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The Mars Hill discussion has me thinking about the whole concept of membership covenants.

I am familiar with the theological trajectory that led to their development and I am a leader at a church that uses them. When I first came to be a member and they told me that I had to sign one I pointed out that the Bible provides no basis for us putting any additional burden upon people than that which God does in His Word. They replied that there was nothing in the covenant that isn't a Biblical requirement. I responded that if that was the case then the document was not necessary since the Bible already contained a mechanism for the church to respond to those issues. You have to pick and choose your battles and since there wasn't anything objectionable in the document I signed it (after prayerful consideration). I have not opposed its use though I do not see it as necessary.

Do you agree or disagree with the use of these covenants? Do they serve a functional purpose? Are they necessary? Please provide any Scriptural basis for your view.

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In the Mars Hill instance, I'm definitely against it.  The church sees fit to modify your requirements and their requirements at will and you are forced to re-up ever year by signing a new one.  To me, this violates the concept of a true covenant.  In a true covenant, I can't re-do the terms as I see fit just because I am in the authority position and have granted myself the power to do so.  
I've been in a church start-up where we were founding members.  There was a covenant there as well.  But it didn't have the kinds of terms to it that Mars Hill implements.  I would not sign the Mars Hill membership covenant.  And the reason why is not that the principles are unbiblical, but that the APPLICATION of them is not Biblical.  I'm a big fan of authority and following the authorities that God has placed over me.  When it came to civil authorities and obedience to them, I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness in that area.  But I don't believe a church leader has unlimited authority and jurisdiction over me.  I don't believe that they can change the rules any time they want without any accountability.  And I would not vow to obey my pastor and submit to his "discipline" when the guy is as controversial as this one and there is no way of predicting what he is going to say or do next.  If leadership isn't going to abide by the by-laws of the church, why should I expect them to live up to their side of some covenant that they force on me?   

So Daniel, is it fair to say that you only submit to those with whom you agree?

And if you later find out you disagree, you can withdraw this authority and place it on another with whom you agree?

No. That assumes that I'd submit myself in all ways to some pastor just because I agreed with him. :)  I would submit to my pastor's leadership as my spiritual shepherd and, as was the case when I was a deacon, I'd honor his position and not do anything to challenge it.  But I am NEVER going to give some pastor control over my finances or my sex life or my marriage bed or any other of my private areas.  Those I submit to my God, my conscience, and my wife.  

Doesn't matter who the pastor is.  They make mistakes.  They are fallible.  Say for example that I agree with Scott in 100% of all things and think he's the best pastor ever.  And say he's a godly man.  I am still not going to grant him and his preferences and his convictions some override over my own and grant his unconditional access over all areas of my life.  Not only would he be wrong to demand that of me (and therefore not my favorite guy after all), but granting him that level of control over my life make him my lord and master, not my God.  It exceeds his authority as my pastor and relinquishes my own responsibility in those matters.  If Scott has the Biblical authority to be my conscience and tell me who I can see and not see, who I MUST see and when, and has the authority to demand my most private of actions and thoughts, then he's placing himself in the spot of the Holy Spirit and God.  Sorry, but they don't need that help.  If I am not going to listen to the Holy Spirit, I wouldn't listen to Scott either.  By me elevating Scott to that position, neither of us are doing what we should.  

If I had a pastor, and I have in the past, that I disagreed with on some doctrinal issue, I would not leave the church over most of them.  They are the kinds of controversies that we debate here.  Where disagreements arise that HAVE caused me to leave a church, it wasn't as if it saw myself "withdrawing from their authority" and submitting to another one.  I don't view the church the way Catholics do.  It isn't an authoritative organism.  To me, the church is more organic and more of an organism.  We are all different parts of the body, and none is more important than another.  So I don't have this "must submit, must obey, resistance is futile" approach to my pastor.  If the church leadership makes a decision that I believe is damaging to my family or damaging to the church body, it is time to replace the leadership or find another body to worship with.  Catholics don't really have that same option.

When I get to heaven, I am going to be judged for obeying of disobeying God, not my fallible pastor.  And if my pastor demands of me things that he is not entitled to, especially when he doesn't have his own ducks in a row, he's going to answer to that as well.

Ryan said:

So Daniel, is it fair to say that you only submit to those with whom you agree?

And if you later find out you disagree, you can withdraw this authority and place it on another with whom you agree?

In answer to the OP, Yes, I agree to the use of covenants. And I believe they are specifically useful for:

1) The commitment of a person or family to a body of believers - floating families that have no "church home" can be, in general, unhealthy. 

2) The shepherding of the church leaders - How is a shepherd to do his shepherding if the sheep is in no way committed to being a part of that flock? 

3) Cases of (just for you Daniel) real, biblically done, God ordained and directed church discipline - For the protection of the sheep from false teachers and those who would lead them astray (including sexual sin).

Church covenants help people to take their role seriously within the body, and not be floaters. 

I see no Biblical basis for the use of membership covenants. I do see a basis for knowing who is in fellowship within the assembly though and what needs (be it physical or spiritual) need to be addressed.

Paul, for example, mentions a list of widows that is being maintained and who should or shouldn't be on it (1 Tim 5:9-11). And in Acts 6:1-7 there is the precedence of choosing these individuals who were known and reliable to do this specific work. So whatever was going on in Acts 14:23 seems to underscore this idea of known leaders within the fellowship community. Of course, this is all with the background fact that these leaders aren't leaders merely by qualification (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) or by desire but actually by God's prerogative (Acts 20:28).

So the membership seems to be known.

But beyond that, the membership can also be disciplined. We have the obvious cases from Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians were discipline within the church is called for. And we have Hebrews 13:7 which underscores obeying leaders and 1 Timothy 5:17-20 which underscores supporting leaders (be it spiritually or financially) an 1 Pet 5:5 underscoring mutual submission (yes) but also submission to elders.

So that's already built into the Scriptures.

The problem is that you wind up with an individualistic society that sees Doing Church as this box where Spiritual Things Happen (sorta like Scripture) and which has absolutely no bearing in other parts of life. So 1 Corinthians 5 is waved off as continued sin when it really is an assembly which probably thinks (a) this person is in leadership and shouldn't be dealt with or (b) this assembly is strong enough to bear with this sort of thing by letting it go on or even (c) it's not happening in front of them; it's a private matter. So Paul says that even if it is happening in the bedroom, it is assembly business and must be dealt with. Or in the case of food offered to idols, Paul says "avoid it" or again, "you don't share a meal with God and with demons". It's serious stuff and he's constantly saying that this is an assembly issue that attacks the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 11 is completely unsurprising then when he tells them all to just stop assembling if they can't celebrate the Gospel right.

People forget that the Gospel is not merely about Saving Me and now sanctification is Me and My Walk With God; the Gospel is about God saving People. It's a group. And when we assemble together we're reflecting the fact that God has saved, is saving and will save This Group Gathered Here.

So when discipline happens, it's no small thing. The idea of delivering over to Satan (1 Cor 5) is telling the individual "We don't see you as part of the group that is being saved: you are cast out." That should be a scary thing. Unfortunately, nowadays, it really isn't.

Leaders, then, come up with this Thing that they call a membership covenant to remind people of what they're signing up for. It's like the marriage covenant. I don't think there's a Biblical basis for speaking the oath, but it winds up serving a function of public acknowledgement and personal conviction in what's being done. So although the membership covenant may not have a Biblical basis it may have an expedient function.

Personally, I think a lot can be said for the public acceptance of people into the assembly apart from the covenant. For example, the elders having the individual in front of everyone and saying "this person is now in fellowship with our assembly." and perhaps the assembled body of believers praying over them or taking them under their wings for this or that meeting of the church. Something that says "you are now part of us and we are each accountable to one another, our leaders, all under God." Christians that are off alone should be gathered around. If sick, the leaders should assemble with them. If there's marital problems: the leaders should know about them. They are keeping watch over the flock and it's a job that takes serious vigilance (Acts 20).

So to the OP: I don't disagree with the use of membership covenants. I think they can serve a functional purpose. I don't think they're necessary since Scripture is rich on the issue. I think they might be able to work in a shorthand for people who just don't know any better.

Why wouldn't becoming a member (covenant or not) cover this?

I have been involved with churches who have non-member regular attenders who are more involved, more submissive, and more caring than some others who signed the covenant. Biblically speaking is there any reason that the covenant signers should be considered of a different status than godly people who are involved and committed but did not sign?

Crazy (JB) said:

In answer to the OP, Yes, I agree to the use of covenants. And I believe they are specifically useful for:

1) The commitment of a person or family to a body of believers - floating families that have no "church home" can be, in general, unhealthy. 

2) The shepherding of the church leaders - How is a shepherd to do his shepherding if the sheep is in no way committed to being a part of that flock? 

3) Cases of (just for you Daniel) real, biblically done, God ordained and directed church discipline - For the protection of the sheep from false teachers and those who would lead them astray (including sexual sin).

Church covenants help people to take their role seriously within the body, and not be floaters. 

Having said that Rey...

Do you see the need or functional purpose as arising out of a failure of churches to properly teach what being part of the community entails? Is the covenant a short cut for taking the time to disciple people?

Rey Reynoso said:

So to the OP: I don't disagree with the use of membership covenants. I think they can serve a functional purpose. I don't think they're necessary since Scripture is rich on the issue. I think they might be able to work in a shorthand for people who just don't know any better.

Isn't this a little like the old "we don't need a piece of paper to tell us we're married" deal. Genuine commitments are typically solemnized by putting them down on paper. People have different ideas. People forget what they said. Things drift. Inertia. Intropy. Selective memory. Wishful thinking.

 

It's hard to be on the same page when there is no page to be on.

 

Just some thoughts.



Rey Reynoso said:

I see no Biblical basis for the use of membership covenants. I do see a basis for knowing who is in fellowship within the assembly though and what needs (be it physical or spiritual) need to be addressed.

Paul, for example, mentions a list of widows that is being maintained and who should or shouldn't be on it (1 Tim 5:9-11). And in Acts 6:1-7 there is the precedence of choosing these individuals who were known and reliable to do this specific work. So whatever was going on in Acts 14:23 seems to underscore this idea of known leaders within the fellowship community. Of course, this is all with the background fact that these leaders aren't leaders merely by qualification (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) or by desire but actually by God's prerogative (Acts 20:28).

So the membership seems to be known.

But beyond that, the membership can also be disciplined. We have the obvious cases from Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians were discipline within the church is called for. And we have Hebrews 13:7 which underscores obeying leaders and 1 Timothy 5:17-20 which underscores supporting leaders (be it spiritually or financially) an 1 Pet 5:5 underscoring mutual submission (yes) but also submission to elders.

So that's already built into the Scriptures.

The problem is that you wind up with an individualistic society that sees Doing Church as this box where Spiritual Things Happen (sorta like Scripture) and which has absolutely no bearing in other parts of life. So 1 Corinthians 5 is waved off as continued sin when it really is an assembly which probably thinks (a) this person is in leadership and shouldn't be dealt with or (b) this assembly is strong enough to bear with this sort of thing by letting it go on or even (c) it's not happening in front of them; it's a private matter. So Paul says that even if it is happening in the bedroom, it is assembly business and must be dealt with. Or in the case of food offered to idols, Paul says "avoid it" or again, "you don't share a meal with God and with demons". It's serious stuff and he's constantly saying that this is an assembly issue that attacks the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 11 is completely unsurprising then when he tells them all to just stop assembling if they can't celebrate the Gospel right.

People forget that the Gospel is not merely about Saving Me and now sanctification is Me and My Walk With God; the Gospel is about God saving People. It's a group. And when we assemble together we're reflecting the fact that God has saved, is saving and will save This Group Gathered Here.

So when discipline happens, it's no small thing. The idea of delivering over to Satan (1 Cor 5) is telling the individual "We don't see you as part of the group that is being saved: you are cast out." That should be a scary thing. Unfortunately, nowadays, it really isn't.

Leaders, then, come up with this Thing that they call a membership covenant to remind people of what they're signing up for. It's like the marriage covenant. I don't think there's a Biblical basis for speaking the oath, but it winds up serving a function of public acknowledgement and personal conviction in what's being done. So although the membership covenant may not have a Biblical basis it may have an expedient function.

Personally, I think a lot can be said for the public acceptance of people into the assembly apart from the covenant. For example, the elders having the individual in front of everyone and saying "this person is now in fellowship with our assembly." and perhaps the assembled body of believers praying over them or taking them under their wings for this or that meeting of the church. Something that says "you are now part of us and we are each accountable to one another, our leaders, all under God." Christians that are off alone should be gathered around. If sick, the leaders should assemble with them. If there's marital problems: the leaders should know about them. They are keeping watch over the flock and it's a job that takes serious vigilance (Acts 20).

So to the OP: I don't disagree with the use of membership covenants. I think they can serve a functional purpose. I don't think they're necessary since Scripture is rich on the issue. I think they might be able to work in a shorthand for people who just don't know any better.

Yes and yes.

KG said:

Having said that Rey...

Do you see the need or functional purpose as arising out of a failure of churches to properly teach what being part of the community entails? Is the covenant a short cut for taking the time to disciple people?

Problem is, it's a societal issue not necessarily any single church's issue. If you could get EVERY church on board to teach the same thing (hahahahahahahahahahha) about membership, in every denomination, then we could go back to a first century "understanding" of church membership. But the likelihood of that happening...

So, here we are with church covenants, at least in the USA.

Another problem with the whole society thing... when I search google maps for "church" when it is zoomed in on my city of Canton, GA I get 1,266 results within 20 minute drive and 17,995 within an hours drive. So it is an issue that here in the bible belt there are so many churches around that people can "float" for a long long time and not be in any real fellowship, church body, or under any sort of shepherding oversight.  So churches who take themselves seriously enough to have a church covenant to sign are the ones who seem to actually care about their people. 



Rey Reynoso said:

Yes and yes.

KG said:

Having said that Rey...

Do you see the need or functional purpose as arising out of a failure of churches to properly teach what being part of the community entails? Is the covenant a short cut for taking the time to disciple people?

I agree with Rey.  There is no clear Biblical example of this.  But I also agree with JB.  Coming to Christ and becoming part of The Body does seem to require a commitment.  And I don't have a problem with that in principle.  We are not called to be pew-warmers.  A membership agreement focuses on that.  And I don't see that as a bad thing.  But in the specifics of Mars Hill, I find what is being required goes far beyond Biblical principle as I understand it.  I woke up this morning with one thought.  When I came to Christ, I got a new Lord and Master and a new Mentor.  Christ is my Master.  My pastor or small group leader is my mentor.  And we shouldn't confuse the two.

I understand your point JB but within the context of any particular fellowship wouldn't the preaching and teaching of the Word virtually have to involve addressing the responsibilities we have to one another? Sure there are some things that are distinctive but aren't most of the responsibilities we have toward one another fairly straight forward in the Bible?



Crazy (JB) said:

Problem is, it's a societal issue not necessarily any single church's issue. If you could get EVERY church on board to teach the same thing (hahahahahahahahahahha) about membership, in every denomination, then we could go back to a first century "understanding" of church membership. But the likelihood of that happening...

So, here we are with church covenants, at least in the USA.

Another problem with the whole society thing... when I search google maps for "church" when it is zoomed in on my city of Canton, GA I get 1,266 results within 20 minute drive and 17,995 within an hours drive. So it is an issue that here in the bible belt there are so many churches around that people can "float" for a long long time and not be in any real fellowship, church body, or under any sort of shepherding oversight.  So churches who take themselves seriously enough to have a church covenant to sign are the ones who seem to actually care about their people. 



Rey Reynoso said:

Yes and yes.

KG said:

Having said that Rey...

Do you see the need or functional purpose as arising out of a failure of churches to properly teach what being part of the community entails? Is the covenant a short cut for taking the time to disciple people?

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