Toward a Covenantal Church Membership

In 1990, Charles Deweese wrote a book entitled Baptist Church Covenants that was published by Broadman Press. This great resource is tragically out of print, and unless you are willing to pay $50 for a used copy on Amazon, you will not be able to benefit from it (note to Broadman and Holman: regenerate church membership is a front burner issue these days, and it would be great it you put it back in print!). The idea of a church gathered together in a covenant commitment articulated in a signed document explaining the responsibilities of church members may be a foreign idea to some today, but church covenants were, in fact, normative and prescriptive for growing and maintaining healthy churches.

I have looked through several websites of Southern Baptist churches to see how many churches provide information such as their statement of faith (confession) and church covenant. To my surprise, a rather large percentage of them provide no information on these important matters. In recent years, Baptist scholars, especially John Hammett, have argued for the necessity of church covenants for the purpose of recovering regenerate church membership. But before we consider what Dr. Hammett has argued, I want to provide an excerpt from Deweese on the practicality and usefulness of the church covenant in years past. My hope is that, by emphasizing the necessity and usefulness of church covenants, more and more churches will desire to work toward a covenantal church membership that better reflects the New Testament commitment of believers in the body of Christ.

Deweese writes,

“Churches tended to use covenants in four main settings: in forming new churches, admitting new members, engaging in covenantal renewal, and discipling errant members. Besides these settings, at least four other features characterized covenantal practices in England. First, churches often adopted and renewed covenants on days solemnized by fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving. Second, churches tended to write their own individualized covenants. Third, members tended to sign covenants when chartering new churches. . . . Fourth, congregations sometimes read covenants aloud while renewing commitments to their contents.

[ . . .] Perhaps the most important value of covenants was their role in constantly reminding church members of the moral and spiritual duties and privileges to which they had initially committed themselves in uniting with a church. Since each church prepared its own covenant and built into it a continuing emphasis upon committed membership, the likelihood increased that each voluntary covenanter would attempt to conduct his life in alignment with his religious vows.”

– Charles W. Deweese, Baptist Church Covenants (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990), 31-32.

In the coming weeks, I hope to provide some current as well as historical examples of church covenants. If your church does not currently have such a covenant, I would encourage you to check these out and consider developing one for your church.

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7 Comments on “Toward a Covenantal Church Membership”

  1. Justin Wheeler Says:

    Timmy,

    I’m glad that you are planning on providing some historical examples in the weeks to come. I am afraid that most churches simply do a cut and paste for their own church covenant which indicates the value they place on it.

    Joey has begun to teach our church covenant every first and third sunday evening and it has been a great study. Our plan is to conclude the study in August with a covenant renewal Sunday and i for one am looking forward to this. I guess that puts us in the short list.

    By the way, I had a great time at lunch today and i look forward to talking with you more tomorow.

    Justin

  2. D.L. Kane Says:

    Timmy – Sorry to be off topic. Just read Albert Mohlers posts on the “Evangelical Manifesto” and was wondering if you were going to post on this topic? I thought I recalled an earlier post by you on this topic, but can’t seem to pull it up.

    Blessings.
    D.L.


  3. D.L.,

    I have been following the discussion and have printed off the document for further examination. At this point, I have not had the time to take a thorough look at it. Initially, I was surprised to see only one Southern Baptist (Timothy George) as having signed on in endorsement of the document (expecting names like Dockery and maybe Mohler who are keenly aware of evangelical discussion to embrace it).

    I have bookmarked both Dr. Mohler’s response as well as Denny Burk’s. I also think that MacArthur has responded, but I have not checked that yet.

    There are many well-respected men who I appreciate on both sides of this manifesto, so given that to be the case, I will be all the more diligent and cautious to see just why, where, and how they differ and disagree on the matter.

    Perhaps this could be addressed sometime soon, but currently the plate is full as I am loading up with over a dozen posts in the draft mode! But we’ll see . . .


  4. Justin,

    Indeed, I enjoyed to hear the great things going on at Southside. I was really encouraged and edified by our conversation. I look forward to discussing WordPress and other stuff tomorrow.


  5. Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus-Christ,
    I’m a french evangelist and my daughter wants preach the gospel in Saint Pierre, a small French island close of Canada. I want to help her when she will wants. If you want, you can pray for this !
    God bless you and guide you !
    Pray also for me for that Jesus Christ guide me, because I need too !
    THANK YOU VERY MUCH !
    My blog : http://thebible3.blogspot.com/
    Serge RAGONNAUD


  6. Timmy,

    Deweese’s book is available in toto in The Baptist Standard Bearer’s cd-rom, Baptist History Collection. I’m actually printing it off as we speak (200+ page pdf) and was looking for a picture of the cover when I found this post.

    Here’s the link: http://www.standardbearer.org/shop/Detail.aspx?ID=566

    Here’s a brief review on my site with a contents list: http://www.walkingtogetherministries.org/FullView/tabid/64/ArticleID/8/CBModuleId/401/Default.aspx


  7. […] friend Timmy Brister reminded me of the importance of covenantal church membership the other day.  It was a timely reminder. As we […]


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