|I don't think church covenants are biblical. That's not all that fascinating. I doubt anyone would argue that a church covenant is biblical. I think some folks like church covenants because they are so practical when it comes to pointing at something and saying, "See! This is what you signed your name to when you became a member!"
I mean, don't get me wrong, I like pacts as much as the next guy, but I think I would rather appeal to God's spirit and church discipline than to a signed contract both when it comes to discipline, and when it comes to encouraging someone to go deeper in their walk with Christ.
Again, I think it is very good --nay, imperative to have clearly defined expectations of what membership means when someone is considering joining a local congregation. I just don't think it should be a pact - since that inevitably will end up in someone making an appeal to a page you signed rather than to God and your sin.
I don't think a list of expectations has to be overly formal, but it should be clear and well explained from scripture. Truly, you could summarize such a list in a single sentence: "We expect you to conduct yourself according to the commands of scripture" - the trouble is a lot of Christians don't know the scriptures, and as such couldn't articulate off the top of their head, such notions as I am about to articulate off the top of my head.
I think a list of expectations of membership in a localized Christian congregation should begin with the expectation that a person is actually a Christian.
You could write something like this:
Above all else, members of the local body (congregation) of Christ are expected to be genuine Christians.
Then flesh it out thus:
According to the scriptures it is God's breath that has imparted life to each and every one of us. God breathed into Adam and Adam became a living being (cf. Genesis 2:7), and if God gathered to Himself this same breath by which we have our own lives, all flesh would perish together (cf. Job 14-15). When Adam disobeyed God, that act of disobedience brought into being a separation between God (the source and sustainer of our life) and mankind. The bible describes this as Adam's sin bringing death into the world (cf. Romans 5:12). Furthermore, God cursed all of creation in the wake of Adam's disobedience (cf. Genesis 3:14-19).
We are, by the nature of our existence, obligated to obey our Creator who, by His own grace and mercy, sustains our daily lives. Yet every person condemns themselves when they begin to obey their own will and (in enmity against God) reject God's rule over them (cf. Romans 5:18, 8:7).
To be sure, the scriptures teach that one significant effect of our having become estranged from God in this way is that no one by themselves will ever want (or can ever secure) reconciliation with God (c.f Romans 3:10-12).
In order for a sinner to seek reconciliation (and thereby salvation), the scriptures tell us that God Himself must draw the sinner into it (cf. John 6:44,65). The sinner is by no means the instigator of this salvation, but Christ (in response to the will of God the Father) initiates faith in each and every believer (cf. Hebrews 12:2).
Scripture teaches that before the foundation of the world God chose or determined (elected/predestined) exactly who He was going to extend mercy to, and that He likewise determined to bring a just judgment on those whom He did not determine to show mercy upon (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9:15,18).
Scripture teaches that the grace that God extends to those whom He justifies is not something God is obligated to provide, lest it no longer be grace, but a wage that must be paid (cf. Romans 11:6). When God's extends grace to one sinner, that does not obligate God to extend the same grace to all sinners.
Even though no person can seek God unless God Himself has already chosen that person, this does not make God culpable in commanding all of mankind to do what no individual is able to do (repent and believe the gospel). The scriptures teach that no person is able to keep -any- of God's commands; in fact the scriptures plainly state that the purpose of God's command is to teach us the truth about ourselves - that we are sinful to the core, and in need of a Savior.
Given that no person on earth is able to repent in and of themselves, God must (and does) grant (as a gift of His grace) this ability to those whom He draws to His Son.
Thus a Christian is a sinner in whom God produces a desire contrary to the world, a desire that eventually drives the sinner to surrender the rule of their life over to God (i.e. repent), and who abandons their own righteousness, having instead believed the good news concerning salvation - that God has provided a way for sinners to be reconciled to Himself by exercising faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, whereby those sinners who repent and believe are baptized into Christ who becomes their sin, and is put to death by God for the same sin, which upon Christ's death satisfied God's wrath that was directed at those sinful believers who were united together with Christ by faith through their baptism into Christ, so that when Christ died, the debt of their sin was paid in full, and again, when Christ was raised, they were likewise raised with Him by reason of that same Spiritual union by which Christ was able to become their sin - in this way His life becomes the life of all who were in Him by faith.
We expect, therefore, members of the local congregation to have surrendered the rule of their life to God, and to have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. While we do not expect everyone who has been reconciled to God through a repentant faith to articulate all aspects of their regeneration, we do expect every member to be able to articulate without confusion, the gospel by which they themselves entered into the Christ's kingdom.
I mean it doesn't have to be perfect, but it should make clear the fact that you're not a Christian if you haven't ever surrendered your life to God's rule and turned to Christ in faith to be saved from your sin. Who knows? Maybe expecting your members to be Christians is a little over the top for some, but I am picky that way.
Again, I would say the next thing you would expect from a member is that they understand that membership is not optional. It isn't that they have to join themselves to your congregation - but that if they are going to obey God at all, they -must- join themselves to a local congregation of believers.
So I would probably put in something like this:
All believers everywhere are expected to become a member of a local body;
I would then offer some explanation such as this:
The Author of Hebrews writes that members of a congregation are to obey their leaders and submit to them because these same leaders not only keep watch over the souls of the congregants but will have to give an account to God concerning how they have kept the flock (cf. Hebrews 13:17).
From this passage we conclude that merely gathering regularly with a body of believers does not (and cannot) constitute membership in that body. Membership in the body necessarily requires a would be congregant to submit himself or herself to the leadership of that body, who likewise accept the responsibility, and will answer to God for, the keeping of their souls.
Likewise from this same passage we conclude that a congregant should not be a member of more than one local body at any one time, since that would require there being more than one elder or group of elders taking spiritual responsibility for the soul of the congregant at the same time.
Furthermore we conclude from this portion of scripture that what God commands, God intends. That is, we conclude that it is God's intent for every believer be joined to a local congregation in order that each believer may either be recognized as a leader and enter into the ministry of keeping the souls of the congregation, or again recognized as a member who willingly and in obedience to scripture submits himself or herself to those same leaders whom God has appointed over them.
Finally we conclude from this passage that those who profess faith in Christ but who likewise refuse to become members of a local congregation, are not rejecting the ordinance of man, but the ordinance of God.
Having clarified that you need to be a Christian in order to be a member of a local congregation, and then again, that every legitimate Christian must (if they are to be obedient to the Lord) join themselves to a local congregation), I would begin to summarize what proper Christian conduct looks like, and present that conduct as an expectation of membership.
I might flesh that out too, you know with a heading like:
What the local congregation expects from every member
followed by a quick summary like this:
The local congregation expects every member to act in accord with the teachings of scripture in all matters and at all times. Yet specifically, as pertains to "church membership" the following items have been highlighted.
And then a grouped summary on various points like this:
1. Members of the local body of Christ are expected to conduct themselves in all aspects of their life, both in and out of the church, in a manner worthy of the calling to which they have been called.
In Ephesians 4:1-3 the Apostle Paul urges the believers at Ephesus, and through them, urges every believer everywhere, to walk in a manner that is worthy of the calling to which God has called them. We are commanded to conduct ourselves with all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another in patience and love, being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Because God commands all believers everywhere to walk in a manner that is worthy of the calling to which they were called, we must expect members of the local body, by extension, to do the same.
For this reason we expect every member of the local congregation to continually conduct himself or herself in humility. Humility, in this sense, does not mean that we regard ourselves with a self deprecating eye, rather it means that members of the congregation are expected to pursue in themselves a more perfect obedience to God's will; having (or working towards) a settled and uncompromising submission to God's clearly stated will.
Likewise, for this reason we expect every member of the local congregation to pursue (in all things): gentleness, patience, and a genuine love for the brethren, in order that the unity of the local body will emanate from a mutual submission to God's will.
I would probably have to say something about the expectation of a member respecting the authority of scripture:
2. Members of the local body of Christ are expected to submit to the authority of scripture on all matters pertaining both to individual and corporate Christian conduct.
In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he describes all scripture as inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness in order that believers may be adequately equipped for every good work. (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
From this passage we conclude that the whole of scripture is given by God to the church not only for instruction, but also for correcting errors in understanding of the things of God, and again for reproving transgressions against God. The local member is expected not only to  freely acknowledge the scriptures as the final authority on all matters of doctrine and conduct, but likewise to  resist the intrusion of any authority that contradicts the authority of scripture.
And something about the expectation that every member would maintain the purity of the gospel:
3. Members of the local body of Christ are expected to affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ and again to oppose and expose any and every attempt to corrupt that gospel in the local assembly.
Scripture teaches that false people will eventually join themselves to a congregation and by their actions destroy the unity of the congregation, and undermine/water down the truth of the gospel (cf. Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29).
Members are expected to recognize and oppose/correct/expose any teaching or teacher who teaches a version of the gospel that contradicts the gospel as found in scripture.
Oh, let's not forget the expectation that Christians actually grow:
4. Members of the local body of Christ are expected to pursue grow up into spiritual maturity, and provoke others to
In 2 Peter 3:18, The Apostle commands Christians to grow both grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. By extension, members are expected to obey this Apostolic command through regularly reading/studying of the scriptures, through prayer (both individual and corporate), and through submitting themselves to the clearly stated will of God in scripture.
It is God's will that:
 we be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4),
 we find out what His clearly stated will is (c.f Ephesians 5:17)
 we abstain from drunkenness (c.f. Ephesians 5:18)
 we be filled with the Holy Spirit (c.f. Ephesians 5:18)
 we be sanctified, abstaining from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
 we submit ourselves to those whom God has placed as authorities over us, both political (1 Peter 2:13) and spiritual (Hebrews 13:17, Peter 5:5, Ephesians 5:23-24)
 we confess our sins to one another (cf. James 5:16)
 we pray for one another (cf. James 5:16)
 we encourage in our walk and in our faith daily (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13)
And what of the expectations of good stewardship?
5. Members are expected to be faithful stewards of all that God has given to them, and also to support, whenever applicable, the work of the Spirit in the local congregation (by and through whatever variety of resources they find themselves in possession of).
Children: members are expected to diligently instruct their children in the Christian faith (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6), to discipline their children when they err (Proverbs 13:24).
Time: members are expected to make the most of the time they have on left on this earth in the service of their king, abounding in the work of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58, Ephesians 5:16)
Wealth: Members are expected to honor the Lord with their wealth (cf. Proverbs 3:9)
Talents and Gifts: A talent is a skill you have developed through practice whether natural or affected, and a gift in this context is a spiritual endowment whereby you are motivated by the gifting you have received from the Holy Spirit on the day that you were baptized into Christ through faith. Whether a talent or a gift, we expect members to magnify God and bring glory to His name by employing both talents and gifts according to every opportunity and all our ability.
And you can't have elders in two congregations both answering to God for the same souls:
6. Members who are elders are expected to keep watch over the souls of the local congregation, knowing that they will eventually have to give God an account of their ministry. Likewise members of the local congregation are expected to submit themselves to the spiritual authority of those whom the Lord has set over the congregation for this purpose.
Let's not forget purity - how many people engage in impurity regularly - we potential members to know that this is not acceptable Christian conduct:
7. Members are expected to flee from all manner of sexual impurity
Members are expected to live free (and if applicable, to genuinely seek freedom) from all manner of sexual sin including, but not limited to: pornography, masturbation, premarital sexual activity (this includes everything from a kiss you wouldn't give your grandmother to copulation), extra-marital sexual activity, lust, adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality.
Members are not to live in "common-law" relationships, which although accepted by our culture, are not acceptable to God given that they cohabiting with a sex partner who is not a spouse.
Sexual sin is an abomination, and members are expected to live in freedom from these sins.
We could go on, touching on church discipline, what is expected regarding submission to elders on spiritual matters, that as a member they a person is expected to minister with their gifting to the body they are joined to regularly, whether that means something formal, or informal, and maybe how we expect every member to be making war (and not peace) with the sin in their life etc.
The point is that a list of expectations is probably a good thing. You can even have a prospective member sign some form that says they have read what is expected of them and agree that what is expected is biblical, but I would personally stop short of turning such a thing into a signed commitment (read: pact/contract/covenant) because I believe that we have something better to appeal to than a signature on paper - and I think you know what I'm talkin' about.
I don't write this today arbitrarily either. My congregation is meeting tonight to discuss these things and I want my head on straight before I get there. Sometimes writing out my thoughts helps me to organize them. Should churches have church covenants, or is that just a carnal crutch? What should a covenant look like, or a statement of the expectations of membership? Is a statement of expectations all we need? How should we present whatever we present? Should it be a signed commitment (a covenant by any other name), or just as an informational summary of what is expected of every believer? Do we go beyond scripture on the grounds that we are being "orderly" or do we guard ourselves against pragmatism etc.?
My hope for our congregation, and yours if you are reading this and thinking about your own situation, is that whatever we do we do it for God's glory, and that whatever we do informs potential members of what is expected of them in the local congregation.
Labels: church, membership