How should we respond to those who profess faith?

Christian twitter has been awash with comment on Kanye West’s recent conversion. Everybody seems to have some opinion on it. Some say nothing but praise God for a sinner who has repented. Others sound more cautious and suggest that whilst it is ostensibly positive, time will tell. Others still just can’t believe it and don’t reckon there is anything to it at all.

On one level, let’s be honest, most of us are in absolutely no position to judge. I don’t know Kanye, I’ve not heard his testimony and I have no idea what church he is now being discipled in. Even if I did know those things, none of them mean I would necessarily judge matters any better from this distance. I haven’t been involved in sharing the gospel with him and I’ve had no hand in any discipleship to date. What insight could I possibly offer on his standing before the Lord under those circumstances? All I know is that he has given a credible profession of faith and I look the local church to affirm it is so. What can I do but assume the best? I’m happy, based on the little I know, to assume it is so until I have reason to believe otherwise. None of that particularly changes anything materially for the church any more than it would should some unknown individual person profess faith and trust Christ. We press on in the work Christ gives us to do, and we look to the Lord (not people, no matter how famous), to complete it.

But there is a wider question here. Not so much whether Kanye is a genuine believer, but how we treat those who profess faith in the church. I am amazed by how quickly people either jump on the ‘Kanye is a believer’ bandwagon or the converse ‘Kanye definitely isn’t a believer’ one when, let’s be honest, we have no grounds to say one way or the other. Just as I wouldn’t presume to tell a church in another part of the country anything about those they affirm as believers, I don’t have anymore insight into Kanye than the church that has worked with him. But I do think the way people have very quickly pronounced judgement from a distance is symptomatic of other things.

But it strikes me, when somebody professes faith, it is worth doing at least three things:

Affirm their profession

At the end of the day, evidence of genuine faith is offered by way of a credible profession of faith. That is the grounds on which Baptists have always baptised people. If somebody can communicate, no matter how simply, how they came to know Christ and what he has done for them, there is every reason to affirm that profession of faith.

Of course, in affirming the profession we are not saying, ‘yes, you are 100%, without doubt, saved.’ Frankly, we can’t ever really say that of anybody except those who have persevered for Christ until the end of their lives. But as far as we can ever tell these things, we can affirm that the profession of faith is credible and if that is genuinely what the person believes then, so far as we can ever know, we can affirm the person as a believer.

Encourage perseverance

Of course, specifically because scripture tells us that only those who persevere for Christ will receive the crown of life (cf. Jam 1:12), we need to encourage this person to persevere. We can affirm their profession of faith there and then, but we can also be clear that the true test of faith will be seen over time. We trust their profession now and we will come to believe it even more fully in time should they continue on in Christ.

Just as it is pastorally problematic to crush somebody who professes faith with a continual ‘we’ll see’ that never gets affirmed, it is equally problematic to affirm a decisionism that effectively tells people they are safe in Christ based on a one-time profession no matter how far from Christ they later wander. This means we ought to affirm the profession of a moment as just that, good evidence the person truly believes at the moment. But we should also be clear that their profession will truly be seen for what it is in the fulness of time.

Encourage them into a church

If somebody has given a credible profession of faith, we ought to be encouraging them towards the church. It is the church who will affirm that profession in baptism. It is the church who will provide them with the structures and the community that the Lord has given them so that they might persevere for him. It is the church who will disciple that individual so that they might press on in Christ and grow up in maturity.

In my church, our grounds for entry to membership is a credible profession of faith and a trinitarian baptism. We would typically baptise somebody into membership based on a credible profession of faith. If we have affirmed the profession, we ought to be encouraging the person to have that profession affirmed by the church in baptism and membership. And when they have done so, the church is there to provide the support that the Lord intends them to have so that they might press on faithfully with him.