Matt Capps and Derek Radney have written an outstanding post on “Baptist Churches and Membership Covenants.” Matt, who is a friend of mine, is a recent graduate of Southeastern Seminary and serves as one of the associate pastors of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. He’s a lover of practical theology and the importance of pastor-theologians, so in my book, that makes him a keeper. Derek, whom I don’t know personally, is also a pastor in Winston-Salem.
I was thrilled to read their post because it is near and dear to my own heart. It’s also a topic I hope to engage off and on for the rest of the summer. I doubt I’ll do so as well as Matt and Derek have in their post. I want to offer a couple of snippets from among the many I could have chosen to excerpt.
On the importance of covenants:
It would seem that membership covenants are a key element to defining what the local church actually is. Historically speaking, a local church body is a group of believers who have associated by covenant and gather together around God’s word, thus distinguishing themselves from other local bodies and establishing the community to which the individuals are primarily committed and accountable.
On covenants as an expression of New Testament ecclesiology:
The authors of the New Testament always assumed that the local churches to whom they were writing had a clear understanding of who was a member of the church and who was not. A church membership covenant that has been agreed to by each church member clearly demarcates the boundary of the local church.
In addition to these and other important topics related to church covenants, the authors also answers four objections to church covenants that are sometimes raised by Baptist Christians:
1) Membership covenants are not Baptistic
2) Our only standard is the Bible, not human documents
3) Requiring that all new and current members agree to a membership covenant is too exclusive and demanding
4) By requiring new members to agree to the membership covenant, we will discourage people from joining
I’d urge you to read the entire post, especially if you care about meaningful church membership, church health, or the nature of Baptist identity. I’d also highly recommend Charles Deweese’s book Baptist Church Covenants (Broadman, 1990). Though it’s out of print, you can find used copies online.