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This year I am going to Synod as one of the Ministerial Delegates. As I'm going through the agenda I'm noticing that there are at least a few things besides the Doctrine of Christian Discovery Task Force Report (DOCD) and the Pastoral Advice Regarding Same-Sex Marriage Reports (PARSM) that are worth paying attention to—at least in my opinion. One of these reports is from the Liturgical Forms Committee (Appendix H of the Board of Trustees Report, including the subsection "Introduction to the Public Profession of Faith of Baptized Youth." In it the Liturgical Forms Committee folks (who seem to me to have done a great job to me, btw) quote quite reasonably the apostle Paul in Romans 10:9-10: 

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved”

This is true. However, I can't help but recognize that Paul does NOT (nor does the Bible indicate in any other place either that I am aware of) say that publicly professing your faith in Jesus equals saying that you believe in Jesus in a formalized, ceremonial manner in a church facility. 

Don't get me wrong: I love the Public Profession of Faith ceremony that we celebrate, as the committee says, as a "[mark of] passage into mature and fully participating membership." 

However there are at least 3 ways in which public profession of faith are being viewed implicitly and sometimes explicitly within our denomination, and, I believe that 1 of them does not necessarily logically fit with what Jesus taught or how he behaved. We tend to view "Public Profession of Faith" as a:

  1. Ceremony that marks a "right of passage"  
  2. "Qualification" for service and "rights, privileges and responsibilities"
  3. Mark of "belonging"

To me it makes absolute sense that the "Public Profession of Faith" ceremony would be a celebratory way-point on the journey of a believer within the body of Christ. During the ceremony we get to celebrate the particular believer's willing and publicly expressed desire to go deeper in relationship with Jesus and with the body of believers. Jesus, in effect, celebrated similar "rights of passage" when he invited disciples to go preaching the gospel without him in groups of two, when he invited three of his followers up on to the "mountain of transfiguration" and when he celebrated the Last Supper with them.

It also makes sense that public profession of faith would at least be part of the "qualifications" for participating and/or leading certain aspects of church life. Our society is structured in such a way as to make that a necessity in corporate/institutional church. Not only that, but Jesus too seemed to acknowledge that, as (and insofar as) his disciples chose to walk in deeper relationship with him, they were given more responsibilities and privileges. It was not everyone who traveled with Jesus everywhere he went during his earthly ministry. Nor was it everyone who was permitted to come up the mountain with him, nor did everyone get sent out with the 72, nor did everyone go with him into the Garden of Gethsemane

However, as far as I can tell, Jesus did not ever endorse the idea that believing or behaving in certain ways would be the key to "belonging" to/with him. I believe that Jesus treated everyone as if they belonged to him and he belonged to them insofar as they would allow themselves to belong with/to him. Assuredly, he sometimes spoke quite strongly to various people, but we shouldn't mistake disagreement with not belonging. Even those with whom he disagreed most (the pharisees and saducees), he chastised them as a family member might chastise their brother or sister. 

I've attached below a slideshow I've made where I talk about this whole concept of belonging and membership, and my question is this:

If what I am thinking and saying here is true, how might our churches and our denomination move towards "belonging" for all people (in the sense that Jesus expressed) while still maintaining the importance of Public Profession of Faith?

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This is a very fine presentation of the dynamics and elements of belonging to Christ and his church, and I appreciate the way in which the author urges a greater sensitivity to the levels of belonging that are present in any given congregation. 

My only caveat is that baptism is only mentioned once, and in passing, whereas baptism is the central sacrament of belonging in the NT. Almost every time there is a call to faith, baptism is the first step. Also, baptism is the standard by which people are to judge their belonging, and the life that entails. (See Romans 6: 1-12) 

Public Profession of Faith is closely connected with baptism. In the case of infant baptism, it is one's personal response to the belonging Christ and his church that baptism signifies and seals. In the case of adult believers, it accompanies baptism as one's personal commitment to follow the Lord which their baptism signifies and seals. 

So, anyone who is baptized already belongs to Christ by virtue of their baptism. This is not the same as just anyone affiliated with a congregation in some way, but is the central mark of their belonging. I don't think this changes the graceful description of the ways in which we deal with the various levels of belonging in this post, but I do think that baptism needs a bigger emphasis as it does in the NT.

It also is important when thinking of Public Profession of faith as a response to one's baptism. In that case it is an important and necessary landmark in the process of belonging. And this is where the quotation from Romans 10: 9-10 comes in. If a person is baptized as an infant, it is important, and perhaps necessary, in my opinion, for that person to acknowledge publicly, as he or she has been baptized publicly, their faith in Christ. 

Thanks so much for your encouragement and comments, Len. I would certainly agree that it would be good to focus more on baptism and what it means in our theological understanding. It is a beautiful and powerful understanding of what God does in/through/for/with us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ in our lives.

I should have stated that this is all a "work in progress", and I really appreciate the feedback...maybe what you're saying here will make it into the v. 2.0 of this presentation/blog posting!

I came across your posting almost 2 years after you wrote it, so am not sure if my response will find it's way to you.

I think one needs to recognize the development of the church after Pentecost with the authority given to the elders to ensure that everything is done in good order.  There are the beginnings of that kind of welcoming into and sending out of fellowship already inherent in Jesus granting the keys of the kingdom to his disciples in Matthew 18.  

As for a public context for profession of faith,  Paul's words to Timothy in I Timothy 6:12 are intriguing.  "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses."   It certainly was a public context -- seems most plausible that it could have been a worship service.

Yet another evidence of some sort of structured or at least supervised welcoming into membership is the fact that the apostles kept track of how many were added to their number in the book of Acts.  

I hope these observations can be helpful for recognizing the legitimacy of practicing profession of faith in a context of public order and accountability and welcome into another dimension of responsible membership within the church.


Henry Gunnink,

June 2018

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