Profession of Faith of Covenant Children at OURC

Profession of Faith of Covenant Children at OURC
Adopted by the Consistory, February 2003

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’ And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:1–4)

“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.” (Prov. 1:8–9)

Introduction

The public profession of faith of a child who has grown up in the church, of new converts to the Christian Faith, or of believers who have never united themselves to a visible church is one of the most precious blessings we receive as a congregation from our covenant-keeping God.

As an historic Christian and Reformed church, we follow the practice of those who have gone before us in this area. In the early centuries of the Christian church, new believers would attend the Lord’s Day worship of the church through the sermon, then would be dismissed as the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. Over a period of up to three years, these “catechumens” (those being instructed) learned the basics of the Christian Faith. During the Reformation period of the church this practice regained its prominence. Children would be brought to the local chapel for catechism instruction every Sunday afternoon, in which they would recite together the questions and answers they had learned the previous week. The pastor would then ask further questions of them to see if they not only had recall of their answers but understanding. This would occur for several years until children would make a public profession of faith and be welcomed to the Lord’s Table. In the words of B. B. Warfield (1851–1921), “The members of the visible Church consist of believers and their children—all of whom have a right to all the ordinances of the visible Church, each in its appointed season” (“The Polemics of Infant Baptism,” in Works 9:408). At the time of John Calvin (1509—1564), this profession was expected around the age of 10:

How I wish that we might have kept the custom which, as I have said, 
existed among the ancient Christians before this misborn wraith of a 
sacrament came to birth! Not that it would be a confirmation such as 
they fancy, which cannot be named without doing injustice to baptism; 
but a catechizing, in which children or those near adolescence would 
give an account of their faith before the church. But the best method 
of catechizing would be to have a manual drafted for this exercise, 
containing and summarizing in simple manner most of the articles of 
our religion, on which the whole believers’ church ought to agree 
without controversy. A child of ten would present himself to the 
church to declare his confession of faith, would be examined in each 
articles, and answer to each; if he were ignorant of anything or 
insufficiently understood it, he would be taught. Thus while the 
church looks on as a witness, he would profess the one true and 
sincere faith, in which the believing folk with one mind worship God.
If this discipline were in effect today, it would certainly arouse 
some slothful parents, who carelessly neglect the instruction of their 
children as a matter of no concern to them; for then they would not 
overlook it without public disgrace. There would be greater agreement in faith among Christian people, and not so many would go untaught and ignorant; some would not be so rashly carried away with new and strange doctrines; in short, all would have some methodical instruction, so to speak, in Christian doctrine (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.13).

As pastors and elders seeking to minister the timeless truths of the Christian Faith in our twenty-first century world, we have discussed how best to educate our covenant children as a church, and how best to encourage you as their parents to bring them up in the Lord to prepare them for their public professions of faith.

What We Expect From Parents

As a Reformed church, we believe that as members of the covenant of grace, God ordinarily works through the family. This means that it is the primary responsibility of parents, especially fathers, to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Therefore, we expect parents, especially fathers…

  1. To have your children baptized “as soon as feasible” (Church Order, Article 41).
  2. To bring your children to Sunday morning catechism instruction, or satisfy the elders that you are providing equivalent instruction.
  3. To help your children memorize, review, and explain their catechism lessons throughout the week.
  4. “In reliance on the Holy Spirit…to instruct” your children “in the Christian faith,” reminding them of the meaning of their baptism and encouraging them to publicly testify of their trust in the Lord (“Baptism of Children: Form 3”).
  5. “In reliance on the Holy Spirit” to “lead” your children “by your example into the life of Christian discipleship” (“Baptism of Children: Form 3”).

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Col. 3:21)

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4)

She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Prov. 31:26)

What We Expect From Covenant Children

As a Reformed church, we believe that children are members of the covenant of grace. Therefore they are to begin learning from the earliest of age the meaning of their baptism – that they need to die to themselves in repentance of their sins, embrace Jesus Christ with a true faith, and begin to live for Christ in newness of life (Rom. 6). Therefore, we expect children…

  1. To memorize the Lord’s Prayer. This should be the first thing you as parents help your children do. Then, as they mature, they should be able to explain the meaning of this prayer (see Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 116–129).
  2. To memorize the Apostles’ Creed. This should be the second thing you as parents help your children do. Then, as they mature, they should be able to explain the meaning of the Creed (see Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 22–58).
  3. To memorize the Ten Commandments. This should be the third thing you as parents help your children do. Then, as they mature, they should be able to explain the meaning of the Commandments (see Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 93–115).
  4. To memorize Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1, 2, 21, 26, 27, 60, 69, 75, 86, 116. Then, as they mature, they should be able to explain the meaning of these questions.

We realize that all children are different, and this means that we must be flexible, but we are setting a basic standard for our children to ensure that the faith is passed down from generation to generation. The spiritual vitality of our original core group of adults must become that of our children to ensure a solid Reformed church here in the future.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’ (Eph. 6:1-3)

“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.” (Prov 1:8-9)

What You Can Expect From the Consistory

As a Reformed church, we believe that the pastors and elders (consistory) are the “overseers” (1 Tim. 3:1) of the church, responsible for “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). Therefore, the consistory is responsible for the doctrine and life of the church, which includes instructing our covenant children and new members in the Faith. Therefore, you can expect the pastors and elders…

  1. To pray for parents, covenant children, converts, and new members from the pulpit, when we meet as a consistory, and at home.
  2. To provide and oversee weekly catechism instruction (Church Order, Article 2, 14).
  3. To provide a pre-profession of faith class for covenant children, converts, and new members who desire to make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. This class will be led by a pastor and will review the basics of the Christian Faith as well as teach the meaning of being a full, communicant member of the church.
  4. To provide periodically public instruction for parents on how to teach these basics to their children and to keep our pastor(s) available for ongoing encouragement and instruction in this area.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1–3)

Conclusion

As we diligently catechize our children, both at home and when we gather as a congregation, our prayer is that true faith will be created and expressed. In the words of one of our well-beloved psalms:

Let children hear the mighty deeds
Which God performed of old,
Which in our younger years we saw
And which our fathers told.
He bids us make His glories known,
The works of power and grace,
That we convey His wonders down
Through every rising race.

Our lips shall tell them to our sons,
And they again to theirs;
And generations yet unborn
Must teach them to their heirs;
Thus shall they learn, in God alone
Their hope securely stands;
That they may not forget His works,
But honor His commands. (Psalter Hymnal #150)