriptures teach that the Lord has entrusted the sacraments to the church. The church administers the sacraments. And the church has been given by God the responsibility to guard them against misuse and desecration. (Cf. a passage like I Cor. 11 and the Heidelberg Catechism, Q.A. 81, 82.) The practice of requiring a public confession of faith is based upon the church’s responsibility to guard the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Since the time of the Reformation, Reformed churches have exercised control over the Lord’s Table by means of public confession of faith. Insisting on a public confession of faith before admission to the sacrament is one way in which the church fulfills her responsibility before God in regard to the sacrament.
Ultimately, therefore, the responsibility of the young people to make public confession of faith is just their responsibility to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Christ said, “Take, eat, this is My body. Drink ye all of it.” Those were commands, imperatives. Christ obligates every adult believer to partake of this means of grace, the Supper. The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 11:29, teaches us that when we are able to discern the Lord’s body in the sacrament, we ought to partake of the sacrament. We must be impressed with the duty that is ours to use this means of grace. And being impressed with our duty to use the sacrament, we must also be impressed with the attendant duty of making public confession of our faith.
This is your responsibility, young people. Don’ neglect your responsibility before God. Don’t hesitate; don’t draw back. But prayerfully, by His grace, carry it out.