PUBLIC CONFESSION OF FAITH
(Before or after the sermon, the minister requests those who intend to make public confession of their faith to arise and to reply to the following questions:)
- 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?
- Have you resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto and to lead a new, godly life?
- Will you submit to church government, and in case you should become delinquent (which may God graciously forbid) to church discipline?
Will You Submit to Church Government?
Will you submit to church government? To this question, each one of us who has publicly confessed his or her faith has answered “Yes.” With this “yes” we have also promised to adhere to the doctrines taught in our churches and reject any heresies repugnant thereto. It is a vow which we make before God and the church of Christ; and is something, therefore, that must bring us to our knees in prayer when we find in our heart and mind a sentiment that differs with a decision that the synod, classis, or consistory makes.
That differing sentiment must be carefully guarded within our heart and mind to prevent its escape through our mouth or our fingers to the computer keyboard. A solemn vow is broken when we discuss with others our differences. A solemn vow is broken when we quickly react with derision to the publication of decisions made by classis or synod. Our vow requires that our sentiments be taken before God in prayer and before his Word. There we may wrestle with our difference; and if we find support in God’s word for our position, we may carefully formulate it and humbly bring it before those in our congregation who have been appointed by God to hear our sentiment, namely, the consistory.
Are you content with your vow, or do you feel trapped by an exercise of tyrannical power by the church and was only something you were forced to do because it was expected? Why do we have to make such a vow anyway? Is the church afraid that God won’t be able to preserve the truth within the church if freedom of speech is allowed? Why not trust that the truth will defend itself or eventually emerge from the life and discussion of the members of the church?
While it is clear that history and our present life is filled with examples of tyrants and organizations which forbid criticism and demand vows of loyalty; one thing separates these from the confession of faith you make in church: God demands this confession while men demand every other vow of loyalty. The church does not require a public confession of faith because this was a way men decided was useful to protect power and control over its members. Rather, God demands our confession, and the church uses this confession in the work that God calls her to do in guarding the table of the Lord’s Supper from those who do not confess a like faith.
Some passages of God’s word where he calls his people to confess their faith are as follows: “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 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” (Rom. 10:8-10). “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” (Mat. 10:32-33).
This confession that we make with our mouth is something that we must do all our life as a natural product of the work of God’s grace within our hearts. That confession is found in our songs and testimony as children and continues until our death. And when God calls his people to the table of the Lord’s Supper, he requires that some measure of diligence be taken by the church to protect it from participation by those who come with different confessions and bring division and other disturbance to the table (1 Cor. 11:17ff). The church, through the process of the struggles during and after the Reformation has learned that a sufficient measure of protection and order is maintained when a clear statement of the believer’s confession is made public (See also the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 81 and 82).
Notice that we did not confess simply that we believe the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments to be the complete doctrine of salvation. The questions to which you answer “yes” call you to recognize that God has used the church throughout history to develop our understanding of the doctrines of Scripture. God is pleased to develop doctrine, not rediscover it anew with each generation. We with our faith do not stand as so many individual and independent believers with our personal relation with our God. We exist as members of a body and inseparable from the church which is manifested in particular congregations at particular periods of time in history. If we limited our confession to the Bible as the complete doctrine of salvation, we would exist as one among millions in a vague changing cloud of “believers” with as many variations of interpretations of the way of salvation. The Bible is the sole and complete foundation of the faith developed and explained by the church in its Articles of confession; and it is that faith as it unites with our personal understanding that we confess.
As you confess your faith, you do so as a member of the body of Christ, the church. It is a body that is ruled by Christ, the Head, through men of a local congregation who are called by God to serve as office bearers. The Reformed church government that we have is also a fruit of God’s work among the saints in various historical circumstances. The men of the Reformation looked long and hard in the light of Scripture at the historical development of church government and formulated a biblical course between the abuses of Rome and the chaotic folly of anarchy. When we look around at our fellow members and see that indeed Christ is ruling, feeding, and blessing his church through the work of the pastor, elders, and deacons we are willing to confess that we will submit to that government. We do it recognizing that the men who do this work are sinners like everyone else, but by the grace of God in them as well as others, the church is gathered, protected, and nourished by Christ.
Our vow does not leave us without a voice in the church. We bear the office of believer who continuously confesses his or her faith. Our vow to submit to church government demands, however, that we follow the prescribed means for expressing our disagreements. Satan quickly takes advantage of the chaos that results when every man openly speaks and does what is right in his own eyes. But when truths and principles of Scripture for our life on this earth are carefully discussed in the light of God’s word among many men who have been appointed by God through the church, Satan has a much more difficult time finding a foothold. While on this earth as the church militant, God is pleased to preserve the truth among his people in the way of his government and discipline through men. To this government, trusting that God is using this means to develop and defend the truth, we confess that we cheerfully submit. Without a mutual trust in one another as members of the one body of Christ we will not listen to one another nor can we submit.