Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dusting off the Church Covenant

Our church held a work day last Saturday. It was more of a purging than anything else. I am always amazed at how much stuff we amass and stow away in church. Of course we do the same at home too- just look in my attic. Cleaning out the storage rooms of a church often draws much debate on disagreement on the value of hanging onto certain things. Sometimes I wonder if we become more passionate about keeping our old chalk boards and Sunday School quarterlies than we are about keeping people connected and growing in the Lord. People come and go but don’t throw away that coffee can full of bottle-caps… after all we might need those for a VBS craft someday.

The most discouraging thing I found during this clean out process was the large framed copy of our church covenant. It was covered with a layer of dust buried behind an old out of tune piano which was itself buried behind a bunch of old junk no one wanted to claim. This is the statement of our church’s beliefs and our summarized commitment to God and one another as members of a local body of believers. There it was… buried under junk.

So we pulled it out, dusted it off, and are now trying to find the best place to hang it again. This particular copy is not sacred, but it does represent the lack of value that we may have grown to place on the church covenant in general. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC says about church covenants in his book The Deliberate Church-

“The church covenant is equal parts promise, summary of expectations, ethical statement, and biblical standard. We summarize how we promise to live together in the covenant. It forms the ethics, or the moral principles, of our worldview and holds out a biblical standard by which we live. Our acceptance of this multi-faceted document follows the practice of believers throughout the centuries who have pledged to God and one another to live out the gospel in community.”

Biblically a covenant was a binding agreement. Our church covenant is not the infallible Word of God. It is not the rule of faith, but it is a guiding statement which summarizes what we as a church believe and describes the kind of people we commit to be. I believe it is good to state what you believe to ensure unity and solidarity and to protect the flock from false doctrine or immorality. It is also good for prospective members to know what the church covenant says and be in agreement on it before joining the church. This helps avoid potential dissension and church discipline when you are clear about what it means to be a member up front. As I was meditating on the usefulness of our church covenant I came up with five ways the covenantal statement serves a sanctifying purpose:

1. It helps to raise the standard for church membership.
2. It serves as a measuring tool when church discipline may be needed.
3. It provides common ground- if we are clear and in agreement on the essentials we can disagree with charity on the non-essentials.
4. It is a tool for teaching children Biblical truth (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).
5. It is a summarized standard for holding each other accountable (Galatians 6:1-2) and examining our own salvation as authentic (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Here is a copy of our church covenant.