An elder with whom I was speaking to said to me in the course of our conversation, “When young people come to the consistory to make confession of faith, all I want to know is whether they love Jesus and sincerely confess him as their own”. I was a little taken aback by this and insisted that this was not enough. I told him that I wanted to know why a person wanted to make confession of faith “in this church”. I pointed out to him that if a prospective member wanted to make confession of faith and all he had to do was say that he believes in Christ, then he could make confession of faith in nearly any church around. He would be accepted anywhere on the basis of such a confession.
But, I added, I want to know why an individual wants to make confession of faith here, in this church, and not elsewhere. The applicant for membership in the church must answer this question: “Do you acknowledge the doctrine . . . taught here in this Christian church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?”
If one who is baptized as an adult also makes his confession of faith, he too must answer in the affirmative, “Dost thou assent to all the articles of the Christian religion as they are taught here in this Christian church according to the Word of God. . . ?”
What Hebrews 11:25 calls Moses’ choice for the people of God is Moses’ confession of faith. It was more an action than a verbal confession, but the action showed clearly that in his heart he had made a decision concerning the burning question: To what people do you wish to join yourself? To Israel or to Egypt? That is, to the church or to the world? That is what confession of faith is all about: the church of Christ or the world? Where do I belong?
It is profitable to compare our confession of faith with that of Moses. We will compare the two by following the order of the questions that are asked of those who make confession of faith in the PRC and their sister churches.
Moses made his choice when he “came to years”. The same is true of us. When we “come to years” we are mature adults, no longer dependent on others (parents, teachers, elders) to teach us what is true; we have reached the point in our lives when we are able to make our own decisions. So it was with Moses. He was older than us, but circumstances were different now than then. Moses was in the courts of Pharaoh for forty years and we do not know if he had any contact with the Israelites during those years. But he knew enough about both Israel and Egypt to make his choice.
Moses expressed his choice by “refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter”. He had to make his choice known in some way to those in the court of Pharaoh and to God’s people. He found what he thought was the ideal way to do this when he killed an Egyptian who was fighting with an Israelite. Our confession of faith is a vow that we publicly make before the church of Christ. Both are confessions of faith. Hebrews 11 tells us that very thing: By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter… Our confession is a confession of what we believe by faith and how we will be faithful to what we believe.
A vow is a promise before God to do something. We say, as it were, if we do not keep this vow we make, may God bring His wrath and judgment on us. It is my judgment that this vow is more important (as it was for Moses) than the vow I make at marriage and the vow I make when I bring my children to the church for baptism – although, of course, every vow is important.
Just as we do, Moses expressed the fact that he believed all that God had said in His word. Moses was the very first to write part of the Bible, and so he knew the truth only through the tradition of a people who cherished it. The people of God had preserved that tradition through the flood, through the disruption of the people on earth at Babel, through the lives of the patriarchs, and during the four hundred years Israel was in Egypt. It was a miracle of the preservation of the truth through the traditions of God’s people.
At the heart of that tradition was God’s promise to His church to send the seed of the woman who would crush the head of Satan to deliver His people from death and hell.
So we confess our faith in the Scriptures; we confess that the Scriptures are true in all they teach, and that the Scriptures in their entirety give us a portrait of Jesus Christ as the only one through whom we have salvation from sin and death, and who will surely come to save us.
Moses was deeply conscious of the fact that the truth of Christ came to him by tradition. While it did not come in the form of written creeds, it did come to him as the one faith all the people of God confessed since creation and those revelations of God in creation. That tradition was constantly enriched by additional works of God: the gospel preached after the fall (Gen. 3:15), the murder of Abel because he looked to Christ when he sacrificed a lamb, the flood, the new creation after the flood, the division of the people at Babel, the call and obedience of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the miraculous birth of Isaac, and all the revelations of the truth given before Moses’ time and preserved through tradition.
So it is when we make confession of faith that we too confess the truth as held by our fathers since Pentecost and contained in our confessions. We confess that we believe that the truth is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene creeds, the Symbolum quicunque, sometimes called the Athanasian Creed, the Creed of Chalcedon, and the Three Forms of Unity.
It is at this point that the confession and vow which we make becomes very particular: we also confess that we believe the doctrine taught in “this Christian church” as the true and complete doctrine of salvation.
Moses made that his confession of faith when he cast his lot with Israel and was willing to suffer severe persecution for the sake of that truth. He turned his back with a shudder on all the treasures of Egypt.
Today it is somewhat different, for there are many, many churches, and among those are to be found churches in which there are also people of God and where the truth is still preserved in some measure. That part of our confession that speaks of the truth as taught in the church of which we are a member really makes us sit up and think.
To confess this means basically to confess that the church in which we make confession of faith teaches only the truth and teaches it in all its fullness and purity. This church (along with other churches who believe what we do) in which I make confession of faith is the true church of Christ and the purest manifestation of Christ’s body found in the world. One says, as it were, “I believe this church is the clearest and purest manifestation of the body of Christ in the world, and I want to be faithful to what I confess in Article 28 of the Belgic Confession, namely that I must in obedience to Christ the head of the church, join myself to that church, even though the edict of princes oppose it. Other churches may have the truth in part, but the error(s) they hold will develop into worse errors.
That is what Moses confessed when he chose to cast his lot with the people of God.
Finally, he promised to be faithful to that people and to reject the treasures and pleasures of Egypt. We can’t have both, you know. It is always one or the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. The child of God who believes the truth taught in his Christian church must live an antithetical life. He must say NO to the world and YES to God’s people.
Faithfulness! That is our confession! So faithful that if I err, I will submit to the government of the church. That too I vow before God. The church is my mother. When that church tells me I am wrong, I hear the church as the word of Christ Himself to me. That mother feeds me with heavenly bread. That mother shelters me from the storms of life. I am taught by that mother all my days. And when I do wrong, that mother chastises me to teach me to be faithful.
I pray for the faithfulness of the church in which I confess my faith, because I want a true church for myself, my spouse, my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren until the Lord Himself returns.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 43