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Church Covenant - Biblical Precedent and Guiding Principles Print E-mail
Church Covenants

I.  Introduction:

 Tonight we are beginning a series on our Church covenant.  The reasons for this are fairly obvious: the constitutional revision committee is about to present the covenant that they have been working on and in order to avoid this simply being a ‘committee covenant’ we want to bring it before the Church for input and discussion.  The committee will present the covenant next week at our August business meeting and from that point on we will take our Sunday night services to work through the covenant together.  I encourage you to come and be involved in the discussion.  Tonight, I simply want to look again at the biblical precedent for having a Church covenant and the guiding principles that the committee used in preparing the covenant that they have written.

II.  The Biblical precedent for a Church covenant

 A.  Major Covenants in the Bible: I want to briefly mention five covenants in the Bible that I am identifying as ‘major covenants.’  First is the Noahic covenant.  Look at Genesis 9:8-17.  The first place the Bible mentions the idea of ‘covenant’ is found in relation to Noah (see Genesis 6:18).  After the Lord delivers Noah and his family from the flood, He covenants with them to never destroy the earth with a flood again.  The sign given for this covenant is the rainbow. 

 Second is the Abrahamic covenant.  In Genesis 15 we read of God establishing a covenant with Abraham.  Look at 15:18.  The Lord promises to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s numerous descendents.  We read more of this covenant in Genesis 17.  Look at 17:1-8.  The Lord will make Abraham exceedingly fruitful, including nations and kings.  And as we saw before, He will give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendents.  Then in 17:9-14, the Lord gives Abraham the sign for this covenant, namely circumcision. 

 Third is the Mosaic, or Sinai, covenant.  We read of this in Exodus 24.  Look at 24:7-8.  The Lord makes a covenant with Israel after He has redeemed them from Israel to be their God and for them to be His people.  They break the covenant during the golden calf incident, but it is renewed in Exodus 34.  For the most part, it is this covenant that is the dominant covenant of the Old Testament and is being referenced when the Biblical writers speak of ‘the old covenant.’ 

 Fourth is the Davidic covenant.  This covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7 and speaks of God keeping a descendent of David on the throne forever (which points to Christ and the New Covenant, see below). 

 Fifth is the New Covenant established by Jesus’ blood.  The Old Testament points to this covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31ff) and Jesus announces its arrival during the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Look at Luke 22:20.  The author of Hebrews compares the Old Covenant (Mosaic) with the New and points out the superiority of the Covenant of Christ (see Hebrews 8).

 B.  Covenant Principles in the Bible: Other covenants between individuals and others are mentioned in the Old Testament.  For example, Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21), Isaac and Abimelech (Genesis 26), Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31), David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18), all establish covenants.  Likewise, when the people of Israel return from exile, they reestablish their covenant with each other and God (Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 9).  Particularly this last one seems to parallel the covenants that exist in local churches.  In addition to these passages on covenants, there is also the ‘one another’ commands in the New Testament.  These commands have served as the basis for much of what the committee has written.  They give us clear instructions about how we are to relate to one another as believers. 

 When you put all of this together, it is not hard to see the biblical precedent for establishing a covenant as a local Church.  Is it absolutely mandated that a Church have a covenant?  No.  Yet, can it be a great tool in encouraging biblical faithfulness in local churches?  Yes, and the committees hope is that what they have written and what we decide upon will serve that end.  Let me state it this way: God has established a covenant with us through the blood of Christ.  All who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ are a part of this New Covenant.  The goal of a Church covenant is not to replace or even stand beside the Covenant that believers have with Christ.  Rather, the Church covenant serves the New Covenant.  It is one way that we encourage one another to be faithful to the covenant that we have with God through Christ.  Thus, we are a ‘covenant community’ in at least two ways.  First, we are all professing participants in the Covenant of Christ.  Second, we have covenanted with each other in this local Church on the basis of our Covenant with Christ.  May the second covenant truly encourage faithfulness to the first. 

III.  Guiding Principles for the writing of our Church covenant:

 A.  We agreed that a Church covenant deals mainly with conduct (and relationships) and not as much with beliefs.  This is not a ‘statement of faith’ like the Baptist Faith and Message.  Thus, as with the other covenants that we read, the covenant that was written primarily focused on the ‘living out’ of our faith in Christ, dealing particularly with our commitments to one another as fellow believers in Jesus.

 B.  We agreed that the covenant should be biblically based.  We wanted to be very intentional about this and so we decided that every phrase of the covenant needs to be defensible and supportable by specific texts.  Thus, we have references for just about every phrase and many have numerous references to support them.  This was extremely important to the committee and it is not hard to understand why.  As we work through the covenant together, we need to keep this principle in mind.  We want to develop a covenant that is explicitly supported by the text.

 C.  Building off of the above statement, we wanted to try and write a covenant that all true Bible-believing Christians could submit to.  Of course, there may be issues that prevent us from completely succeeding here, but it is a worthy guiding principle I think.  I would not want someone who I think is actually in the Kingdom to not be able to join our Church simply because of our Church covenant.  Thus, we felt that the Church covenant should be inclusive enough for all believers to submit to.

 D.  We decided that we wanted to be more general than specific in our overall approach to writing our statements.  There is no way that we could list every particular sin that the Bible names.  Thus, instead of trying to pick out the ones that were important to the committee or ones that we thought were important for our Church or our Culture (our ‘day’), we simply wanted to make it general enough to cover each sin without naming them particularly.  For example, we all agreed that divorce has run rampant in our culture and even in our Churches, but we felt that it was too specific a sin to name in our covenant.  Yet, we believe that our statement on holy living is general enough to include this sin and speak against it.  This principle caused what was written to end up focusing more on what we would do (positive) and less on what we would not do (negative).  Hopefully this principle will make more sense when we actually look at the covenant.

IV.  Conclusion:

 After discussing the above principles, the committee began gathering covenants to consider.  We looked at numerous covenants (including our own) from different time periods and different settings.  Then we agreed on certain number of issues that we thought should be included.  We worked through each of these issues developing a few sentences that best captured what we thought was important.  Then we added an introduction statement and a concluding prayer (which is taken straight from Scripture).  We will be presenting the complete document along with Scriptural references on Wednesday night at the business meeting.  The committee is prepared (and even expects) revision to take place.  They see this document as a ‘rough draft.’  Thus, I encourage you to read and pray through the covenant and to attend our discussions of it each Sunday night.  May the Lord grant us grace in our efforts.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 September 2009 )

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