Like many denominations, the Christian Reformed Church has too many youth who make profession of faith, go away for college or work—and drop out of church.
This trend is pushing churches to ask what profession of faith is for. Does it certify knowledge…open the communion table…affirm acceptance of baptism…mark a milestone in a continuing faith journey?
One-time event or lifelong identity?
In the CRC, profession of faith “is a burning issue. Churches are divided right down the middle,” says Pat Nederveld. She’s a Faith Alive editor and member of the CRC Faith Formation Committee, which is in a five-year conversation with churches about baptism, children at the Lord’s Supper, and profession of faith practices.
Congregations that welcome the idea of full participation in communion for all baptized members see it as more consistent with Reformed covenantal theology. It also helps people understand the Lord’s Supper as a meal of grace.
Other congregations oppose changes to profession of faith and communion participation. Several CRC pastors responding to a 2007 survey cited 1 Corinthians 11:29 and questioned whether children and young teens are mature enough to receive the elements.
“We ought be concerned that people can eat and drink judgment on themselves if they don't rightly examine themselves before coming to the table,” one pastor wrote. Another responded, “We don't see how a six-year-old can really ‘discern the body’ or ‘examine him/herself.’ ”
Nederveld is among CRC leaders working to “nudge the profession of faith process downward.” They suggest moving away from profession of faith requirements such as memorizing the Heidelberg Catechism or successfully answering difficult biblical and theological questions.
“That emphasis makes profession of faith a carrot that the church holds out to kids. ‘If you want to be welcomed at the table, study hard. Be able to tell council exactly what you’ve learned. It doesn’t become a faith response so much as ‘now I’ve finally mastered the material.’
“Disconnecting the sacrament of communion from profession of faith will be more helpful. But we also need to give churches guidance on how to accommodate that change,” Nederveld says.
Adding a “child’s profession of faith”
“I’m discovering a wave of experimentation and healthy diversity as congregations rebuild and revise local practices for remembering baptism, faith formation, professing faith, and coming to the Lord’s Table,” says Howard Vanderwell, who spent 40 years in Christian Reformed Church (CRC) ministry before becoming a worship consultant and serves on the CRC Faith Formation Committee.
In a 2007 survey of CRC pastors, a quarter of respondents said that baptized children take communion in their church before making profession of faith.
A third said they offer profession of faith for children of middle school age or younger and also have a way of publicly marking these students’ transition to taking on adult responsibilities in the church. These practices include:
- Announcements in the church newsletter or Sunday bulletin
- Simple ceremonies at which the young person (usually age 16-18) acknowledges agreement with the doctrines and beliefs of the church and acceptance of adult responsibilities
- Ceremonies of reaffirmation of (prior) profession of faith
- Two-tiered professions of faith, sometimes called by other names, such as
- First communion/profession of faith
- Children’s profession/official profession
- Covenantal statement of faith/profession of faith
- Profession of faith/profession of discipleship
- Stage 1/stage 2
- Participation in membership classes
“Profession of faith needs to become a much more dynamic event in the life of our youth and congregations. It needs to be a community celebration,” Vanderwell says.
Family cultures mark milestones, from birthdays to graduations to becoming licensed. Similarly, Vanderwell says that developing a new tradition of multiple faith milestones would be “helpful and affirming.”
Pat Nederveld believes that a multiple milestones approach might inspire adults to keep growing in faith. “Continuing to study the word together, beyond what we hear in sermons, adds a vibrant dimension to individual lives and the life of a faith community,” she says.