Credible profession vs grilling by the session

“In all churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership, and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling. A Church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation. The Church is Christ’s fold. The sacraments are the seals of his covenant. All have a right to claim admittance who make a credible profession of the true religion – that is, who are presumptively the people of Christ. This credible profession of course involves a competent knowledge of the fundamental doctrine of Christianity – a declaration of personal faith in Christ and consecration to his service, and a temper of mind and habit consistent therewith. On the other hand, no man can be inducted into any office in any Church who does not profess to believe in the truth and wisdom of the constitution and laws which it will be his duty to conserve and administer. Otherwise all harmony of sentiment and all efficient co-operation in action would be impossible” (A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary, p. 3).

Evidently a “credible profession” of faith in Jesus Christ does NOT necessarily include an affirmation of the veracity of His Word:

“We have been represented sometimes as though we were requiring an acceptance of the infallibility of Scripture or of the confession of faith of our Church from those who desire to become Church members, whereas in point of fact we have been requiring these things only from candidates for ordination” (J. Gresham Machen, What is faith? p. 157).

And then Shedd articulates further:

“There is sometimes a misconception at this point. We have seen it stated that the membership of the Presbyterian Church is not required or expected to hold the same doctrine with the officers; that the pastor, elders, and deacons must accept the Confession of Faith ‘as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures’, but that the congregation need not. But this error arises from confounding the toleration of a deficiency with the endorsement of it. Because a church session tolerates in a particular person, who gives evidence of faith in Christ, an error respecting foreordination, or even some abstruse point in the Trinity, or the incarnation, [or an error respecting the infallibility of the Scriptures–CD] it does not thereby endorse the error. It does not sanction his opinion on these subjects, but only endures it, in view of his religious experience on the vital points of faith and repentance, and with the hope that his subsequent growth in knowledge will bring him to a final rejection of it. The Presbyterian Church tolerates theatre-going in some of its members: that is to say, it does not discipline them for it. But it does not formally approve of and sanction theatre-going. A proposition to revise the Confession by inserting a clause to this effect, in order to meet the wishes and practice of theatre-going church-members, would be voted down by the presbyteries” (W.G.T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure & Mixed, p. 9).

So a “credible profession” of faith in Jesus Christ would for MANY (not necessarily for all) include denying the truth of His Word. And as Shedd said, those who presume them to be believers are tolerating, yet not endorsing, the error of denying the Scripture’s infallibility.

This is the typical two-tiered membership view in the Reformed churches (or a two classes of “believers” view), whether or not they allow church membership to credible-professing and Scripture-infallibility-denying persons. The obvious damnable error in discernment here is presuming the regeneration of those who deny the testimony of God’s Word.

“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:45-47).

The aforementioned “two classes of believers” view can be seen in the following analogies:

“When we ask if someone can be saved without knowledge of the Deity of Christ, the answer is sure. Fertilized eggs that die before they implant in the womb can be saved, right? And they don’t know any of the catechism. And it won’t do to wave this off as a “special case” scenario. For all we know, the majority of people in heaven are in that category. And why do we persist in treating the life and death issues surrounding our covenant children as somehow off the table in this discussion? They are sinners, they are descended from Adam, they can be regenerated and saved. Now, are they saved by grace, or are they saved by understanding they are saved by grace? Clearly it is the former — they don’t understand anything.

At the great presbyterial banquet, I wouldn’t let anybody into the kitchen to cook if he did not know all about the Deity of Christ, the hypostatic union, the triune nature of God, the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and so on. But would I let people into the banquet to eat if they did not know about these things? Absolutely — the more they come, the more we feed them. And because we keep a close eye on the cooks, we feed them good stuff” (Douglas Wilson, Blog & Mablog, Cooks Who Feed Only Themselves).


“Many persons — to take a secular example — can be admitted to an educational institution as students who yet are not qualified for a position in the faculty. Similarly many persons can be admitted to Church membership who yet ought not to be admitted to the ministry; they are qualified to learn, but not qualified to teach; they should not be allowed to stand forth as the accredited teachers with the official endorsement of the Church” (J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith, pp. 157-158).

Cooking is analogous to teaching and eating is analogous to learning. But according to Scripture BOTH those who cook and those who eat BELIEVE THE GOSPEL. But stated in the written works of Wilson and Machen is that many regenerate persons remain ignorant of the gospel.