We are reworking our specific membership covenant that’s been largely non-existent in the life of our church for many years. It is our desire as elders to raise it back up to a state of prominence, visibility, and functionality in the life of our church. As I’ve recently been reading and considering the wording of our covenant, I’ve also been thinking about both the implicit and explicit membership covenant of the local church and its value for the church. We would be wise to take it seriously.
The Implicit Church Covenant
As individuals follow Christ by faith and identify with Him through baptism, they are brought into the life of a Christian community called a church. As individuals are added to the church, there are implicit expectations for both the church collectively and the new member specifically of the local assembly. It comes with the territory—when you have people there are needs and expectations.
Some of the implicit membership requirements in a local church include:
- Participation in corporate worship through the ordinary means of grace (preaching of the Word, observance of the ordinances, and prayer)—Acts 2:42-47.
- Spiritual accountability (Matt. 18:15-20).
- Submission to the spiritual leadership of the church (Heb. 13:17).
- Pursuing holiness (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3).
- Maintaining unity within the local church (Eph. 4:3; Rom. 12:18).
- Not forsaking the assembling of the church (Heb. 10:23-25).
- Visible and functioning member who exercises spiritual gifts in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31; James 1:22).
- Maintaining Christian love and honor for one another (Rom. 12:10; John 15:17; John 13:34; Eph. 4:2).
- Engaging in the church’s ministry of discipleship and evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20).
Even without a written document titled, “church covenant” it’s abundantly clear from the pages of the New Testament that membership matters and certain responsibilities are inherently received as one enters the church as a follower of Jesus.
The Explicit Church Covenant
We engage in covenants at many different points in the course of our lives. For instance, marriage is a covenant between two individuals and to God (in the presence of witnesses). We enter into financial covenants when we purchase a home and sign off on a loan. We are making a pledge to pay back the loan on certain terms. This is a contractual and financial covenant—a promise made between two parties with binding agreements.
My father served for 36 years as a fireman in our community. I can recall him explaining to me as a boy the importance of his uniform he wore to work every third day. On his days off, he didn’t wear his uniform. But, on every third day, he would appear in the living room early in the morning dressed in his uniform. He explained to me that when he was dressed in the uniform, he was a direct representative of the local community. Therefore, the chief had expectations for all employees and boundaries they must submit to while in uniform. If they were caught in violation of those boundaries, it could result in a formal and professional reprimand.
As members of God’s universal Church, we represent Jesus no matter where we live and travel. However, on a local level, we represent Christ and the local body that we’re members of in our community. Many churches have a specified church covenant that outlines the big membership expectations for the entire church body. These agreements serve as pledges or promises that we’re engaging in together with the entire church to engage in ministry and life that honors Christ. A church covenant serves as promises to be kept, shared responsibility with other members, boundaries for ministry and life, and a healthy reminder of what’s expected of fellow Christians according to the Scripture.
Does your church have an explicit church covenant on display or contained in the governing documents of the church? Does your church ever read it aloud in order to remind the entire church of the promises? Do you take the church covenant seriously? Could it be that the lack of functional and binding church covenants in the local churches of our day serves as proof of the downgrade of biblical church membership?
Often people make statements such as, “Do we really want to make it more difficult to enter the local church than it is to enter heaven?” In one sense, yes we should. For instance, the condemned man on the cross next to Christ went to heaven without entering through church membership. So it is possible to go to heaven without church membership, but just not very likely. Even if your church doesn’t operate with an official explicit church covenant, it would be wise to humbly submit to the implicit church covenant expectations found in Scripture. Don’t play fast and loose with God’s church. Make it your goal to become a visible, humble, functional, submissive church member for the glory of God.