Spirit

Email: Church Covenant – Part 4

Last week I emailed my friend, Benjamin (the associate pastor of the church I meet with). I emailed him to ask him his position on the subject of church covenants. The bi-vocational pastor of this church just finished up a four week sermon series from the church covenant, and I took issue with it. I ended up having a conversation with Benjamin about church covenants. I asked for his permission to post the emails here and he graciously obliged. I have decided to break up each post into two emails; an email to Benjamin and then his reply. This will lighten the burden of those interested in reading this correspondence. So, without further ado, I give you the last set of two emails…

From me (reply in-line… green text):

Hey Benjamin,

Sorry for the late reply, yesterday was way too busy. I will reply to you inline, to make things more smoothly since you did the same…

On 8/29/07, bq2 <> wrote:

You’re right, they often do turn into un-civil conversations. I appreciate a good thought-provoking discussion where we can agree to disagree at times.
I replied to your email below amidst your text due to time constraints at work.

————– Original message ————–
From: “Lew A” <>
Hey Benjamin,

Thanks again for the quick response – you’re right this is a good discussion. I am glad we are having it. I enjoy getting the opportunity to civilly discuss these things – they so often turn into uncivil conversations.

I can see that signing the covenant is similar to the seminary profs signing the abstract and bfm2k – the only difference being that it is a “test of orthodoxy” to be employed at the agency. Rather than a “test of orthodoxy” to be a “member” of the church agency (like seminaries, this is beside the point but true). I am not sure if we both agree, but as I see it, church-membership is a man-made institution. Being a card-carrying member of Holly Grove Baptist Church neither affirms nor negates my being a member in the Church (Body of Christ) (yes). Thus, and furt her, being a “member” only means I have the right to vote at business meetings – hardly a concept found in scripture. I wonder, if being a “church member” actually means that we are saved believers in Christ’s church (body), is there really such thing as “unregenerate church membership”? (Here is, I think, where we are seeing things differently. Being a “church member” certainly does not grant salvation, but does/should represent one who claims to be regenerate. We both agree that there is a Universal Church Body which supercedes our local congregation, but the difference is that we don’t/can’t know who is and is not a part of that universal Body. So, what we can do at the local level is committ to one another and implement some accountability…such as a church covenant. Now, in regards to what is contained within the covenant I would rank theological issues as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order issues (admittedly the distinctions between these are debatable) and keep the issues addressed in the covenant at the 1st and 2nd order level.

I agree, if the church does decide to make a list of people (i.e. members) who they consider to be saved than that list should only include those who are saved. Regarding the Universal Church/Local Church distinction you have made. Why have you made such a distinction? Do you find this distinction in Scripture? 1 Corinthians 12:13 reads, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul was writing specifically to the Corinthians in this letter. According to your understanding is Paul talking about the “local church” or the “universal church”? I think you have made a leap in your logic. You said that we cannot know who is and is not part of the “Universal Church” therefore we need to implement something on the “local level” (I assume you mean local church). The leap is that the local is part of the universal. So If we cannot know anything about the universal, by definition we cannot know anything about the local. I also think your claim that we cannot know who is and who is not part of the universal church is unfounded. Jesus told his disciples “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John told us, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” It seems like we have at least one test to determine who is actually part of the church. But perhaps it is not our duty to determine who is or who is not part of the church, but rather to accept their confession of Christ as Lord and then hold them accountable to that confession according to Scriptural mandates, rather than covenantal mandates. Afterall, we do not get our responsibility or authority from covenants, but from God.

You said, “If we are truly committed we should have no problem acknowledging the covenant, and can rejoice together in that unity.” Again, I have to ask some questions. What if a saved member/potential-member of the church-agency disagrees with something in the covenant? Say it is 1 to 99 vote but what he disagrees on is not a biblical issue at all. Would this promote unity or promote disunity? What if the issue is Biblical, but not really clear (such as end times beliefs)? It seems to me that the “church covenant” might have to be very, very broad and abstract to allow for wiggle room. *As a side note, I do not think that Holly Grove’s is as abstract as it might need to be. (Granted, this does place much weight on the issues addressed in the covenant. Again, keep them at the 1st and 2nd order levels–like the BFM 2000 and arguably the Abstract of P’s–a nd this eliminates many potential problems. It will need to be broad, but is nevertheless necessary.)

Necessary is a very strong word to use. You may want to reconsider using it in such a way. Especially in areas where Scripture is silent.

You also said, “I suppose if they will not there would be no need for formal church discipline as the person is technically no longer a member.” Do you think the Bible makes a distinction of those who can be in church discipline? Meaning, do you think that we only have a responsibility (according to Scripture) to only discipline people who are card-carrying members of our local body? Further, does failure to sign the covenant remove the responsibility of the person who needs discipline to listen to his brothers and more importantly the Holy Spirit? (Once again, your questions are valid but it is impossible to know who are truly members of the Universal Church. Thus, we are responsible for those who are a part of our local congregation. If one does not sign the covenant it is the church’s responsibility to pursue the brother/sister and i mplore why they didn’t sign be it moral issues or theological. I think this answers the question, but maybe I’m misinterpreting)

If an older believer started to meet with everyone at Holly Grove, but decided he did not want to become a member, but wanted to share in fellowship with everyone. It was clear that he was a Christian because of his love for his other brothers and sisters and his obvious love for God. Would it be necessary to question why he would not sign a covenant? Would his failure to do so mean that we would doubt his salvation or refuse to fellowship with him?

Ultimately I think you are right, the “church covenant” does promote unity – but not the type of unity Christ calls for. Rather it is usually the type of unity we receive when we have cut off everyone who disagrees with us, which is hardly unity at all. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not promoting Ecumenicalism… I don’t like those kind of labels anyway). (What type of unity, then, is Christ calling for?)

I think Christ is calling us to unite in love for one another, and more importantly in love for him. Love includes discipline, discipleship, edification, etc. I am in no way promoting an affirmation of open sin, but I am affirming building relationships with Christ’s church. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things {put on} love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” – Colossians 3:12-15

For what it is worth, Kati and I do not meet the current Holly Grove church covenant standards. This does not upset me because I do not believe in church covenants, and frankly, I do not believe in church membership (apart from the membership that we have as Christ’s church). We’re also not planning on signing the covenant either because those standards do not line up with what God has asked of us. (I don’t know if Lee is moving toward a signing of the covenant for members, but if he is I support it though I understand your position.)


That’s fine, I wouldn’t ask you to go against your beliefs. Just wanted to have a discussions about them. It is good to get different perspectives, helps challenge us and really look to scripture rather than tradition or man-teaching. By the way, I would love to post all of these emails on my blog. With your permissions of course. I will not edit any of it and will start from the first to the very last email. I think the people who read my blog would benefit from reading both of our positions. If you wish to be anonymous I would remove your name. But if you do not want me to, then I won’t post any of them – it’s up to you. Thanks again for the great conversation and sorry for the late reply. God’s Glory, Lew



From Benjamin (
reply in-line… red text):

1. I agree, if the church does decide to make a list of people (i.e. members) who they consider to be saved than that list should only include those who are saved. Regarding the Universal Church/Local Church distinction you have made. Why have you made such a distinction? Do you find this distinction in Scripture? 1 Corinthians 12:13 reads, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul was writing specifically to the Corinthians in this letter. According to your understanding is Paul talking about the “local church” or the “universal church”? I think both. Paul was directly addressing the church at Corinth, but the Truth contained within this statement doesn’t apply to Corinth exclusively.

I think you have made a leap in your logic. You said that we cannot know who is and is not part of the “Universal Church” therefore we ne ed to implement something on the “local level” (I assume you mean local church). The leap is that the local is part of the universal. So If we cannot know anything about the universal, by de finition we cannot know anything about the local. True, the local congregation is a part of the universal, but the reality is that we can’t definitively know who belongs to the universal church (meaning all true Believers for all time), nor can we definitively know who are the true Believers (elect, if you will) in the local church. If you are arguing that we can for sure know who are the true Believers, that is another discussion for another time; I’m stating that we cannot know for sure. With that said, I don’t think this is a leap in logic, but perhaps a side-step towards accountability in the local church. If we could know for certain who is a part of the universal church, then we would take action toward accountability for the universal (though the log istics of that would be horrifying). But, since we cannot, we take action towards accountability at the local level.

I also think your claim that we cannot know who is and who is not part of the universal church is unfounded. Jesus told his disciples “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John told us, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” It seems like we have at least one test to determine who is actually part of the church. Above

But perhaps it is not our duty to determine who is or who is not part of the church, but rather to accept their confession of Christ as Lord and then hold them accountable to that confession according to Scriptural mandates, rather than covenantal mandates. Afterall, we do not get our responsibility or authority from covenants, but from God. Yes, which is why a church covenant must be derived solely from Scripture, and say nothing to add to Scripture.
2. Necessary is a very strong word to use. You may want to reconsider using it in such a way. Especially in areas where Scripture is silent. Yes, necessary is a strong (and sometimes loaded) term, but in light of the serious need for accountability in the church, I think it appropriate. You mention the silence of the Scriptures, but the critical need for strong accountability in the church is part of the fundamental purpose of the church covenant. I find the burden placed on your position to provide some clear, objective accountability for the local church if something like a church covenant is not used. You might say, “The Bible is our objective accountability” and indeed it is sufficient, yet when interpretations are not clarified and agreed upon by a community of Believers, the theology quickly becomes convenient for individuals.
3. If an older believer started to meet with everyone at Holly Grove, but decided he did not want to become a member, but wanted to share in fellowship with everyone. It was clear that he was a Christian because of his love for his other brothers and sisters and his obvious love for God. Would it be necessary to question why he would not sign a covenant? Would his failure to do so mean that we would doubt his salvation or refuse to fellowship with him? This is, I think, the best question of the discussion. I would be interested in other insights about this. I believe it would be necessary to inquire about why he/she wouldn’t sign the covenant if he loves the people of the church, and is like-minded in theology. Why would he not sign the covenant? However, if he did not, for whatever reason, I wouldn’t question his salvation solely on that basis. Nor would I refuse fellowship to him, but other local-level governing issues (such as voting, teacing oppurtunities, etc.) would likely be withheld.
4. I think Christ is calling us to unite in love for one another, and more importantly in love for him. Love includes discipline, discipleship, edification, etc. I am in no way promoting an affirmation of open sin, but I am affirming building relationships with Christ’s church. Absolutely.
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things {put on} love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” – Colossians 3:12-15
5. That’s fine, I wouldn’t ask you to go against your beliefs. Just wanted to have a discussions about them. It is good to get different perspectives, helps challenge us and really look to scripture rather than tradition or man-teaching. Yes, it is fresh for me to talk with someone like you who didn’t grow up in the same tradition. It adds validity and weight to your arguments, and encourages me to consider other perspectives more closely.

By the way, I would love to post all of these emails on my blog. With your permissions of course. I will not edit any of it and will start from the first to the very last email. I think the people who read my blog would benefit from reading both of our positions. If you wish to be anonymous I would remove your name. But if you do not want me to, then I won’t post any of them – it’s up to you. I don’t mind. Allow me to state some things about these types of conversa tions. I believe the discipline of loving God with our mind has long been forsaken, and we must reclaim that discipline in our Christian lives. Having discussions (and even civil debates) about the things of God are incredibly healthy and sharpening for Believers. However, we are all too well aware of the emotional and prideful element that persistently rears it head. I declare forthright that I am not interested in winning, but am interested in the Truth. We must begin with this pursuit for Truth, and not the promotion of our positions. Particularly when discussing the things of God.

Thanks for chatting, Lew
Thanks again Benjamin for the great and civil conversation. We obviously do not agree on all of these issues, but that should not (and has not) stopped us from fellowshipping together with what we do have most in common – the Holy Spirit.

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5 Comments

  1. Lew,

    It seems that one of the major differences between you and your friend is how you understand the nature of the church. This is demonstrated in your understanding of “church covenants”. It looks like the two of you understand “church covenants” in one of two ways:

    1) A “church covenant” defines who is the church.

    2) A “church covenant” reminds believers of who they are in Christ and how they are to respond to one another in Christ.

    I’m going to add a few words about this on my blog. Thanks for sharing this very interesting convesation.

    -Alan

  2. Lew,

    I stumbled upon your blog last night and found the content quite interesting and challenging.

    Sorry for barging in (I could not find a way to e-mail you privately), but I want to ask you a completely unrelated question: I’ve been trying to follow your Kingdom-thread, but – due to the fact that it stretches over months – I am not sure whether you are done with it or whether it is still in-process. What is the status of that?

    Furthermore, in the limited time since reading your blog (I have not read it all, nor do I intend to), I have a question for you. It relates to the “Church issues” I notice you (and I and others) have been struggling with: if we do not agree with how the Church functions or operates (as I think Christ intended for it to be) – what can we do about it? How can we BE the Church Christ intended?

    (Sorry, I am not trying to hijack your blog, but it seems you and others are struggling with the same issues…)

    (Another) Allan

  3. I thought I’d explain my last question: I think we all find it easier to complain about how things in the Church are done incorrectly (church covenants, closing our eyes when we do X or Y, not being able to experience fellowship at a Sunday meeting, is the Sunday monologue and structured singing “Church”?, why do many churches call singing “worship”?, etc., etc – the list is endless)… but what are WE doing about it?

    Is it not time that we start BEING the Church Christ intended? Is he going to be satisfied that we did things the “XYZ Church way” when he meant for it to be different?

    If you perhaps previously addressed most of this, please point me to where it was discussed. Again, I’m not trying to hijack your blog: I am just trying to be a serious Kingdom citizen…

    Be blessed.

    Allan

  4. Hey Allan,

    Welcome to my blog and thanks for taking the time to comment. First of all, I want to say that you are not barging in at all – I intended this blog for people to discuss these issues… and since no one else (apart from Alan Knox) is commenting on this post, you’re not hijacking it :).

    The Kingdom thread has been completed. I should have, but I never wrote a wrap-up post to list out the things I discovered. I am actually still planning on doing so, but it has been a low priority lately.

    Regarding your struggles with the Church. Yes you are right, there is a growing group of Christian who are starting to recognize issues in the church as an agency. How do we deal with this? What I try to do is to ask a lot of questions… ask “why?” a lot. When you are truly able to sit down and ask yourself “why?” and you rely on God for your answers. I think you will then start to recognize the true salvation and freedom we have in Christ.

    Then you can start asking “why?” to your brothers and sisters. By asking them, you are forcing them to *think* about these same issues. Most of the time you will be talking to a brick wall. At least, I do a lot :).

    By the way, when you start to do this, you are starting to “BE” the church. That is, you are looking out for your brothers and sisters, trying to disciple them and teach them. That is one of the things we are called to do as the church.

    Ultimately, to “be the church that Christ intended” we need to learn to trust him. When we truly trust him, our obedience and love for Him and others will naturally flow out. When this is taking place, we’ll have no choice but to be the church that he intended.

    You have asked some great questions… and since I do not want to completely throw you off, I am going to make a special Saturday post, referring to these questions. Hopefully my readers will visit throughout the weekend and will give you more or better answers to consider.

    Thanks again for stopping by. If you would like to email me privately, you can at lew (at) the-pursuit.net.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

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