Church Covenants and Membership
Is it Legalism?
What is a Church Covenant or a Membership Statement?
Normally they are seen as lists of requirements that prospective members agree to adhere to, to be a functioning member of a particular Church.
Also a guideline as to what is expected by the church of their members.
Some membership policies have included in them a statement of faith and in certain cases, new members are asked to follow the particular statements of doctrine taught by the church. i.e eschatology, ecclesiology, sacraments, ordinances and tithing etc.
However, what is in question in this leaflet is not statements of faith but whether or not, membership or covenant requirements are correct in light of scripture.
Are they really necessary, should they be imposed on believers?
Many Pastors, Pastoral teams, Elders, or Church Leadership, claim to abide by Biblical principals alone but then put forward a Church membership policy or Church covenant, which they consider relevant to their denomination.
The question is, where in the scriptures do we find such a thing?
When we become Christians, we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our personal saviour, we are told in scripture that we are baptised by one Spirit into one body. (The body of Christ).
1Cor 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
There is only one Church of Jesus Christ, in spite of there being many denominations. Denominations that have developed through disagreements on the interpretation of scripture or the way in which a church should be governed or have been set up by the following of a particular man. All of which the Apostle Paul taught against 1Corinthians Ch 1 v 12 “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ”.
1 Corinthians Ch 3 v 4 “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal”?
We are now part of the world wide Church in fellowship with all other believers in Christ. We are born again sons and daughters of God. We have the right to be called the sons of God.
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
We are placed under a New Covenant, which is a covenant of grace. By the grace of God, believers are no longer under the law and the condemnation that comes with it and they become part of Christ Jesus and are counted as justified, being clothed in His righteousness.
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Under this New Covenant, members are expected to love one another.
John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
Care for one another,
1 Cor 12: 25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
Share each other’s burdens,
Gal 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.Grow in grace,
2 Pet. 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen,"
Bring up their children in the teachings of the Lord,
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Give an account for the hope that is within them.
1Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. and so on and so on.
We accept that these commands are already part of the New Covenant.
Therefore is it necessary to ask Christians to sign a pledge to fulfil these things that every Christian is called to do?
Is it correct to add to what we have already been asked to do? Or does this lead to legalism and put one under a Church law that when one fails to fulfil any of the requirements, they find themselves in condemnation by the leadership or fellow church members. Or worse still, looked on as a bad Christian.
We were saved by faith, are we to be sanctified by works?
Galatians 3:2-5 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
By their very nature, church covenants and membership policies are contrary to the grace of the New Covenant.
Romans 14 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the Judgment seat of Christ.
Is it right for Churches to put attendees of the church under new law?
When we were saved we had one set of chains removed. Are we to be bound by a new set of chains, bound in Church legalism?
When I was first saved and regularly attended a church, I remember being asked to sign a membership form which included many of these rules, as well as others such as, to abstain from the sale of, and use of, intoxicating drinks as a beverage." "Intoxicating drinks" obviously means alcoholic drinks.
Obviously as a Christian there are things that we are taught in the Bible such as,
Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
We know that a local bishop should handle themselves in a particular way.
1 Tim 3:3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
In the same way we have advice for deacons.
1 Tim 3:8 Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money,
We know that wine in the right place, is not wrong.
1 Timothy 5:23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.
We also know that Jesus used wine, turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana and blessing the cup at the Last Supper.
Is a church covenant that forbids all consumption of alcohol not tantamount to trying to be holier than thou and imposing laws that are not supported by scripture.
There are also other things commonly added by church policies or covenants, such things as: regular attendance of church services, bible study and prayer meetings.
Whilst these are all good things to do and help in building ones faith and also plays a role in the making of good disciples, they can in many cases become laws in themselves and very often if someone fails to keep these rules, they are either chastised or looked down on, as backsliders or bad Christians.
We know that these things are advocated in scripture but they are not law.
So again the question arises, is a church covenant or church membership policy, a legalistic usurping of the grace of the New Covenant.
I can only speak for myself, what would I do if I was considering becoming a regular attendee at a certain church and it had a church covenant or membership policy. If I was approached to join or sign a pledge, personally, through what I have learned from previous experience I would have to decline.
I spent too many years living under guilt , brought about by this very thing.
However, I do believe that if the Lord directs you to a particular Church or group fellowship. It is the duty of every Christian to fulfil the law of Christ. Seeking to maintain the unity in the faith, looking to the good of all others in the fellowship.
So, the law of love is the law of Christ for all His disciples, the spirit and practice of Christian love is an indispensable condition of faithful membership in any local Church.
The spiritual and ethical ideal of any fellowship should always be, that its members should constantly seek to be made perfect in love.
I can only speak from my own experience and whilst being a part of any group of believers, I should try to promote harmony in the body of Christ, fulfilling the gifts that God has given to me for the benefit of the brethren, doing good by being merciful, doing good of every possible sort to the bodies of people as well as to their souls and, as far as possible, to all the brethren.
However, we should always remember what we are exhorted in scripture,
Galatians 5:1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Christ has set us free, we should live in that freedom.
Galatians 5:13 For you, brothers,were called to freedom; but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another in love.