Recently, and with little forethought, a word fell out my lips when speaking with a friend. What was this word that unguardedly fell from my lips?
It was covenant and I was using it, not in the traditional sense of those covenants God has made with the human race and which are contained in Holy Scripture, but in terms of the covenantal nature of church membership. In a word, I had the audacity to suggest that when people enter church life, they should do so on the basis of entering a covenant.
It sounded archaic when it fell from my lips and my friend looked at me askance as if to ask, “What planet are you from?” To say something that strong in an age when the validity of the local church itself is being questioned does, I admit, seem out of place. But there are churches today that still view church membership as a covenantal obligation, which the members willingly pledge to uphold and hold themselves accountable. By doing so, they are recognizing both the privilege and responsibility of being a member of a local church.
Are these churches remnants of a forgotten past having little or no bearing on church life in the twenty-first century? Some would dismiss them as being out of date, but I don’t think so. In fact, I would make the case that we are paying dearly for the loss of covenant when it comes to church life. Today, people come and go as they please, leaving churches at the drop of a hat with little regard for the fact that they are breaking relationships (not to mention display a disregard for leadership).
Let’s be clear that by church covenant I do not mean to suggest a person can never leave a church where a covenant relationship has been formed. If a church ceases to preach the Gospel, replacing it with human tradition or some other human construct that would certainly be a reason to leave. If leaders sin and it is not dealt with biblically, that is certainly a situation where leaving a church might be warranted. When we speak of church covenant, we do not mean pledging our lives to a church regardless of what they believe or what they do.
What then do we mean by church covenant? For the most part, a church covenant is a declaration, which many churches ask their members to sign, that outlines the duties and responsibilities of each confessing member. It is (to quote Wikipedia):