Proposed Forms for Baptism and Profession of Faith

The proposed Forms for Baptism and Profession of Faith are scheduled for final approval at the CRC Synod of 1976. Reactions to these provisional Forms are to be sent to the Liturgical Committee (Rev. John H. Schuurmann, Secretary, 1928 Woodlawn Ave., S. E., Grand Rapids, Mich. 49506) not later than September 15, 1975. Rev. Henry Vanden Heuvel, who evaluates these Forms in this and in a previous article is pastor of the Bethel Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, Iowa.

Last month we considered the first proposed Fonn for the Baptism of Children that is being submitted to Synod by the Liturgical Committee of the Christian Reformed Church. This Form, you will recall, was a completely new revision of the present Form for infant baptism. And the conclusion that we came to in the previous article is that this Form does not do justice to the Biblical teachings on the matter of the covenant of grace and of infant baptism.

In this article I would like to consider the second Form, that is being submitted by the Committee. In distinction from the first Form, this one is a translation of the present Form for infant baptism. It therefore has much the same format as the present Form, and is more familiar in that respect than the first proposed Form. However, even though it is more familiar from a formal point of view, the Form itself is not much different from the First proposed Form in its emphases. This can be seen especially from the questions which are presented to the parents. But more about that presently.

Second Proposed Form for Baptism of Children

At the outset I would like to refer to an article that appeared in The Banner of September 6, 1974, written by Rev. Henry Baker. This article is an excellent critique of this second proposed Form. In referring to his article, I would like to underscore a couple of things that Rev. Baker mentions.

First of all, Rev. Baker criticizes the Committee for calling this proposed Form “a translation.” He states, “A translation—that’s what it is supposed to be. The Committee said in its report to Synod, ‘This is not a new Form, but a translation of the old one. In comparing the language of the Form presented with the Form in the Psalter Hymnal, it becomes clear, we are confident, that the updated Form is not a substitute, or new, or a revised Form, but a new translation.’ Well take the Committee’s word for it. If this is a new translation, it certainly is not a product of which the committee can be proud. Any person who can read Dutch knows that it is not a good translation, and is true neither to the letter nor the spirit of the present Form.”

A second item that Rev. Baker presents is the language that is used in the proposed Form. He cites the change from “our children are conceived and born in sin” to “baptism teaches that every man, woman, and child is by nature sinful.Rev. Baker correctly asks, “Do we want to exchange a covenantal, confessional, and biblical statement for the proposed colorless one?” Again, he refers to the change from “we are children of wrath” to “we are all under the judgment of God.” And the change that bothers Rev. Baker most of all is the change from “loathe ourselves” to the proposed “being disgusted with ourselves.”

Now these changes bother me too. When 1 read the present Form, and hear these truly biblical phrases, then I know where they come from. I know that the Bible teaches that we are conceived and born in sin—in so many words. I know that the teaching that we are under the wrath of God is taught in Scripture also in those very words as our Lord taught in John 3. Why did the Liturgical Committee change these obviously biblical phrases? Was it the offence of the Gospel that worried them, that they were offended or thought that people would be offended when the Bible says that we are conceived and born in sin, or that by nature man is under the wrath of God? How else can we understand the logic of this Committee in neglecting to use the Scriptural phrases? Certainly the substitutions in the proposed Form are a far cry from the words of the present Form, and therefore a poor replacement for what we presently have.

In the previous article dealing with the first proposed Form for infant baptism, exception was taken to the Prayer for Preparation recommended. However, I believe that the Prayer for Preparation in this second Form is much more in harmony with what we find in the present Form. The words in the present Formulary Prayer, “By which baptism is signified” in connection with the passage of Israel going through the Red Sea, have been deleted. And I think this deletion is good. It has been pointed out before in previous overtures to Synod that it is not good practice to make an instructive statement in a prayer, and in my opinion this is true. Furthermore, in the Prayer of Thanksgiving as well as in this Prayer of Preparation, some of the florid and dramatic language that characterizes the prayers in the first proposed Form are left out. I refer to such terminology in the first proposed Form as found in the Prayer of Preparation, “Mark us with a faith that can stand the light of day and endure the dark of night.” Also the words, “May drink deeply of the well of living water” in the Prayer are left out in this second proposed Form, and in my opinion this is an improvement.

However, why does the Committee have to “spoil” the prayers with the use of “You” and “Your” in relation to God? Maybe it is a small thing, and perhaps many if not most of the ministers who would be reading such prayers already use this language. But speaking for myself, and I think for many of the ordinary members of the Christian Reformed Church, this language does not fit in our vocabulary. The process of change was inevitable, I suppose. The first proposed Forms had “Thee” and “Thou” just like our previous Forms. Then Synod approved for use Forms which had in parenthesis the statement, “The words Thee and Thou can be changed to You and Your if desirable.” And now the Forms have changed officially. As far as I am concerned, it would have been desirable to leave the wording as it was with the option to use other pronouns.

A final point of reservation concerns the third question addressed to the parents. Here the second Form follows the first proposed Form in its emphasis. The question is, “Do you promise, and is it your intention, to do all you can to teach these children the Christian doctrine of salvation, using not only your own personal resources but also those of the Christian community?” What was wrong with the words, “Aforesaid doctrine?” It was stilted language to be sure, and it should have been changed too, I suppose. But certainly the point that “aforesaid doctrine” points to was that which is taught in the Formulary read by and with the parents. That “aforesaid doctrine” is the Reformed faith as “taught in this Christian church to be true and complete doctrine of salvation.” Why then substitute in place of “aforesaid doctrine” the words “Christian doctrine”? As Rev. Baker suggests, this wording might be open to any kind of interpretation by the parents who would want to introduce their own brand of theology into the form. I would think that a better substitute for “aforesaid doctrine” would be “Reformed doctrine,” because we are Reformed, and that which is taught in this Christian Church is also Reformed according to the Word of God.

The third question as proposed also gives a weakened version of the words of the present Form, “Cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of your power.” The proposed Form asks. “Using not only your own personal resources, but also those of the Christian community.” Even though this is stronger language than that in the first proposed Form at this point, it still weakens the emphasis that is found in the present Form. The present Form gives the consistory the authority and responsibility to emphasize education at a Christian school to the parents of the children who have been baptized. But this question in the proposed Form makes it vague as to what the resources of the Christian community may be. Why not say right out what those resources are? Is the Committee thinking also of Christian school education here or not? And if so, why not say it?

In conclusion then, I believe that this second proposed Form is better than the first, but it still has weaknesses and deficiencies which should be corrected before it is approved by Synod. I certainly hope and pray that Synod will have the courage and insight to make whatever changes are necessary in order to improve our present Form, if improvement is necessary. So far what is proposed, in my judgment, is not an improvement.

Proposed Form for Profession of Faith

Another proposed Form presented to the Church for possible adoption and incorporation in the liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church is the Form for Public Profession of Faith. Unlike the proposed Forms for Infant Baptism, this Form is one that everyone can consider as a wonderful part of his own experience, since making public profession of faith is something that we look back on with real joy. From that point of view, everyone who has had this experience ought to be very interested in what the Liturgical Committee is submitting to our Church.

There are a couple of matters that should be noted relative to this proposed Form.

  1. The first matter is the absence of the kind of question found in the present Form for Public Profession of Faith, “Do you declare that you love the Lord, and is it your desire to serve Him according to His Word, to forsake the world, to mortify your old nature, and to lead a godly life?” This question surely touches upon the heart of what the Christian life is all about. The Bible teaches that love for God and a forsaking of the world stand at the center of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. But there is no express mention of love for God in this proposed Form, nor is there a statement calling for a turning away from the world. The closest reference in the proposed Form to this is in the first question, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent to redeem the world and do you declare with repentance and joy that He is your Savior from sin and the Lord of your life?” That is certainly a good question; but, in my opinion, there should be an opportunity for the person who is making profession of faith to make a more pointed confession of his love for the Lord, and his desire to serve Him by forsaking the world.
  2. The second item in the proposed Form that concerns me is the absence of a question dealing with the matter of the discipline of the Church. We are all acquainted with the last question in the present Form, “Do you promise to submit to the government of the church and also, if you should become delinquent, either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?” The proposed Form does not speak of this matter of discipline, hut adds in the fourth question, “Honoring its authority.” That is as close as the proposed Form comes to placing before the person making profession of faith the obligation he has before the church. The advisory committce at Synod 1972 recommended to Synod (when this proposed Fonn was offered to the Church by the Liturgical Committee) the adoption of a question which was suggested as a supplement to the proposed Form. Their suggestion was, “Do you ask for pastoral direction and Christian discipline, exercised in the spirit of brotherly love, to train you in the way of discipleship and to correct you in case you should digress from your confession, either in doctrine or in life?” That was, in my opinion, a very good addition. But Synod rejected it. And therefore the proposed Form as we have it today has no question that parallels the fourth question of the present Form.

The arguments against the addition of such a question usually refer to the alleged negativism that is supposed to be present in that question. However, there is no negativism that can be either present or implied by a correct understanding of the matter of church discipline. Dont we always emphasize the fact that discipline is to be out of love and concern for the erring brother? There ought to be nothing negative about the concept of referring the person to the authority of the Church in its work of discipline. After all, the same is true in every other area of life. When one gets a license to drive an automobile, he is informed of the laws of the state, and certainly of the matter of violations of the law with their punishments. We dont consider that unduly harsh and negative at such a happy occasion when a young man or woman receives a driver‘s license for the first time. Indeed, we as parents arc quick to add our own emphasis to that of the officer in charge.

To remind the person making profession of faith of his obligations before the authority of the Church is not casting cold water on an otherwise happy occasion. Nor does it suggest that this person is in fact going to run afoul with the consistory in the future. There is no hint, to my mind, of such a suggestion in the last question in our present Form. Rather it reminds this person of the interest that the Christian Church has in his doctrine and life. It reminds him that Christ has commanded the Church and her office-bearers to watch over the Rock as good under-shepherds whose task is to not only feed the Bock, but also to keep out the wolves from the Rock. That is not negative. It is positively reassuring for anyone who makes public profession of faith and means it. Let us not deprive the person making profession of faith of that kind of positive reminder of the loving concern that the Church has for him.

If then Synod would make such changes in this proposed Form as are suggested here and have been suggested elsewhere by many others who have written about this Form, it would be a good Form that could serve our churches well. But if these suggestions cannot or will not be considered, then in my opinion, the present Form which has served us for many years, can still serve us very well for many years to come.