For many years now BBC has had a church covenant, a document outlining the biblical principles of behaviour expected from members of the church. Each member of the church is required to sign a church covenant, thereby committing themselves before God and the local church to live according to the principles outlined in the covenant. Further, by signing the covenant each member asks the church to help hold them accountable to live in accordance with their commitment.
The issue of a church covenant can be contentious. Some have been quick to point out that formal covenants are nowhere to be found in Scripture. Jesus, for example, did not have each of the Twelve sign a piece of paper before calling them to follow Him.
Whilst it is true that the practice of signing a church covenant is not clearly shown in Scripture, the principle of submission to a particular local church and the God-ordained leaders of that church is quite plain. A church covenant simply crystallises in short the type of behaviour that the church (under Christ) expects from each of its members.
Matt Shmucker from the 9Marks ministry has offered a helpful summary of what a church covenant is. He argues that a church covenant can be described in at least five different ways:
- A church covenant is a promise made to God, to a local church, and to one’s self.
- A church covenant is a summary of how we agree to live. While our statement of faith is a good summary of what we believe, our church covenant is a summary of how we agree to live. More importantly, it is a summary of how God would have us live. It does not include every explicit command regarding obedience, but it does give a general summary of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ.
- A church covenant is a sign of commitment to God, to His church, and to personal holiness.
- A church covenant is an ethical statement. Historian Charles W. DeWeese writes, “A church covenant is a series of written pledges based on the Bible which church members voluntarily make to God and to one another regarding their basic moral and spiritual commitments and the practice of their faith” (Baptist Church Covenants, p. viii). One theologian calls church covenants the “ethical counterpart to confessions of faith.” A church covenant can be an important part of applying a Christian worldview to every aspect of our lives. Inherent in the purpose of a church covenant is the understanding that church membership involves being held accountable to live in a manner consistent with a common understanding of Scripture.
- A church covenant is a biblical standard. A church covenant is helpful in a church that is practicing Biblical church discipline. As members of a church, we exhort one another to live holy lives, and we challenge brothers and sisters persisting in sin.
The church covenant at BBC has undergone several revisions since it was first instituted. In 2007 it was completely revamped as we adopted what we believe to be a better-worded covenant than our initial one. As it currently stands, the covenant of Brackenhurst Baptist Church reads as follows:
By God’s grace, we are gathered as those who have repented and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have given ourselves to him and affirmed one another as citizens of his kingdom through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Relying on his gracious aid, we do now solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.
- We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.
- We will walk together in love as Christ commands, caring for each other, watching over each other, encouraging and admonishing one another as occasion requires, and striving to avoid anything that will bring unwarranted harm to the Body or jeopardise our own or the faith of another.
- We will regularly attend the church’s gatherings and faithfully pray for one another.
- We will endeavour to lead those in our care in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, as well as to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
- We will rejoice at each others’ happiness and bear each others’ burdens and sorrows.
- With God’s help, we will live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly desires. Our symbolic burial and resurrection in baptism testifies to this special obligation to live a new and holy life.
- We will work together to maintain a faithful gospel witness in our worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully to the expenses of the church, the needs of our neighbours, and the spread of the gospel around the world.
- If we leave this congregation, we will join another gospel-preaching church as soon as possible where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s word.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.