Time for Renewing

Planning a service to rekindle our vows and commitments

Vows have lost their value for many people in our society. Marriages are discarded, church membership obligations ignored.

In the face of such a loose attitude toward public promises, Christians have an obligation to stress the importance of vows. As congregations, we regularly have the privilege of hearing the vows of others and of making vows before the people of God. But we must also be aware of our obligation to encourage others in our congregations to keep the promises they have made before God and the church family.

In this article Allen C. Groen, pastor of the Trinity CRC in Edmonton, Alberta, examines a practice that is growing in popularity in Reformed churches— renewing vows—and suggests ways in which Christians can help each other remain strong in their promises by occasionally renewing their commitments together as a congregation. VJhat Groen discusses is renewing, not redoing—an important distinction.

Allan C. Groen is pastor of the Trinity Christian Reformed Church, Edmonton, Alberta.

We all make vows before the Lord. We vow to love and honor our spouse, to raise our children in the Christian faith, and to remain faithful to the creeds and confessions of our church. Fulfilling these vows is a matter of obedience to the Lord (Ps. 116:14,18).

Before making vows, therefore, we should make sure we have "consulted God and our conscience" (Kierkegaard). And when we make vows, we should always keep them, "for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin [if you don't keep your vows]." Taking a vow is a historic act that marks a new life stage and creates new dimensions and directions for life. Vows have a once-for-all character that reflects our biblical and Reformed understanding of history.

A vow that is made after carefully considering the cost is a great gift. So we should celebrate with those people who are willing to make vows. But we mustn't forget that our vows are also costly calls to duty and that each of us needs the encouragement of others in the body to do what we promised to do.

Jesus was well aware of how difficult it is for us to be true to our word, and he often challenged his hearers to be faithful (Matt. 12:33-37;18:7-9; 25:14-30). As his followers, we must, in a similar way, challenge each other to be faithful. Some congregations encourage one another through services of renewal.

Planning a Renewal Service

A service in which we renew our vows should have a specific focus. In other words, we should not be asked to renew in one worship service all the vows we ever made. Instead, worship leaders might plan a series of renewal services over an extended period of time. For example, the first service might focus our attention on the message that God is a vow-keeping God (Heb. 6:13-20); a follow-up service might remind us that all our vows are made before God (Ps. 116: 14,18); additional services that might include renewal of specific vows, such as baptism vows or profession of faith vows, should be announced and planned well in advance to give members a chance to prepare themselves for personal renewal.

In a service of renewal, the congregation acknowledges the sin, the hurt, and the disappointment of unfaithfulness. Failure  to keep our vows is a serious matter. We must confess our failure before we reaffirm our desire and intention to work at keeping the vows we once made.

If the words for the renewal service are taken from the Scriptures, the creeds, or some historical authority, they will have greater authority than if they are written by a local person. In the service on pages 34 and 35, we use words from the Heidelberg Catechism to confess our conviction that all members of the congregation have the gifts for ministry and that it is our duty to use our gifts. We use words from John Wesley to commit ourselves to finding out what the Lord would have us do for him.

The ministry of the Word occurs very early in this service because if s important that our profession of faith and our words of commitment follow our listening to God's Word. The sermon in this service could deal with the grace God shows in calling us to be his obedient people. Or it could consider the cost of commitment and warn against speaking words we do not intend to keep. The sermon could also celebrate the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit who still stirs in the hearts of people to make them want to commit themselves.

Celebrations should certainly be part of such a service. Consider a husband and wife who have been married for a number of years. They know both the beauty and the difficulty of marriage. They know how much easier it is to make a vow than to keep it. Nevertheless, they are willing to renew their marriage vows before the Lord and his people. For many partners, hearing the "I do's" now, after the rough-and-tough years, will bring greater joy than hearing them the first time. The congregation should celebrate such joy and reaffirmation.

But the service should also show sensitivity to people who have not been able to keep the vows they once made. There are probably members of the congregation who suffer great pangs of guilt because they know they have been unfaithful to their children, to their marriage partner, to the church, or to their Lord. For them, a service of recommitment will be painful.

There may also be members who have made vows they do not intend to keep, men and women who have no insight into the seriousness of perjuring themselves before their congregation and their Lord. The service should challenge such people to recognize the importance of their vows and to make a new commitment to be faithful to those vows.

The truth is, all of us could benefit from such a challenge. Sometimes our lives are impoverished because we lose sight of our center. Being reminded of our promises and duties and renewing our vows will help us to live meaningful and growing lives. People who make and keep their vows live rich and purposeful lives and are a blessing to their sisters and brothers.

Allan C. Groen was pastor of Trinity Christian Reformed Church, Edmonton, Alberta.