Public Profession of Faith (PPF) is primarily the personal response of faith to God’s promises made in baptism. In our baptism, God brings us into his covenant family in Jesus Christ, and in PPF we respond by declaring our personal faith and commitment as baptized members in Christ. This has always been the central meaning of PPF.
However, the exact nature of what was expected and what was conferred by PPF has changed somewhat in the CRC over the past few decades. In the past, a primary result of PPF was that it provided a gateway to the table of the Lord in celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Later, there was a growing emphasis on the presence of younger children at the Lord’s Supper, but PPF was still required. Hence a simpler form for PPF was devised. More recently synod declared that all baptized members may be welcome at the table apart from PPF. As a result, some questions now asked are “What then becomes of PPF as a milestone of faith?” and “Why should we expect or require it?”
When infants or young children are baptized, they, of course, have no personal understanding of what baptism means; nor do they personally declare their faith in Christ. Rather, they are baptized in recognition of the covenant promises of God to parents and their children (Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:39). The historic role of PPF (or Confirmation, as it is called in other traditions) is that it gives an opportunity for the baptized to publicly declare their personal faith in Christ and take their place within the church community. The older forms for PPF therefore welcomed professing members not only to the table but also to “all the privileges and -responsibilities of full communion.”
Paul says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Rom. 10:9-10). Thus, while baptism declares that one is united with Christ in his death and resurrection, the church expects that at some point baptized persons will publicly declare their own faith in Christ. When infants or young children are baptized, parents declare their faith on their children's behalf, and promise, with the support of the whole congregation, to raise their children to know and love the Lord. This points inevitably to the expectation and necessity of PPF. It is a personal profession of faith of the baptized person, and it is public because being a member of the church requires a public (“confess with your mouth”) recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord.
With this understanding, the church will establish the expectation that baptized members will want to profess their faith before the congregation. PPF marks a passage into mature and fully participating membership. The professing member will then begin to participate more fully in congregational life, such as attendance (and voting, depending on the bylaws of the congregation) at congregational meetings, participation in committees, and otherwise contributing to the life and mission of the congregation.
At what age should a baptized person make PPF? In the past, PPF was often made in the teenage years. Later, when there was a movement for younger children to come to the Lord’s table but PPF was still required, congregations were encouraged to invite younger children to make PPF in a simpler form. Still, no age requirement was ever stipulated. Today, when baptized children are invited to the Lord’s table apart from PPF, it may be wise to move the general age expectation for PPF up again to the teenage years, when a more mature, knowledgeable, and thoughtful profession can be made. Thus, for example, congregations may offer PPF preparation classes to certain age groups (such as 12- to 14-year-olds and/or 15- to 18-year-olds). Still, no specific age should be stipulated for PPF that might limit the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of a baptized member.
Recently the CRC Faith Formation Committee also emphasized that PPF is more than a one-time event. It is one important milestone that should be followed by others in which one’s faith is professed—for example, church office, marriage, baptism of children, and other church commitments.
With this robust understanding of PPF, congregations should be sure to make it an occasion of great joy and celebration. Attention should be given to the preparation for PPF, with the pastor(s), elders, and other members deeply involved. Within the worship service the connection with baptism should be emphasized by the presence and recognition of water in the font. Those making PPF can be given an opportunity to present their own testimony of faith in some form, and some tokens of this important day in the life of the young person and the church community may be given.