The last time I wrote about church covenants, I argued that the desire to make covenant commitments to those we love is a natural and godly desire; and that in fact, the inclination to make those commitments exists in our hearts precisely because we are created in the image of a covenant making God. (If you haven’t read that post it would be best, I think, to click here and read it before going on.) Having established what I think is a solid biblical rationale for making covenants, I now want to look at the practical rationale for making church covenants.
I want to make one thing clear, though. I don’t remotely think that I have this all figured out. I believe, on the one hand, that making and using church covenants is profoundly biblical; on the other, I have very little practical experience with them. In fact, some of you reading this have much more insight into and experience with church covenants than I do, so I hope you’ll participate in this discussion. I say all that just to say that I offer these thoughts as a fellow learner and disciple, and not in any way as an expert.
A practical rationale for making church covenants
There is a command in Hebrews 10:24 that provides the biblical basis for thinking about developing and using a church covenant:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works
You and I are called to consider–to think hard–about how to stir up, spur (NIV), stimulate (NASB) one another to love and good deeds. That command is coupled with another in the next verse to encourage or exhort one another, and all the more as we get closer to the return of Christ–which implies, amazingly, that we should be even more diligent to exhort each other now than when the command was originally given.
I believe that making a covenant with other believers in a local church is one excellent way to stimulate love and good works.
What difference does a church covenant make?
What are the practical benefits of having and using a church covenant? I see several.
- A well written church covenant is an efficient way to summarize the biblical teaching on how we are to live and relate to one another in the local church (whereas a statement of faith summarizes what we believe).
- The regular renewing of a church covenant is also an effective way for us to remind each other of our responsibilities to love, encourage, care for, correct, and discipline one another within the local church. And we desperately need daily reminders: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)
- As a result of those reminders, our practice of love, fellowship, accountability, and biblical church discipline is deepened and strengthened; membership becomes more meaningful (membership means almost nothing in churches that do not take their covenant commitments seriously); and a direct assault on the hardening deceitfulness of sin is launched.
- Finally, church covenants offer both new and prospective members a clear and concise understanding of the joys, privileges, and weighty responsibilities they will inherit when they join a local church.
Matt asked me what a church loses by not having a covenant. That prompted me to ask in reply what a marriage loses by not having vows. In both cases, it seems to me, the loss is great.
The vows we make in a church covenant function in much the same way vows in a marriage do. 1) They are a public proclamation (and therefore a solemnization) of the commitments we’ve made to each other in the presence of God and witnesses; 2) they are a natural and biblical expression of the love we have for each other; and 3) they provide the commitment and security we need for working through the inevitable difficulties that arise in every marriage and in every local church.
Do you love a woman? Then don’t just use her; be a man and commit your life to her. Do you love the church, the bride of Christ? Then don’t hesitate to commit your life to her.