Reprinted from the Standard Bearer Vol. 63 pp. 256- 258.
“Do you acknowledge the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian Church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?”
This is the first question asked of those who make public confession of their faith.
The Scriptures emphasize the importance of faith. In Hebrews 11:6 we read, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” In I John 5:4 the Apostle emphasizes the importance of faith when he says, “… and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Paul writes in Romans 14:23, “…whatsoever is not of faith is Sin.”
Faith Is Knowledge
An important question in connection with confession of faith is: What is the content of the faith which we confess? What does faith believe?
Faith must have content, solid, intellectual content. Our Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that faith consists of knowledge and confidence. Knowledge, doctrinal knowledge, is important in the one who is making confession of faith. He must “know Whom he has believed,” II Timothy 1:12. The first question asked at the time of public confession of faith speaks of “acknowledging” the doctrines of the Bible. The word “acknowledge” has in it the word “knowledge.”
That faith is knowledge is plain from Scripture. In John 17:3, Jesus teaches, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” In I Timothy 4:3 the Apostle speaks of “believing and knowing the truth.” From Hebrews 11:3 we learn that faith “understands.”
A faith that is uninformed, that is without knowledge is not merely a weak faith, but it is non-existent, no faith at all. Faith must have content. And when we make confession of faith we must be able to give expression to the content of our faith.
Here the responsibility of the eldership comes in. At the time young people present themselves to make confession of faith, the elders must determine that these young people know the faith they are confessing. An examination must be conducted; questions must be asked that it may be clearly ascertained that the truth is known and understood by the one making confession of faith. One who knows next to nothing of the Reformed faith, although he may be living an upright life and says that he loves Jesus, must not be permitted to make confession of faith, but must be encouraged to receive further instruction.
But more than just the responsibility of the elders, the responsibility of the whole church comes out here. If knowledge of the truth is required of our young people making confession of faith, we must be sure that in their childhood and youth these young men and women received thorough instruction in the truth. If our young people are to grow up knowing the truth, not perishing in ignorance, we must see to it that they have the preaching of the truth in the church. We must see to it that they receive instruction in the truth in our homes. We must see to it that, as God makes that possible, they receive sound instruction in the truth in the Christian schools. And we must see to it that this sound instruction is given in the catechism room. In many instances today, the blame for the ignorance of the young people is not to be laid at the doorstep of the young people, but at the doorstep of the parents and the church. As in the days of the Judges, a generation grows up that knows not the Lord. But the fault today, as then, is that parents do not instruct their children.
The Doctrines Of The Old And New Testaments
The content of faith the first question describes as “the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments…”
This indicates that the knowledge of faith is doctrinal knowledge. Reformed churches have always emphasized the importance of doctrine. Reformed churches ought to be characterized by precise doctrinal formulations and doctrinal sensitivity. The indifference on the part of many churches and many church members today to doctrine is only an indication of the weakness of the churches.
It is striking that when the Apostle begins to list the profit for the church of the inspired Scriptures the very first thing that he mentions is doctrine: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine…” When he exhorts the young pastor Timothy to be faithful in his ministry, Paul’s charge to him is, “Take heed to thyself, and unto the doctrine…” The outstanding sign of the end-time, according to II Timothy 4:3, is that people “… will not endure sound doctrine….”
The doctrines to be known, believed, and confessed are said to be the doctrines “contained in the Old and New Testaments.” This indicates that essential to all the other doctrines is the doctrine of Holy Scripture itself.
Faith in the divine inspiration, and therefore the infallibility of the Bible, is essential on the part of the young person making confession of faith. This must be determined with absolute certainty by the elders. Anyone who questions, has reservations about, or openly denies the inspiration of Scripture must not be permitted to make confession of faith.
Does the one confessing his faith believe that the Holy Spirit guided the human writers of the Bible so that what they wrote was the Word of God and only the Word of God? Does he believe that there are errors in the Bible? Is the account of the creation and fall of man to be received as literal, reliable history? And what about the flood, the passage through the Red Sea, the conquest of Jericho, the miracles of Christ and the apostles?
Not only the doctrine of Holy Scripture, but the doctrines contained in Holy Scripture are also to be known and believed. The person making confession of faith must believe the fundamental doctrines set forth in the Bible. Examples would be: the trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, creation, the covenant, the sacraments, the church, the place of the law in the Christian life, the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s second coming, etc. He ought to know and be able to defend the Five Points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election (predestination), limited atonement (particular redemption), irresistible grace, the perseverance and preservation of the saints.
Since faith is always personal, and the knowledge of faith is always spiritual knowledge (not mere intellectual knowledge), it ought to be ascertained how each of these doctrines applies personally to those making confession of faith. What does the truth of total depravity mean for you, personally? The death of Christ—was that a death for you? Of what significance for you is the truth of the church and the means of grace?
Essentially, however, faith is not faith in doctrines, but faith is faith in a Person. The Scriptures emphasize that the object of faith is Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen, exalted Jesus Christ. To believe is to believe in (or, as the New Testament frequently puts it: “into”) Jesus Christ. To the Philippian jailor Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” Acts 16:31. In II Timothy 1:12, Paul says, “For I know WHOM (not “what” but “whom”) I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”
Confession of faith is essentially confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Does the young person believe in Jesus Christ? What does he believe about the Person of Jesus Christ? What does he believe about the work of Jesus Christ? Does he trust in Jesus Christ and in Him alone for all his salvation?
This is confession of faith! That is the teaching of Romans 10:9, 11: “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 the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.”
In This Christian Church
Not the least significant aspect of the first question for confession of faith is that we acknowledge the doctrines of the Scriptures as “taught here in this Christian Church.”
It is important that the young people know why they are making confession of faith in a Protestant Reformed Church, and not some other church, or even some other Reformed church. This implies several things.
This implies, first of all, an acquaintance with the history of our Protestant Reformed Churches. The young person ought to know the highlights of that history. He ought to be able to answer such questions as: What led to the organization of our churches? Are our churches justified in their separate existence? Were the issues surrounding the formation of our denomination crucial issues, issues that affected the very heart of the Reformed faith?
In the second place, confessing faith in THIS church carries with it the conviction that the Protestant Reformed Churches are faithful manifestations of the true Church of Jesus Christ in the world. The young person had better be able in good conscience to say that, or he ought not to make confession of faith in these churches. This does not mean that the Protestant Reformed Churches are THE true Church, while all other churches are THE false church. That is not correct, neither have the Protestant Reformed Churches ever said this, although some have slanderously affirmed this. Nor does this mean that only PR’s are going to heaven, or at least that all PR’s are going to heaven. But this does mean that before God and His Word we are convinced that we are a denomination of churches that manifests the marks of the true church in the world. We are not perfect—far from it! But we can say, we had better be able to say, that the Word is preached in truth in our churches, the sacraments are rightly administered, and Christian discipline is faithfully exercised.
This is the church to which I am called to belong. And this is the church of which I must remain a member. This is the third thing implied in confession of faith in THIS church. Since this is a true church of Jesus Christ in which the young person confesses his faith, he must be determined to be a faithful member. He may not for any reason leave this church: a job, a boy friend or a girl friend, a spouse.
This is a serious matter. The seriousness of this is that this first question is answered affirmatively not just before the church, but before the very face of God. How is it possible that we solemnly affirm before God that we acknowledge the doctrine of the Scriptures as taught in THIS Christian church, and then shortly thereafter leave that church and even turn our back on the church altogether? Those who do shall one day give account before God!
The believing young person confesses his faith, acknowledging the doctrines of the Old and New Testaments as taught in this Christian church because he understands them to be “the true and complete doctrine of salvation.” Believing these truths, he is saved! Confessing these truths, he is saved! Being a faithful member of the church that teaches these truths, he is saved! ❖