When a young person who's living a sinful lifestyle wants to make profession of faith; what's an appropriate response?
December 27, 2012
Updated December 31, 2012
17 comments 156 views
Suppose a person is cheating his employer, or stealing from his boss or company. Suppose a young person is obviously watching pornography and has no intention of stopping. Suppose a person only attends church on Christmas or Easter. Suppose a young couple are living together without marriage and refuse to get married. Suppose a person is committing adultery. If these people suddenly make a request to make a profession of faith, what should the response be?
Does it make a difference if they are baptized members and have grown up in the church, compared to those who have not grown up in the church?
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To be more specific, should the elders permit them to make this profession while they continue their lifestyle? Is it okay for them to make this profession when they disagree with the confessions of the church or disagree with scripture? Is a sinful lifestyle different than disagreeing with scripture? Scripture says, "Repent, and believe...." Should they make a public profession of faith first, and then maybe repent sometime later? Or should they repent first, and then make a statement of faith?
It seems to me the question flows out of a sacremental or event perspective on profession of faith rather than a heart felt declaration of allegiance to the God of the Bible. To even raise the question about a distinction between a member person or a non-member person smacks of favoritism or turning a blind eye to spiritual realities. Across denominations there seems to be a fracture between a claim to Christ and life conduct or moral decisions. I believe the more we focus on church as sacrements, the greater that divide can become.
Gary, thanks for your response. Your last two sentences seem to make sense to me. But since you are putting things in generalities, I am not entirely sure about the implications of your perspective. Would you permit two young people in their twenties who are living together without marriage, to make formal profession of faith in the church? Or would you ask them to wait?
Profession of faith is not a sacrament, but it has sacramental overtones, particularly if it leads to participating in Lord's supper. The reason I asked if it would be different for a baptized member vs a non-baptized member, is the assumption of a knowledge about engaging in a lifestyle which the baptized member should know better, while the other might be still learning. On the other hand, what better time to learn than before making profession of faith?
My question is not rhetorical; I am really interested in biblical perspectives on this question. And I am interested in how seriously we take the profession of faith, especially the parts about scripture being the basis for life and action, and being willing to submit to the wisdom and authority of the elders.
There are a lot of good questions here. One of them is if they should make profession of faith if they disagree with the confessions of the church or scripture, something in the arena of belief. The other is in the area of conduct. As to the first the questions that they would be asked would seem to preclude going forward, at least if you are using the forms in the psalter..."do you believe that the Bible is the word of God revealing Christ and his redemption, and that the confessions of this church faithfully reflect this revelation?"
The question of them being baptized or not brings up the question of what it means to be "in the covenant". "Not all who are in Israel are of Israel". When I dust off my Berkhof's Systematic Theology, I find a good chapter "The Dual Aspect of the Covenant" which speaks to some of these questions. There he talks about how within Reformed theology, there is an idea of the covenant as a "purely legal relationship" and as a "communion of life". When he applies this distinction to children of believers he says this "Experience teaches that though by birth they enter the covenant as a legal relationship, this does not necessarily mean that they are also at once in the covenant as a communion of life. It does not even mean that the covenant relation will ever come to its full realization in their lives. Yet even in their case there must be a reasonable assurance that the covenant will not remain a mere legal relationship but that it will in time become a living reality...as long as the children of the covenant do not reveal the contrary, we shall have to proceed on the assumption that they are in posessesion of the covenant life. Naturally the course of events may prove that this life is not yet present, it may even prove that it is never realized in their lives. God's promise to continue his covenant and bring it to full realization in the children of believers does not mean that he will endow every last one of them with saving faith. And if some of them continue in unbelief we must bear in mind what Paul says in Romans 9:6-8, they are not all Israel who are of Israel, the children of believers are not all children of promise. Hence it is necessary to remind even children of the covenant constantly of the necessity of regeneration and conversion. The mere fact that one is in the covenant does not carry with it the assurance of salvation. When the children of belieers grow up and come to years of discretion it is incumbent on them to acept their covenant responsibilities voluntarily by a true confession of faith. Failure to do this is, strictly speaking, a denial of their covenant relationship."
I don't agree with what all Berkhof says, but he brings up some good points, among them the need of children of the covenant to be reminded of the need of regeneration and conversion..."repent and believe"...in other words, go now beyond the "legal aspect" of the covenant and enter into the "communion of life." According to Berkof, the call to repentence would rightly apply both to baptized members and to unbelievers. If there is no life of repentence, can there be a true profession of faith?
Thanks for your response, Jeff. You seem to be suggesting that conduct is as important a profession as is stating agreement with a creed. If you don't walk the talk, do you really believe the talk.... But some would say that we are sinners, and must be forgiven; that is part of our faith. How would you answer that?
Maybe a good common ground for answering that would be HC Q and A 33 where it talks about genuine repentance and conversion...when it asks what is involved in the dying away of the old self, it says "it is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it." Awareness of myself as a sinner doesn't translate into contentment with myself as a sinner.
The appropriate response is pastoral care by the pastor, youth pastor, and elders, and it is clear that any blatant disregard for the life of Christian discipleship precludes profession of faith, as per Church Order art. 59b: "Baptized members shall be encouraged to make a public profession of faith with the use of a prescribed form in a public worship service. Before their profession of faith, they shall give an appropriate testimony of their faith, life, and doctrine to the elders. The names of those who will make a public profession of faith shall be announced to the congregation for approval at least one Sunday before their profession takes place. Upon their public profession of faith, they shall be designated as “confessing members.”
--So, their "life" is a factor in making a profession of faith, and the public testimony of how they live their lives is also a matter for congregational input. To allow persons who are disregarding basic principles of Christian discipleship to make profession of faith is not gracious, loving, or helpful. It is rather a concession to the great idolatry of our age: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the narcissistic "faith" that dominates the youth culture of North America, as a number of persons have written about. One of the main features of this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and the associated concept of extended adolescence, is that many young adults believe that if they're good, they'll get to heaven, but they also paradoxically disregard biblical teaching regarding being "good," e.g. reserving sex for marriage, etc. http://www.ptsem.edu/uploadedFiles/School_of_Christian_Vocation_and_Mission/Institute_for_Youth_Ministry/Princeton_Lectures/Smith-Moralistic.pdf
Thanks for your comment, Randy (dominee). It is much appreciated.
Suppose council forgot this article, or didn't follow it. Suppose they permitted the young couple to make profession of faith in spite of them living together without marriage. Then what would be an appropriate follow-up?
The same as when two individuals who have (or haven't, for that matter) made profession of faith and then decide to shack up. First, lots of patient, pastoral care. If a couple continues to openly and publically disregard the covenant of marriage, then warn, then move to formal discipline. People in our society grossly underestimate the harmful effects of cohabitation, particularly on women and children who most often end up abandoned and impoverished, and in serial cohabitation, the risks of child abuse from boyfriends rises dramatically. The church is the last institution to stand up for marriage, and there is pressure for us to cave on this issue and go with the flow of our godless and self-gratifying culture. Therefore discipline in this kind of case would serve to keep the integrity of the church's witness to the shape of Christian discipleship. To fail to act sends a message to the young people of the congregation that it's all fine and dandy; those appointed to disciple and shepherd the church may not do nothing. Finally, and most pastorally important, carefully and wisely applied discipline is intended to serve as a witness to those persons who are not walking in the way of Christ and leadinging others to stumble as well; it is ultimately more loving to disciple (which is what discipline is) than to look the other way. These, by the way, are the three purposes of church discipline in the Reformed tradition: To protect the reputation of Christ's church; to remove potential stumbling blocks for others; and most of all to bring the erring parties to repentance and back to the way of following Christ. There is a great resistance to church discipline in our churches, partly, perhaps, because of the unloving way in which it has allegedly been practiced on some occasions in the past, and partly because our culture sends a powerful message that what I do is my own business and no one can tell me what to do. Discipling is very counter-cultural. But it also requires sensitivity, patience, and wisdom.
As for the profession of faith part, a new issue now arises because young persons can be communicant members without having made an adult profession of faith. I'm not sure how the church will procede in that case, except that the initial pastoral care and warnings will be the same. Can a communicant but non-professing member be placed under silent censure? My initial thought is to say, yes, but I'm not sure if this issue has been addressed. That might be a good topic for the Church Polity Forum. (Is there a Church Polity Forum?)
Thanks, Randy dominee.
That's Dominee Randy. ;)
I like to say I'm Dutch by marriage and religion, but I won't go so far as to change my name to Van Blaaketersma.
Dominee is Latin
Thank you John Z for raising this all too prevelant issue. I would like to hear from some of our youth pastors about the state of our youth lives verses what is known by the elders etc. But that might be another issue.
My response to the conversation is that I have faced that issue with respect to a couple who were unmarried with children inquiring about baptism My response (in a pastoral and patient and wise way ... I hope) was to focus on what it means as parents to present your child for baptism, what the promises mean and the faith that is professed at that time as well. Thank the Lord that this couple responded well, got married, then presented their child for baptism.
In the scenario you presented, the key might be the unrepentant spirit of the person or couple. Paul's disciplinary instructions in 1Cor. 5 about the immoral man apply to persons who are willfully unrepentant in a situation. If the situation is one of flagrant disagreement with the teachings of Scripture concerning a very public lifestyle choice, then I would not be willing to receive their public profession of faith as there would be a clear lack of integrity in doing that. If it is a matter of, let's say, a problem with pornography that the person is struggling to overcome and is feeling defeated in that battle, and thus is "unwilling to change", that would be somewhat different. I could see receiving their profession of faith and walking very closely with them in upholding them toward repentant healing and wholeness. The key for me is the willingness to change. If the situation is very public in the sense living together outside of marriage, I have in the past made it a requirement that a couple either move out in preparation for marriage or at the very least, get married immediately if their commitment is to stay together or if their are children involved. That is the presenting issue to deal with first. Then talk about professing their faith again, so that there is integrity in what they are doing.
On another angle, concerning what Randy writes, I have been viewing the children at communion change as one in which parents must more actively take up their discipling role with their children including the role as spiritual overseers of their children. This of course under the guidance and training of the elders and pastors. I tend to view profession of faith in this context as a step into adulthood in the church. As such, a new relationship is started between the person and the congregation as they now come alongside their parents and the rest as an adult. They also are subject to the discipling of the elders and pastors more directly than when under their parents. Their behavior in life is not simply a "family matter" but a 'congregational matter".
Since in my ministry context we are going to be welcoming children to the Lord's Supper through the spiritual guidance of their parents (supported and encouraged by leadership), and that a formal profession of faith infront of church is not a requirement for this, we are tending to make profession of faith the step into adulthood in the church context. Many children grow up accepting their covenant life given them by God and so the step of profession of faith is not actuall their time of finally accepting this life but of taking up their adult place in this life. Does that make any sense? Is that helpful at all? Good discussion.
Colin, thanks for your comment. It is sometimes a difficult issue. Your comments are appreciated.
Thanks for this thread, and everyone’s contributions. I’m wondering something, which I’ll get at from 3 different angles. Because print can be a whole lot less nuanced than verbal communication, let me say that I’m not at all trying to be a smart-ass with my thoughts. What I’m wondering is: Is there such a thing as a person who *doesn’t* have persistent sins? Or, put another way, what about a possible value of dealing with a person’s sins *within* the context of having professed faith in Jesus? Or, to put my wonderings yet one more way: I feel like I really do meet people (I feel like I really am such a person) who indeed have persistent sins *and* who really, honestly believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour (as really and honestly as anyone can).
Interested in (gentle) replies. : )
Thanks for your honesty. I think that all of us are on the same bus. It would be great if we were all perfect upon our conversion or profession, but we'll have to wait for the new creation for that.
First thoughts...a theme in the conversation so far seems to have been not so much about the persistence of sin, but about a spirit of repentence vs. nonrepentence. In between now and that great day, the Spirit will continue to illuminate parts of us that we would rather not face, not only particular "sins" that we do, but the deep structures of fallenness within us that contribute to the persistence of those sins. When he does that, either immediately or through a member of the community of faith, we have a choice to heed that or turn away from that. Repentence, in that sense, is obedience, and obedience is at the heart of discipleship. We don't like it, it hurts when we do it, but we can't have the Christian life without it.
Fredrica Matthews Green says: "Repentance is not blubbering and self-loathing. It is insight. The insight is about our true condition. We begin to see our fallen inclinations the way God does, and realize how deep-rooted is the rottenness in our hearts. This awareness grows slowly, over many years, because he mercifully shows us only a little at a time. But he sees it all. His is like the eye of a surgeon, which sees through to the sickness deepest within. There is no other way for us to be healed. It’s when the surgeon says, "All we can do is keep him comfortable," that you’re really in trouble. .
"Sadness according to God," repentance, is joy. Initially we fear looking squarely at our sins, lest we get overwhelmed. But the reverse turns out to be true. The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we realize the height of God’s love. The constant companion of repentance is gratitude. Like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, we are forgiven much and discover endless love. Seeing our sin becomes, paradoxically, an opportunity for joy."
To bring it back around, I've had conversations with people who held off on making profession of faith because they felt that they "weren't perfect enough yet." Thankfully, profession isn't about perfection. But it is, I think, the pledge of a life (and life style) of repentance.
Thanks Dave and Jeff for your comments.
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