"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Five Reasons to Say "No" to a Church Covenant

"But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all ... All you need to say is
simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
Jesus
 
 
 


Village Church in Dallas, Texas recently placed a member named Karen Root  under church discipline because she annulled her marriage with a confessed child pornographer.  A letter Village Church elders sent to members last Saturday (May 23, 2015) gave their logic for placing Karen under church discipline. The elders believed they had no choice because Karen violated the church covenant that she signed when she joined Village Church. Specifically, Karen violated the covenant by not getting church leaders' permission to file for an annulment. The elders wrote:    
"...Karen filed for an immediate annulment of her marriage to Jordan apart from the counsel of the church... (by) signing the Membership Covenant, a member agrees ... to receive our care..."
Karen had respectfully requested withdrawal of membership from Village Church, but the elders wouldn't allow it because she had not sought their counsel. She refused to come "under their care," so they put Karen under discipline. No Village Church member under discipline, wrote Village church authorities, can "withdraw" from membership. Therefore, Village pastors/elders "refused to accept" Karen's request to withdraw from Village membership.

This is an ugly situation all the way around. Village Church leaders--regardless of the vocal criticism they receive--believe they are men of integrity. They are, in their minds, fulfilling their pastoral role and abiding by the church covenant they demanded everyone sign before they became members. Some who are not members of Village are blaming Karen for signing a church covenant. Nobody should blame Karen. She, like other evangelicals, probably had no idea of the ultimate consequences of signing church covenants. The guilt lies with church authorities who demanded signatures from prospective members that turned their spiritual formation and maturation over to mere men instead of the Holy Spirit.

Read Village's Church Covenant. It's chilling when it comes to the authority of elders and church leaders. Here are some of the phrases that the prospective member must read and then sign, vowing their allegiance to obey:
  • I understand the importance of submission to church leadership
  • I will submit to the elders and other appointed leaders of the church
  • I will agree to walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse
I've written several articles stating that the major problem in modern evangelical Christianity is the authoritarianism of evangelical leaders. I have sought to explain how pastors/elders "twist the Scriptures" and demand "obedience and submission" to this alleged authority. Jesus tells us that that true 'spiritual leaders' are only servants, never masters. Yet, evangelical leaders seem not to be listening to Jesus.

With this in mind, I would like to give you five reasons why I would never sign a church membership covenant in order to become a member.

(1). A church covenant makes the Holy Spirit irrelevant in my life.

We are called in Scripture to be led "by the Spirit." Though there is counsel in the wisdom of many, when I sign a church covenant I abdicate my right to hear from the Spirit myself. When Karen Root resigned her membership from Village, she stated "I have sought the Lord diligently and several godly people I trust..." That wasn't good enough for Village elders; Karen didn't seek them out. A church covenant fetters one's ability to seek the Spirit's wisdom and advice from godly people other than the elders and pastors of the church that demanded you to sign.
 
(2). A church covenant replaces my one true Mediator with inferior mediators.
 
I have only One High Priest who stands between me and God - Jesus, the Son of God - and anyone who comes between me and Jesus as I walk by His counsel and His wisdom is a detriment to my growth. A true servant in the Kingdom will only and always point me  to Jesus Christ for my marching orders, and will never demand that I accept their orders as from God. When I sign a church covenant I'm in essence handing over the authority of Jesus Christ in my life to mere men.
 
(3). A church covenant makes the institutional church equivalent to the Kingdom of God.
  
 A 501c-3 non-profit institutional church plays an important role in the Kingdom of God, but the local church is not the kingdom of God.  Anyone who knows history understands that institutional churches who demand spiritual authority over individual believers have wrongly placed their institution on par with God's Kingdom. For example, the great 17th century Baptist hymn writer and theologian Benjamin Keach decided to write a book for children containing evangelical truth. Authorities of the Church of England sought to execute him for writing that infant baptism was not biblical. On what basis could the Church of England kill Benjamin Keach? Answer: The same basis Village Church can consign Karen Root to church discipline. Leaders of the 17th century Church of England and the 21st century Village Church both believe their institution is equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Their leaders falsely believe that they hold the keys of life and death and of heaven and hell. It isn't so. Don't sign a covenant and perpetuate this dangerous lie.
 
(4). A church covenant by its nature is designed to protect an authoritarian structure.
 
When a Christian signs a church covenant that demands submission to elders/pastors, he or she is enabling that institutional church to maintain an authoritarian structure. Rather than the weak and wounded sheep being the focus of attention within the church, most modern covenants are written with phrases that seem intent on bringing church members into "submission to church authorities." Quickly scan any church covenant, If "submission to church elders" is anywhere found, then know the covenant is designed to keep control of members and maintain the authority of the leaders. Paul Burleson points out that any institutional church more concerned with supporting their authoritarian system of control than healing their wounded members is sending signals of weak spiritual leadership. Jesus said that the world uses titles, positions of honor, and seeks to "exercise authority over those they rule," but "this should never be the case among His followers (Mark 10:35-45).
 
(5). A church covenant requires something more than a simple "Yes" or "No."
 
Jesus said that anything you have to do that goes beyond your simple words of "Yes" and "No" is from the "evil one" (Matthew 5:37).  When I join a church, I will forever refuse to sign any document, whether it be a "tithing card," or "a membership covenant," or any other document that requires a vow from me regarding my future performance or activity. In fact, if I ever attend a church that requires such a thing, I will refuse to join on the basis of principle. I will live freely, speak with integrity, and rest in the simplicity of following Jesus and living by the Spirit. I will not be fettered by written vows to a church that is seeking to protect their authority over me.
 
I need no covenant to guarantee that God will finish the work He's begun in me.

94 comments:

Bob Cleveland said...

If you examine the 1925 vs 1963 vs 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, you'l find that the SBC itself has moved away from the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and a personal relationship with a living Savior, toward a more authoritarian church. I would not be surprised if other denominations had moved, similarly.

I don't know who or what is behind these changes, but I'm pretty sure it's not God. And I AM sure I'd never sign a covenant. Or the Baptist Faith & Message, nor any other creed or obligatory document. I'd sign my Bible, and if that's not enough for a church, it'd be their problem and not mine.

Wade Burleson said...

Amen, Bob. Some will argue that "church covenants" are historical (1800's), and if they were good enough for people back when, they are good enough for people today.

Not so.

Just because something is historical doesn't mean it's biblical.

The teaching of Jesus makes it clear that those who lead His people are servants, not masters, and leadership is always based on giftings, not gender. So, a gifted, servant-leader will never "exercise authority over those they wish to rule," but will always "serve with humility those they wish to love."

The Govteach said...

This is mind blowing. I can't believe people would sign up, literally for something like this......and for the most part these " contracts" are opened ended....in ten years, things could have changed so much, you will wonder " what was I thinking?"

Chris Riley said...

Wow, well written Wade. This again bears E.Y. Mullins as somewhat prophetic in his disdain for creeds and man made rules. Historically, institutional Christianity has lived at the extremes (i.e. hyper Calvinism vs. hyper Arminianism). Why is it so difficult to live in the tension of the sovereignty of God and the grace of God? If we are to err, wouldn't it be better to err on the side of grace instead of life-taking fundamentalism?

Wade Burleson said...

Govteach, "and for the most part these 'contracts' are open ended...in ten years, things could have changed so much, you will wonder "what was I thinking?"

Bingo. For your stated reason alone, folks should avoid signing any covenant.

Wade Burleson said...

Chris, thanks! Already getting tons of pushback from my pastor friends. To each I would respond, "Of what are you afraid? Loss of control? Loss of power? What is it that you fear?"

The truth frees. Lies fetter you with fear. I think all pastors should embrace the truth that they have "no spiritual authority" over anyone, and the power of God in their lives will be like a caged lion loosed.

Michael Duff said...

While there are abuses with the use of covenants, when used properly NONE of your reasons are actually true. Our congregation has used a church covenant as means of clarifying expectations for both members and for leadership. It has worked great.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

Thank you! This has been my conviction for some time. I've been a "church member" before in conservative churches but never had any issues resigning and moving on when the natural time came. Then my husband and I attended an Acts 29 church. Before they weren't under Acts29 we felt there was freedom but when they came into Acts29 there was pressure in the sermons on tithing and membership. I also questioned (in my early Twitter days) their teaching on divorce because it sounded like they believed there was never a marriage where just one person could sin against the other, although I know personally of a case of domestic abuse and another of child sex abuse/incest where divorce was warranted and one spouse was not at all to blame. This disturbed me but I never got a response on Twitter to my concerns. Everything had to be positive publicly, and we left around the fall of Mars Hill because I was stressed gong to church after raising concerns in a private email or two and still seeing Act Like Men promoted. The teachings that are going around about authority have created cults or at least cult-like scenarios where people like me who have been previously burnt by bullies in the church don't feel safe to raise concerns. It is a huge risk. And my husband and I never even signed a covenant. I can't imagine how stressful it would be to raise concerns if "under contract". I feel like we've lost Jesus along the way and all these events just confirm it. I'm so encouraged by people of God actually speaking up and speaking truth to this situation. Thank you, Wade.
Melody

Wade Burleson said...

Michael,

I don't disagree with you. Understanding Christian history as I do, the use of covenants in evangelical churches began to shift in the mid-1800's to reflect a false view of "church authority." Evangelical covenants from the 1600's and 1700's mostly focused on a person's vows to God (that's another post; I don't think anyone should 'vow' to God, but rather rest in His 'vows' to us). So, Michael, I will grant that "used properly," a covenant would not hand spiritual formation and maturity of God's people over to mere men. However, I've yet to see very many good modern "church covenants."

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Melody.

Tango Whiskey said...

" In fact, if I ever attend a church that requires such a thing, I will refuse to join on the basis of principle. I will live freely, speak with integrity, and rest in the simplicity of following Jesus and living by the Spirit. I will not be fettered by written vows to a church that is seeking to protect their authority over me.

I need no covenant to guarantee that God will finish the work He's begun in me."

AMEN!

Spoken as a true servant of our Lord Jesus Christ.

-Todd Wilhelm

Eric said...

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Where this "membership covenant" is, there is not liberty. QED.

Florence in KY said...

IMO, Missionaries, or any church workers, should not be required to sign the Baptist Faith and Message (any version). "Yea or Nay" would be sufficient. When my husband and I served with the old FMB we were examined at length by official of the FMB to help determine if we were ready to go overseas as missionaries. Once approved, we were "trusted and free" to serve.

Wade, may I post this site on my Facebook page?

Anonymous said...

Wow. I have no words. This is just....bad. This is the problem with Baptists today.

Wade Burleson said...

Sure, Florence.

Victorious said...

But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.

But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.
Gal 2:4-6

Once again, excellent post Wade!

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Victorious.

Anonymous said...

That Galatians 2 verse is completely ripped out of context. Its sick how people use God's word this way.

Alan Stoddard said...

I'm not disagreeing with what you are saying in general Wade. I'm wondering these things though:

1. How does your Spirit led model address church discipline? Does your church practice it or is your church able to ignore it? How would you have handled the Village situation? (and I think they botched the PR of it while I want to respect their attempt to stick with scripture)

2. How does your Spirit led model address church membership expectiations? We hear a lot about that these days. And if you had a deacon in the situational context that Village faced, would we do nothing? What would you do?

A follow up post with "what you would do" could be helpful.

Most baptist churches would have ignore what Village church faced. Sweep it under the rug. Seems I remember you don't like that either :) #MuchLove

Brînduşa said...

Amen and Amen, pastor Wade! Authoritarianism looks very ugly and is so hurtful!

Wade Burleson said...

Alan,

(1). Our church practices "discipline" all the time. It means discipleship. If someone is in sin (adultery, addiction, activities that are defined in Scripture as immoral), we talk with them. If they "say" - notice, Jesus said in Matthew 18 that they just must "say" - "I repent" - then we forgive. That's why our goal is NEVER to kick someone out of the church. We've walked with, prayed with, encouraged, and helped people who get drunk time after time after time. Each and every time they repent (and get drunk again). I sometimes hear Baptists say, "If they were genuine, they'd never do it again." Nope. If they are genuine they'll never stop calling it sin. At some point, when people get tired of loving discipleship, they usually request to withdraw from the church, and we, of course, let them. :)

(2). Expectations of members? Only one. That they love other people like Christ has loved them. That's all. No expectation of tithing, no expectation of teaching, no expectation of service, no expectations of any kind. We are of the opinion that service offered freely by the Spirit is never the kind of service compelled by the Law. So, when we take an offering, we tell people either to give or receive. When we have a corporate worship service, we tell people to either come, or if they have family or work obligations, fulfill those and don't come. It's more "Christian" to be a man or woman of your word than it is to attend a church service.

(3). I might follow up with a post of what we would do. I'm running short on time, so no promises. I hate expectations. :)

Victorious said...

That Galatians 2 verse is completely ripped out of context. Its sick how people use God's word this way.

Hi anonymous,

I'm not sick but I am open to correction. I thought it was in keeping with the need of some churches/pastors/elders to limit the freedom of believers by imposing restrictive contracts.

If you object to my thinking, please feel free to give me the correct context.

Thanks!

Mary Ann

Alan Stoddard said...

Wade,

I like it.

Not sure about expectations being wrong. While Village Church has a situation, many churches, especially Saddleback Church have proved expectations can lead to maturity. So it's not always wrong. And there was an expectation in Acts.

But I get your point. I'll ponder more. Learning here.

I don't mind expectations at all. Just don't meet them all. LOL

Aaron said...

The idea of a Church Covenant seems superfluous to me if you've been Baptized properly (I'm a Baptist so take that for what it's worth). As in Baptism you are vowing to commit yourself to the Church you are a member with and that church's members as you're brothers and sisters in The Faith. Anything beyond that seems like binding one's conscience or at best a non-biblical tradition that's open to abuse.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

If I remember correctly you have written some things about handling pedophilia too. I found that helpful. I'm hearing Karen being accused of being unforgiving for separating herself from Jordon, but I think the point is more that he broke the marriage and it is such serious sin covered up over so much time she naturally suspects him of more. He was caught, then confessed, and it would seem we still don't know if he has confessed everything. That kind of confession is backwards to repentance. But all that said, I'd say that we as Christians do affirm and believe the grace of God for any sinner-with the qualification that crimes have consequences, some life-long. Would be interested for you to speak further (again) to this type of sin and protecting people from themselves and from potential decievers.

Christiane said...

I'd like to thank Debbie Kaufman for defending the victims of abuse over on SBCvoices. She is taking a lot of hits there and she is still standing strong. I cannot thank her there because I am not permitted to speak there but she deserves credit AND SUPPORT for her work on behalf of the victims of molestation.

I do not know if other voices have attempted to speak for the sake of the victims and have been banned, but Debbie deserves a hand for speaking truth to those who need to hear it.

Wade Burleson said...

Christiane,

What these guys don't know is that the more abuse Debbie gets from them, the more tempered steel her character becomes. Every time they patronize rather than praise, every time they condemn rather than compliment, and every time they laugh rather than listen to what Debbie is writing, they only contribute to the turning of this Christian woman into God's instrument used to pull them down from their self-perceived exalted positions.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

I wrote a point-by-point response to Wade's article here:

Church Covenants Are Reflective of the New Covenant

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

I am also reminded of something I read once.

"When absolute control and rigid obedience pose as love within the family and the local faith-community, we produce trained cowards rather than Christian persons.” -Brennan Manning

Wade Burleson said...

Better than a Bullet;

That's good - really good.

Anonymous said...

I have never been in such a church where there is such unity and lack of gossip in the church my wife and I attend. In the some churches my family and non-believers. We have seen what gossip and lies have done to people and churches. When there is disagreement among some staff that is okay and expected but it is not tolerated if it becomes divisive. Nobody is allowed to gossip about others. If they have a problem with someone else they are expected to handle it according to the Bible. One of the staff members I spoke with about gossip told me that if a staff member talks about another staff member in a way that does not promote unity they will be talked and IF it does not stop they will be asked to leave. In small group discussions people are to use "I _______" and not you or we. They must own what they say. That way something can be voiced as what they believe or have an opinion about but never as attacking another. Most of the time when attacks begin it is an attack on an idea followed by another attack on the previous idea and when the attacks stop nobody has been safe to say something. I have gotten to know people who have not been to church in many years but have come here and are participating and say they have never seen such a church. They feel as though their life has been radically changed. People are safe to share and be transparent in small groups because the staff and pastors are that way.

The following is an excerpt from the church membership booklet where my wife and I are members. We intentionally came to this church because of what we knew about it.

Expectations of our Members:

At ____________ we never ask our members to do more than the Bible clearly
teaches. These responsibilities are spelled out in the Membership Covenant.

The _____________ Ministry Covenant

I will protect the unity of my church by:
• Acting in love towards other members.
• Bring glory to God by seeking to resolve all issues with other believes according to God's
word.
• Refusing to gossip.
• Following the leaders as they follow Christ.
• If I have a problem with a leader or a decision I will contact a leader and share my concerns
-I will seek to give grace, be willing to hear their part, and seek to resolve all issues
to the Glory of God.
Biblical References: Romans 5:5,19; Ephesians 4:16; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 1:22;
Matthew 18:15-17

I will share in the vision of our church (Reaching the whole world for Jesus) by:
• Praying for its growth.
• Inviting the un-churched to attend.
• Warmly welcoming those who visit.
Biblical References: Luke 14:23; Romans 15:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:2

I will serve the ministry of my church by:
• Discovering my gifts and talents and using them. (Ministry service.)
• Participating in a discipleship focused small group.
• Being equipped to serve by my leaders-I will seek to find a need in the church and serve
there -I will seek to care for those in my small group by ministering to them when they
are down and in need of help. I will let my small group know when I am in need of help.
Biblical References: Ephesians 4:11-12; Philippians 2:3-4, 7; 1 Peter 4:10

I will support the testimony of my church by:
• Attending services faithfully. Attending church and small group will be a priority in my
life.
• Filling out the Connections Card every time I attend.
• Seek to live a godly life. (I represent Jesus and the ______________ family.)
• Giving regularly.
Biblical References: Leviticus 27:30; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Philippians 1:27;
Hebrews 10:25

If there comes a time when I decide I no longer wish to be a part of ___________ I will call the church or send a letter letting them know that I no longer wish to be a part of the ___________ family.


ScottShaver said...

And I have posted a brief critique of Kevin D. Johnson's response to this article under comments
at http://www.elenctic.com/?p=92 :)

Anonymous said...

From: Out West

Thanks for the excellent set of posts about Karen Hinkley and The Village Church's terrible treatment of this dear woman.

I signed a Membership Covenant at my former church. I had known nothing about them and their perils. I found that my pastors/elders used it to insinuate themselves in to my life about things that were none of their business, to call and email me, force me into meetings with them. I was treated to seven years of meetings about whom I should be friends with at church(I am cordial but I don't choose to be friends with abusive people); the pastors/elders had a meeting about the barbeque beef brisket I brought to a church potluck and I was chastised for being too lavish; I was chastised for riding my bicycle to church in a dress (I had bike shorts on underneath my dress) in the summer time; and excommunicated/shunned for opposing the pastors/elders putting their friend a Megan's List sex offender in positions of leadership and trust, inviting him to volunteer at our children's summer sport camp (where believers and unbelievers entrust their children to us), and not telling all church members and parents about him. The pastors/elders said that he was "safe" and "coming off Megan's List". His supervising law enforcement agency called the pastors/elders' stories "all lies". The pastors/elders refused to meet with that law enforcement agency and told me that I was to never have contact with them again.

stephanie wheaton said...

Mr. Burleson, you are absolute correct with your view regarding church authority. No church member has authority over another church member. I don't care if he/she is a Sr. Pastor or Elder. Every Christian owe their allegiance to Jesus Christ alone. Jesus Christ paid it all, and all to him we owe.
By the way, Mr. Burleson I am a big fan of your blog, and read it every day. Your faithfulness to Jesus Christ, your faithfulness to your wife and family, and your faithfulness to the church that you pastor is evident in your writing. May our God continue to strengthen you as you fight the good fight.
Blessing,
Stephanie Wheaton

Wade Burleson said...

Steph,

Your words are better than a paycheck! :)

Anonymous said...

From: Out West

Thanks for the excellent set of posts about Karen Hinkley and The Village Church's terrible treatment of this dear woman.

I signed a Membership Covenant at my former church. I had known nothing about them and their perils. I found that my pastors/elders used it to insinuate themselves in to my life about things that were none of their business, to call and email me, force me into meetings with them. I was treated to seven years of meetings about whom I should be friends with at church(I am cordial but I don't choose to be friends with abusive people); the pastors/elders had a meeting about the barbeque beef brisket I brought to a church potluck and I was chastised for being too lavish; I was chastised for riding my bicycle to church in a dress (I had bike shorts on underneath my dress) in the summer time; and excommunicated/shunned for opposing the pastors/elders putting their friend a Megan's List sex offender in positions of leadership and trust, inviting him to volunteer at our children's summer sport camp (where believers and unbelievers entrust their children to us), and not telling all church members and parents about him. The pastors/elders said that he was "safe" and "coming off Megan's List". His supervising law enforcement agency called the pastors/elders' stories "all lies". The pastors/elders refused to meet with that law enforcement agency and told me that I was to never have contact with them again.

Wade Burleson said...

Anonymous,

"If there comes a time when I decide I no longer wish to be a part of ___________ I will call the church or send a letter letting them know that I no longer wish to be a part of the ___________ family."

Why is that last paragraph of the church covenant your church uses so difficult for other pastors to grasp? That's the way, IMO, removing your membership from a church ought to be done.

Wade Burleson said...

Out West,

That's unbelievably horrific. Ugh.

Wade Burleson said...

Scott, good for you! Thanks.

Paul Burleson said...

ScottShaver,

Would you kindly post your response to the Kevin Johnson blog Post entitled, "Church Covenants Are Reflective of the New Covenant"? I can neither find nor locate any comments on that post. I read the post and would like to read your response. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

This poor lady. The "elders" sure missed an opportunities to be a blessing to her in her time of need. Sacred Scripture does not teach that church appointed leaders are to override the leadership of the Holy Ghost. We are to obey God, not men. As a SBC pastor, I find that much of the time the environment can be oppressive to women. We should strive for the equality the Apostle Paul taught. And as far as the "covenant", I'd rather just stick with the Bible. No creeds, no man made covenants, just Jesus Christ. I love my liberty in Christ too much to "give over" to those who perhaps would seek to lord over God's heritage.

ScottShaver said...

Sure thing Paul, comment "awaiting moderation" is why you can't find it.

Will post verbatim my analysis of Johnson's rebuttal here:

There is no "Church" without the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Do you actually think the Word of God and the Spirit of God indwelling believers will be subjected to or bound by man-made "covenants," derived more from isogesis than exegesis? Laughable.

Consequently, your disagreement (albeit well articulated and enumerated) serves only to buttress both the logic and biblical consistency of Burleson's advice.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

The comments are now available at www.elenctic.com under the post and I'll add more as they appear.

ScottShaver said...

Thanks Kevin:

Are you of the opinion that church appointed leaders define not only the interpretative parameters for Scripture but the operations of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual "church members" as well?

Kevin D. Johnson said...

Scott,

No. I'm of the opinion that the church generally guides herself as a whole in regards to interpreting the Scriptures. The elders play an important teaching role but so does the general population of the church as a check. In any event, the real interpreter is the Holy Spirit working through all of us.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

I think it’s funny that a church covenant will be seen as an addition and a “supplement” to the work of the Holy Spirit…but, the Cooperative Program for the SBC–that’s God working personally from on high. Yeah. OK. Last time I checked, the Cooperative Program isn’t in the Scriptures any more than membership covenants are. Yet, somehow SBC churches from all around the nation give to fund foreign missions and I would say rightly so.

Wade Burleson said...

Kevin D. Johnson,

I've never taken a vow to support the CP, nor have I signed any certificate saying I will submit to International Mission Board authorities, nor will I ever.

Using extra-biblical tools like a covenant or the Cooperative Program is not the issue.

It's demanding sworn allegiance to those tools.

Paul Burleson said...

Kevin,

I understand what you're saying and can agree that non-scriptural tools [certainly not anti-scriptural tools] are used all the time to assist in Kingdom work. The SBC is one, the Cooperative program is another. [Not to mention buildings, parking lots, pews, etc.] y the way, I also agree you'e quite articulate and write clearly. Thank you for that.

But anything that would need my SIGNATURE and then would REQUIRE my following the decision of anyone else BEFORE I make a decision about my service to my LORD and His leading of me goes beyond the pale not to mention scripture itself. It winds up being closer to something cultic than it does Christian.

Someone I read said that they thought marriage vows are similar to a church covenant. I have NEVER required or requested anyone to sign a list of marriage vows. I do have them repeated and then commend them to the Person and power of the Holy Spirit and trust them to follow their Lord in living together. When I sign their marriage certificate it is ONLY for legal purposes in satisfying the laws of the land.

Church life and Kingdom living, which are not the same thing, by the way, are not matters of law, but of grace, scripture and conscience.

Tim said...

Great list, Wade. And as a corollary, I'd add that the Bible nowhere speaks of Christians covenanting with each other, but rather says we are in fellowship with each other because God has covenanted with us. To create another covenant beyond the New Covenant leads to idolatry of church membership over our relationship with Jesus.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

Wade,

Isn't it true that missionaries for NAMB and the IMB must sign a covenant agreeing to avoid alcohol and other things? Why is that appropriate but a membership covenant isn't?

I'm not at all arguing that a membership covenant should be obeyed above all else or without condition--quite the contrary, in fact. Nor do I think membership covenants are proper that engage members to obey church leaders regardless of whether they're right or appropriate in giving direction to the people. The membership covenant should reflect a biblical norm--and the Bible does tell us to obey our leaders as I've already made clear.

Swearing an oath was done by Paul in the Scriptures (Romans 1:9, 2 Cor. 1:23), God swears to himself because there is no higher authority (Hebrews 6:13-14), Jesus Christ is the Yes/Amen to all of God's redemptive activity (2 Cor. 1:20). Our Lord himself in front of the Sanhedrin swore to the fact that he was the Messiah (Matthew 26:63-64). Issuing promises and making a public oath is not evil--even Daniel said "O King live forever" to a pagan king. A command against taking the Lord's name in vain or against false witness implies that we can take his name rightly and have a matter properly witnesses with an oath. Matthew 5:37 can't be used to say we shouldn't at all do anything but say "Yes" or "No." The passage teaches us that we shouldn't make oaths we can't or won't keep. The point of Jesus was that if you're going to live by the law, you need to really live by the law instead of some half-baked or half-hearted version of it. Your 'righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.'

Paul,

Thank you for your kind words regarding my writing.

Here's the thing. A vow is a vow whether it's in writing or not. A marriage vow is and ought to be binding -- "I promise to love and obey...in sickness and in health" is a vow whether it's put in writing or not. Why is that acceptable when a church covenant isn't? Neither have direct or explicit support from Scripture, but we have no problem with one of them even though great abuse is present in marriages and divorces in our society. The Scriptures do tell us that wives should obey their husbands just as the Scriptures also tell us to obey our elders. I believe you all are very well-intentioned, but inconsistent in your argument in regards to these things.

And, while much of contemporary Baptist life continues to eschew this sort of covenant thinking in point of fact entire Protestant and Baptist traditions have always had either a church covenant or other means by which people profess to be and remain faithful Christians, submit to their elders as they should, and live for Jesus Christ. The recent abuses of certain groups toward excessive church obligations is no reason to throw out the good in what is available to us in accepting a church covenant. I mean, after all, we don't stop practicing baptism because Catholics want to believe baptism saves. It's the right practice we endorse and continue to put forward. The same is true for something like a church/membership covenant.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Wade.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

Tim,

>>>the Bible nowhere speaks of Christians covenanting with each other

Hm. I think there is precedent. It just may be that you're looking in the wrong place. On what basis did the people of God in Nehemiah's day have to do the following--how is this possible if we're not to ever swear an oath:

"“Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests." Nehemiah 9:38

Why would this be right then, but not now? Doesn't Ephesians 2 tell us that the church has now become part of the commonwealth of Israel (2:12-13)?

How about:

"Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law." Ezra 10:3

"And Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord's people." 2 Chronicles 23:16

"Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us. 11 My sons, do not now be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.”" 2 Chronicles 29:10-11

"And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book." 2 Chronicles 34:31

"And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant." 2 Kings 23:3

"And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul," 2 Chronicles 15:12

It does not seem to me that in any instance above that the covenant so made between people is somehow put down by the Scriptures or seen in any negative light except endorsement of these extra covenants that have no explicit warrant in Scripture.

Anonymous said...

2nd post from: Out West

Besides the abuse I was subjected to (along with excommunication/shunning) at my former church which required Membership Covenants (I will NEVER sign one again) I remembered some other troubling incidences:

1. The first person I saw get excommunicated/shunned at my (former) church was a godly doctor, married to his wife for 40+ years (loving marriage), loving father to grown children, faithful to the Scriptures, evangelism, and gave of his time and money to the church. His "crime"? He disagreed with the pastors/elders, in private, about how they were leading the church (basing his points on the Scriptures). The senior pastor lied about this godly doctor before the entire church. When I asked other members about it, I was troubled and grieved and this is NOT what we are to do to each other as Christians, those church members said that the senior pastor and elders were correct.

2. A godly older Christian man from East Asia had been faithfully attending the church for six years and volunteered his time. The pastors/elders told him that he was not permitted to come to church any more because he did not believe in membership covenants and would not sign one. The pastors/elders said that God obviously hadn't called anyone to this church who didn't believe in signing a membership covenant.

3. Another family (high-ranking executive and his wife) were nearly excommunicated, but they left first. They had also raised an important issue with the senior pastor and elders and like the rest of us: were screamed at in meetings with the elders! They left before they could be disciplined.

4. The church secretary, married and a conservative woman, left the church as well and refused to return. She brought her new pastor with her as protection to the meeting the pastors/elders demanded that she have.

5. The pastors/elders than demanded 'exit meetings' for anyone wanting to leave, with two or more elders.

Tim said...

Kevin, my point (explained much more fully on my blog post) is that under the New Covenant we are not instructed to covenant with each other. What happened in Israel under the Old Covenant isn't the guide.

ScottShaver said...

Without invitation and perhaps inadvertently Kevin:

Because the church is the spiritual body of Christ on earth, marriage (from a Christian perspective) is symbolic of the sacrificial love Christ has for HIS church.
I think you're wanting folks to compare eternal apples with earthly oranges, Kevin. In this case, as far as the symbol is concerned, the head left the bride long before any public sin was announced or discovered."Church discipline" as defined by "The Village" may very well help the groom.
Departure from "The Village" and all "The Village" represents in the bride's wounded spirit is not only a completely understandable action but, in her case, "scripturally" supported.

When it comes to gut-wrenching scenarios like this, here's where I insist on terminology like "Priesthood of THE Beliver" as opposed to "ALL Believers".

Wade Burleson said...

Tim,

Spot on - IMO.

Tim said...

Thanks, Wade!

Kevin D. Johnson said...

Tim,

Under the Old Covenant there was no instruction to covenant with one another either and yet that's precisely what some did. It's the moral principle of the matter that is important here as well as their freedom to do so. The Old Testament provides us with the moral basis and background to New Testament practice.

I'm not at all saying Christians must establish membership covenants--only that churches are free to do this if they feel so led. Ultimately, baptism and a profession of faith really carry the same obligations. And, isn't that at the very least just standard Baptist polity anyway? I mean, aren't congregations free to rule themselves how they see fit? Otherwise, in saying they're not you wind up becoming something less than Baptist and enforce something entirely on other congregations as a result.

Scott,

I'm not going to comment on the Village Church case--I honestly don't know enough about it. I'm perfectly willing to see the wife's case as legitimate if your representation of the matter is correct. She's not bound to a covenant that was previously violated either in the one case by her husband or in the other by her elders. Membership covenants, rightly understood, should bind elders more than they bind members and shouldn't be abused. These covenants, like marriage covenants, should and do reflect actual membership we have in *the* New Covenant.

ScottShaver said...

Okay Kevin:

We don't have to discuss the event prompting this thread. May may I be indulged a question however about your following statement?

"It's the moral principle of the matter that is important here ... The Old Testament provides us with the moral basis and background to New Testament practice."

Sure about that?

ScottShaver said...

Thought I saw Tim at least twice try to direct your attention to fundamental differences between old and new covenants (between God and His redeemed. Maybe I was seeing things.

John said...

Wade,

I implore you to stop writing posts that are biblically sound and refreshing and simply tear down the legalistic structures that some of us built in our ministry in past years. I was guilty of this for many years and I realize now that instead of discipling people into a relationship with Christ, I was discipling them into rules and regulations according to my expectations. My expectations were none other than attempts to bring people under my control. Those who did not comply were relegated to sub spiritual status in my assessment. If you want a membership covenant, hand them a Bible when they join and tell them that the Pastor explains its meaning verse by verse each Sunday and Wednesday as to how to walk and follow Christ.

ScottShaver said...

Detesting excessive use of Zion's language as I do, it's surprising the only thing I can think of to say, John, is Amen.

Curious Thinker said...

Execellent points, I agree with everything you said. It's a shame that some churches make members sign contracts that contain a to do or don't lists based on legalistic rules. I agree this is simply about controlling church members to conform to their personal standards. The true standards Christians should follow is those of Jesus Christ our savior not a whole lists of man-made rules. Thanks again. God Bless.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

Scott,

Yes, I'm sure about the fact that the Old Testament provides much of the principled background for the New Testament in terms of morality and practice. It's all God's word and it all reflects his character back to us. We have to remember that the Bible for the New Testament church and even for Jesus was the Old Testament. The Sermon on the Mount wouldn't be what it is without the commandments. Paul uses OT case law to help us understand church polity (1 Cor. 9:9-12). And, given that the NT repeats nine out of ten of the Ten Commandments explicitly as something to obey as Christians I feel I'm on pretty safe ground to claim what I have. After all, our Lord tells us to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey all that He taught us.

Yes, Tim has posited a wide discontinuity between Old and New Testaments. That's really hard to do when a closer look at the NT makes it quite clear that without the OT we wouldn't have the New Testament. I'm not convinced that Tim is right and we'll probably continue to disagree on these points. He's welcome to his opinion, but suffice it to say that I'm not alone in what I've put forward in regards to seeing more continuity between the Old and New Covenants than Tim might allow. Of course, the full case for either view can't really be made in a blog comment, but it doesn't mean my case can't be made.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wise and robust post, Mr Burleson. I'm British and we call this toxic authoritarian stuff 'heavy shepherding'. It was rife in some influential sections of the charismatic churches in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s and also in some Pentecostal churches.

I believe in the importance of covenants. I believe in faithfully serving one's church and in honouring godly leadership. I believe that we should seek to be accountable to each other in the Body of Christ - AND THAT GOES JUST AS MUCH FOR LEADERS TOO!

I have been a committed, actively serving church member for many years and have never once been asked to sign a church membership covenant. I don't want to have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of them, but the Village Church's membership covenant seems to go WAY beyond being biblical: pastors and elders should not have that degree of power and control over people's private lives, I can't see any biblical justification for this.

It is a thing of wonder how some evangelical Protestants, having rejected the Magisterium and papal infallibility, then merrily proceed to set up their own little popes and oppressive church structures. We are rightly shocked by some of the abuses in other churches but we cannot at the same time think that our own 'tribe' is somehow magically immune or above criticism - that's not being spiritually mature.

This lady's treatment by the Village Church is awful. I am glad it has come to light, and glad that she seems to be now in a safe church which is giving her proper pastoral support. I hope that the Village Church members will have the courage to speak up about it and also to challenge their church leaders on the monitoring of the ex-husband (who is a criminal). I hope and pray that this church network responds with appropriate humility and transparency.

Thank you again for shining light on this.

- Philippa, UK

ScottShaver said...

Okay Kevin. One last question and I'm done.

How did Jesus (God in the flesh) get away with trashing rabbinical rules and customs according to "His Bible"?

"It's all God's Word and reflects His character back to us". Funny I've always thought of Jesus Christ as the true and express image of God's character...and The Bible, the divinely inspired and preserved record of God's self-disclosure in history.

You are certainly free to continue "making your case". I'm of the opinion the case is closed and that anyone who by faith will come to Christ (not to a church covenant) becomes not only a christian, but a priest ....free under The Spirit's leadership to make individual decisions about what does or does not glorify God apart from a church, neighborhood or community association "covenant".

ScottShaver said...

Okay Kevin. One last question and I'm done.

How did Jesus (God in the flesh) get away with trashing rabbinical rules and customs according to "His Bible"?

"It's all God's Word and reflects His character back to us". Funny I've always thought of Jesus Christ as the true and express image of God's character...and The Bible, the divinely inspired and preserved record of God's self-disclosure in history.

You are certainly free to continue "making your case". I'm of the opinion the case is closed and that anyone who by faith will come to Christ (not to a church covenant) becomes not only a christian, but a priest ....free under The Spirit's leadership to make individual decisions about what does or does not glorify God apart from a church, neighborhood or community association "covenant".

Kevin D. Johnson said...

Scott,

Of course Jesus trashed ridiculous traditions of men. But, he also implemented a fencing of the law that was stricter than that of the Pharisees on the Sermon on the Mount. Neither you or anyone else here has demonstrated that membership covenants are ridiculous traditions of men. But, Luke 4 also shows us that Jesus himself had customs (Luke 4:16) that he implemented that had no explicit Scriptural support, so customs themselves are not inherently bad. You have to prove that membership covenants are bad--you've not done that.

God's word reflects his character because He spoke it. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 helps us understand much the same. Psalm 19 shows us the law is perfect. Deuteronomy says man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus Christ is of course the express image of God -- but the Bible is God's special revelation of himself and his will as well. It speaks to who he is and what is right and wrong. God's version of right and wrong doesn't change between the Old and New Testaments. If it was morally acceptable to freely create a covenant during the Old Testament, it is manifestly the same today. No one here has demonstrated that churches have no freedom to implement covenants together.

The priesthood of the believer does not allow for rampant individualistic versions of the faith any more than abusive membership covenants provide justification for abusive behavior on the part of ministers. The priesthood of the believer is connected directly to the high priest and as God he told us to obey our leaders. Or, have you not read the book of Hebrews?

ScottShaver said...

Kevin:

The case at Village Church is not a glittering example of WHY "membership covenants are bad?

I think the Peoples Temple at Jonestown Guyanna under Jim Jones also had "membership covenants".

No, in fact I don't think I've read the same Book of Hebrews as you.

ScottShaver said...

Kevin says: "No one here has demonstrated that churches have no freedom to implement covenants together."

Does the fact that many commenting here and reading here REFUSE to sign such instruments. That could put a real damper on the ability of "the church" to "freely implement".

ScottShaver said...

Priesthood of the believer may not "allow for rampant individualistic versions of the faith" but it sure keeps religious power mongers and their control-cults at bay.

ScottShaver said...

I do not agree, Kevin, that "The Bible is God's special revelation of Himself." I believe that position is occupied by Christ.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

I think we're done here, Scott. Comparing church covenants to Jonestown signals to me you're not really interested in rational or constructive conversation on the issue.

The Govteach said...

Brother Wade, Can I borrow your five points for a blog I am going to write? I will give you credit.

Thanks!

Wade Burleson said...

Sure, Govteach!

ScottShaver said...

Okay Kevin. At least we agree on done. :)

Perhaps your points might be better received among the signers of such convenants (except the lady in question of course).

"Constructive" conversation on the issue is entirely a matter of context, perspective and the judgments of objective third parties.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

I just thought it was ironic that a person on Matthew Paul Turner's blog who accused the lady in discipline of being in sin for unforgiveness (when her husband broke the marriage by criminal activity and she wishes to protect the vulnerable) and stated something to the effect that she wasn't actually in discipline for the annulment (despite what TVC appears to have said) but for breaking the covenant by not submitting to the elders then said "Sola Scriptura" at the end of his comment. Yep. Ironic.

My initial response to that is, whatever, dude. My more intelligent response is, where in Scripture does it put any person in the position of being heavy shepherded against their better judgement and the counsel of wise people and the Holy Spirit?

If the Word of God does not in fact say anything about submitting one's marital status to the elders, much less finances, nor in fact do the Scriptures say anything about membership covenants, might we not need to admit we aren't really caring about the Scriptures but about institutional traditions?

Sola Scriptura just don't mean what it used to.

ScottShaver said...

Indeed Bro. Blog Bullet...indeed

Anonymous said...

Our church covenant reads more like a statement of faith and doesn't have any rules you have to promise except to unite with another church when you leave. All the statements are very biblical. I see the whole thing with the Village Church and Karen as "a donkey who falls into the pit on the Sabbath" situation. They went with the letter of the law instead of grace. They have issued an apology which of course many will armchair Quarterback when frankly it really isn't any of their business. I was in a somewhat similar situation as Karen ( some child porn involved and years of emotional abuse and adultery) and the Pope himself couldn't have made me stay with my ex once I reached my breaking point. Karen went ahead on her own and did what she knew needed to be done and I applaud her for that. I did the same thing--I don't think my pastors were thrilled but I also knew they could not possibly know what I had endured for years. My conscience was clear when I filed for divorce. I hope Karen and the Village Church can reconcile. Boy am I glad my situation wasn't broadcast all over the Internet and scrutinized by blogs.

Anonymous said...

Wade, Maybe someone will be able to tell me why The Village Church, a Southern Baptist church, has "several" SIM missionaries from within their congregations. Why not the IMB?

Gerry Miolligan

ScottShaver said...

At least somebody considered the wisdom of an apology.
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/the.village.church.on.karen.hinkley.we.believe.we.owe.her.an.apology/54932.htm

Anonymous said...

From: Out West

@Scott,

I texted one of the pastors at The Village Church, after reading about this case on The Wartburg Watch, and I told him that they blew it, what they did to Karen was despicable, to read Pastor Wade Burleson's advice for them, follow it, and 'man-up' and 'fix it'.

Anonymous said...

From: Out West

@Scott,

I texted one of the pastors at The Village Church, after reading about this case on The Wartburg Watch, and I told him that they blew it, what they did to Karen was despicable, to read Pastor Wade Burleson's advice for them, follow it, and 'man-up' and 'fix it'.

Shirley Taylor said...

Village Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Kent McKeaigg said...

I don't attend the Village, but here is part of a sermon that will add perspective: https://www.facebook.com/TheVillageChurch/videos/10153018817402833/

Katy said...

Excellent commentary regarding church covenants here at this blog. Thank-you for exposing the truth. It has set me free!

God be with you.

Anonymous said...

Wade the problem isn't covenants nor is it church discipline. The problem is the teaching we pastors are offering. Matthew 18 is clear that pastors and/or deacons are not the final arbiter on discipline. The congregation is. If we pastors are equipping our people to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, rightly study scripture for themselves, and follow the HS lead in our lives both individually and collectively then the steps assigned in Matthew 18 can play out and there is no need for false spiritual authority. Also there will be a joy in living out covenant community as we all seek the building up of the body. We Pastors simply must do a better job. The state of the church in America falls squarely on the shoulders of the teaching that is offered in the church in America. But simply because the world understands neither discipline nor covenants is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Kevin D. Johnson said...

^ well said, "Mr Anonymous."

Anonymous said...

And the SBC hasn't moved away from being led by the Spirit and accountable to Christ.

"Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord."

http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfmcomparison.asp

Michael said...

Wade, I have been thinking about this post ever since it has been up. Your article and reply to various individuals are measured with grace which seems to be opposite to much of the church world today. Perhaps a follow up post would be good but that is only my desire and not an expectation. God bless!

Tango Whiskey said...

A friend of mine posted this article on the United Christian Church of Dubai's Facebook page. The article was removed and his access to the page was revoked! (UCCD was the church I quit 2 years ago, partially due to the fact that I received similar treatment because of articles I posted on the Sovereign Grace Ministries sexual abuse scandal and cover-up.)

solafivereformed.com said...

This is a very timely blog for me for two reasons: 1. I was just kicked out of my homegroup at The Village Church for daring to ask about the church covenant and to point out why I thought it was in conflict with the Scriptures. 2. The leaders of the homegroup lied and told the other members that I left of my own free will and they have asked me why I chose to leave. I have hesitated to answer them, but this has encouraged me to speak the truth in love and not avoid their questions.

Anonymous said...

hi solafivereformed,

Sorry to hear about what happened to you at The Village Church. I am glad that you spoke up. Stay away from membership covenants! Read more about it over at The Wartburg Watch.

Take care.

Sincerely,

Out West

Anonymous said...

There has been a happy turn of events in Karen's life, which Dee at The Wartburg Watch has covered.

Karen studied for the law school admissions exam and got a top score. She was accepted at a top law school. She was planning to go to law school in 1-year. The law school asked her to write a personal statement and to apply immediately.
She wrote about her recent experience. The law school dean contacted her, they arranged for her to come to the law school, had food and people to escort her. Because she did not want to debt, they arranged to give her a law school scholarship to pay for all 3-years, another to pay for her living expenses, and got her housing new the law school. Bless them! They did what Christians are supposed to do!

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2015/08/13/karen-hinkley-the-beginning-of-the-rest-of-the-story/

Regards,

Out West