"Of course!" "Absolutely!" "Why, certainly!" "Oh, yes!" "Oh, definitely!"
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints rang sweetly in my ears with those exclamations as an eighty-six year old woman joined the congregation that I serve. That doctrine promises that God's elect, once converted, will persevere in grace to the end (e.g. John 10:27-30). Each semester in Bible school, we have a church orientation class for prospective members. At the end of the term, the elders interview those desiring to make profession of faith for communicant membership. There, the words above were spoken.
We like to take twenty to thirty minutes with each person being received in order for the shepherds to better know the sheep - these are some of the best times to be a pastor. God providential arranged for us to begin the first round of interviews with three covenant young people. They were glad to profess Jesus by faith, but as teenagers they were probably somewhat terrified of sitting before nine elders. I have vivid memories of experiencing such apprehension as a sixteen year-old one night in Barry and Miriam York's dining room where I sat before the elders of the church in Kokomo, Indiana. In our interviews with these teenagers, there was a healthy sobriety in their responses as they look forward to further growth in the Lord. Their answers to the vows of communicant membership were a solemn and sometimes softly spoken “I do” or “Yes.” It was beautiful.
The next week, a young couple joined. They shared their conversion stories, the blessing of friends and mentors along the way, the Lord's abounding grace in their faith and growth, and their present labor as they seek to establish biblical patterns their home and professional pursuits. They have seen more of life and have been able to taste and see more of the goodness of the Lord than those who had made their profession of faith the prior week. And they are looking forward to more growth in grace.
The following week, the interviews began with couple from the baby-boomer generation. Saved by grace, they have walked with God for many years, raised children in the Lord, have been used of Christ to help other young couples grow in their marriages, and have delighted to grow in the understanding of biblical doctrines in recent years. As one would expect, they exhibited a seasoned maturity.
The proverbial “icing on the cake” came when we next met with this woman eighty-six years of age. She moved to our city with her daughter's family. She has twenty years seniority over our oldest actively serving elder. Born to Christian parents, she first professed faith at a young age and has served the Lord ever since. This is her first time in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. We asked about her life in Christ and in so doing tapped into a marvelous, if somewhat ordinary, account of God’s faithfulness. This woman, full of vim and vigor, could have rightly gone on for eighty-six years telling us about God’s goodness in her life through easy times and hard times. Due to time constraints, we had to move to the vows of communicant membership before we heard as much as we would have loved to hear. What follows are those queries with her answers as nearly as I remember them:
Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and life?** Response: "Of course!" **(The tone communicating something like: "Where else would I go? These have the words of eternal life!")
Do you believe in the one living and true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as revealed in the Scriptures? Response: "Absolutely!"
Do you repent of your sin; confess your guilt and helplessness as a sinner against God; profess Jesus Christ, Son of God, as your Savior and Lord; and dedicate yourself to His service: Do you promise that you will endeavor to forsake all sin, and to conform your life to His teaching and example? Response: "Oh, definitely!"
Do you promise to submit in the Lord to the teaching and government of this church as being based upon the Scriptures and described in substance in the Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America? Do you recognize your responsibility to work with others in the church and do you promise to support and encourage them in their service to the Lord? In case you should need correction in doctrine or life, do you promise to respect the authority and discipline of the church? Response: "Why, certainly! And if you ever see anything that needs to be corrected in me, please tell me!"
To the end that you may grow in the Christian life, do you promise that you will diligently read the Bible, engage in private prayer, keep the Lord’s Day, regularly attend the worship services, observe the appointed sacraments, and give to the Lord’s work as He shall prosper you? ** Response: "Oh yes! I've always tried to do those things since I've been a Christian."**
Do you purpose to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in all the relationships of life, faithfully to perform your whole duty as a true servant of Jesus Christ, and seek to win others to Him? Response: "Oh, yes!"
Do you make this profession of faith and purpose in the presence of God, in humble reliance upon His grace, as you desire to give your account with joy at the Last Great Day? Response: "I do! And I'm just so happy to be here..."
I could not contain my smile after the first question. I was crying tears of joy by the fourth question. Her answers and the spirit of them bore witness to the tested genuineness of her faith and her joy in Jesus. My mind flashed back to the prior interviews. I was overwhelmed with the thought that twenty-five, sixty, and seventy years from now the others we had interviewed will be answering with the same kind of experiential certainty. She has tasted and seen the goodness of God. Her soul abounds with joy and confidence that only comes through following Jesus for decades by the grace he gives to persevere. Her witness makes me look forward to perseverance for all the days the Lord gives me on this earth to follow Jesus.
Those planted by the LORD
Will in God’s courts be seen;
When old they’ll still bear fruit
And flourish fresh and green,
And this proclaim –
How upright is the LORD
My Rock, no wrong in Him!