Be sure to click on the “follow” tab to become one of the followers on this new blog.
In this much belated post, I will draw from my sermon series in September on church covenants. I am deeply indebted to Charles W. Deweese and his work on Baptist church covenants entitled Baptist Church Covenants and credit that work as the principal source of the historical evidence I present on the issue. The question that I pose in this post is, “Are church covenants Baptistic?” Can we find a strong foundation in Baptist history for the use of church covenants in Baptist churches? By no means do I present these thoughts as an exhaustive work on the subject; rather, I intend to highlight some examples and facts from Deweese’s work pertaining to the question.
Deweese mentions that one sees the arrival of church covenants in early English Baptist churches in the 1600’s. These covenants contained statements generally focusing on four areas of church life. They addressed church fellowship, referring to the individual’s commitment to God and to other believers in the church. Secondly, they mentioned church discipline, describing the process of discipline and indicating a willingness among church members to submit to such discipline. Early English Baptist covenants emphasized the need for public worship and private devotion. They asserted that church members should exercise pastoral care and a pastoral attitude towards all other members. These covenants were an essential part of early English Baptist church life and provided a foundation for covenants that would appear in early American Baptist churches.
Church covenants play an important role in early American Baptist life. Isaac Backus produced a covenant that as used by numerous Baptist churches in colonial New England. Welsh Neck Baptist Church, developed a covenant that was used by numerous other churches in the Pee Dee area of South Carolina (where our church Lakeview Baptist is located). In 1774, the Charleston Baptist Association defined a church as “a company of saints, incorporated by special covenant into one distinct body. . ..” All of these examples show an emphasis on church covenants that was evident in early Baptist churches in America.
In its history, the Southern Baptist Convention has also placed emphasis on the importance of church covenants. In 1927, the SBC’s Commission on the Cooperative Program promoted Church Covenant Month. During this month, the Commission encouraged pastors to preach on the church covenant and for congregations to read their covenants aloud during worship. In its article on the church, The Baptist Faith & Message states, “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in faith and fellowship of the gospel….” It is widely known among Southern Baptists that The Baptist Hymnal (1956) had a copy of J. Newton Brown’s covenant glued inside the front cover. The Sunday School Board and currently Lifeway currently offer for purchase covenant cards that can be signed by members joining a church. These examples are but a few pieces of evidence that show the place that church covenants have had in Southern Baptist life.
So, back to my original question, “Are church covenants Baptistic?” Baptist history responds with a resounding, “Yes!”
In my last blog post, I focused on the need of church covenants to protect the church and to promote regenerate church membership. After reading the post, one might say, “Well church covenants might be helpful, but are they biblical?” Great question! I hope that after reading this post, readers will see the biblical foundation upon which church covenants stand.
First, we see people making covenants to God and to each other throughout the Old Testament. The Israelites made a covenant with the Lord at Sinai stating, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” Exodus 19:8 NASB They reaffirmed this covenant later (Exodus 24:3). The people made a covenant with Josiah to follow God’s Word (2 Kings 23:3). The people of Ezra’s time made a covenant with God to be a pure people (Ezra 10:1-5). People of Nehemiah’s time signed a covenant showing their commitment to follow God (Nehemiah 9:38).
The New Testament also mentions covenants. Jesus mentioned a making new covenant when He celebrated Passover with the disciples (Luke 22:20). Whenever we observe the Lord’s Supper, we commemorate this new covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25-26) There is an indication that candidates for baptism made covenants when they were baptized. Paul encouraged Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12 NASB) Peter wrote that baptism is an “appeal to God from a good conscience,” pointing to the believer’s public commitment to Christ at baptism. Such language regarding the Lord’s Supper and baptism are clear references to commitment and covenant by members of the early church.
In addition to Scripture, we have the testimony of the early church fathers that indicates that church covenants were widely accepted and considered to be biblically sound. In Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, an early church manual from the third century said to be recorded by Clement of Rome from the teaching of the Apostles, candidates for baptism were required to make a public renunciation of Satan and a public covenant and association with Christ Jesus. (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, 7.4.xli, 476) It was common for early Christians to also make a covenant commitment or oath prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
The above comments show clearly that covenants are biblical and were part of the practice of the early church, particularly coinciding with baptism and the Lord’s Supper; however, such evidence leads to another question, “Does Baptist history support the use of church covenants in Baptist and Southern Baptist churches?” You will have to read the next blog post for the answer.
Loving God and Loving Our Neighbor!
I am currently reading Charles W. Deweese’s classic entitled Baptist Church Covenants in preparation for the publication of our membership covenant here at Lakeview. I would like to share a number of thought-provoking quotes from Deweese and my subsequent reflections.
Baptists worldwide have written and used hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of church covenants since initiating that development in England in the early 1600’s. They had viewed covenants, along with believer’s baptism and church discipline, as means of nurturing and safeguarding the New Testament emphasis on a regenerate church membership. Covenants deserve careful evaluation because they helped shape Baptist church membership standards and practices.
Deweese points out some pretty important facts in the above quote. First, church covenants have been an important aspect of Baptist history for over four hundred years. Churches have used covenants as a means to promote holy living and accountability in the church. Church covenants serve to promote and support the idea of regenerate church membership. Secondly, Deweese emphasized the focus on regenerate church membership in the New Testament. Throughout the New Testament there is an emphasis on members of the church being authentic followers of Christ who possess and live out a living faith in Christ Jesus.
In addition, Deweese writes about what Baptists historically understood regarding church membership. He states:
Early Baptists based their church membership ideals and practices upon New Testament patterns. They reached four basic conclusions: (1) admission standards for membership should be high; (2) believer’s baptism is essential for membership and helps safeguard the regenerate nature of church life; (3) church members should consistently meet biblical requirements for doctrinal soundness, moral purity, spiritual growth, covenant relationship, and active ministry; and (4) discipline should be administered for serious failures to meet the covenantal expectations of church membership.
When you read the above quote, do you believe it describes our approach to membership here at Lakeview? How do we measure up to these four historical characteristics of church membership? Are our admission standards for membership high? Do we teach about baptism, its understanding and importance? Do we communicate and hold members accountable for biblical fidelity in belief and practice of living? Do we administer church discipline to restore members to covenant living? If we cannot answer affirmatively to these questions, we as a church must raise our expectations for church membership.
In addition to delineating the biblical and historical requirements for church membership, Deweese bemoans the modern phenomena of low expectations for church membership. He rightly cautions:
A dilemma facing contemporary Baptists in America is how to reconcile mounting trends toward an uncommitted church membership with doctrinal statements that require a committed membership. The stakes are high, and the regenerate quality of much Baptist church life is at risk. Evidence of the problem includes baptizing thousands of preschoolers, frequent requests for re-baptism by persons already baptized as “alleged” believers, little concern for candidates’ qualifications for membership, weak admission standards and procedures, inadequate attention to defining and carrying out membership responsibilities, decreased use of covenants and discipline, large numbers of nonresident members, and numerous inactive resident members.
As I read Deweese’s comments regarding the modern church, I am convicted about our membership here at Lakeview. During the interim, our leadership began to focus upon the issue of regenerate church membership and the problem of “inactive” church membership. Currently, we have 1307 members on our church role (362 non-resident members, 345 inactive members, and 600 active members). We currently average about 450 in our worship attendance. Currently, we have no church covenant. The number of inactive members, non-resident members, and the discrepancy between the number of “active” members and our average worship attendance all indicate a need for our church to focus on the meaning of covenant church membership. In the next blog posts, I will present more from Deweese and will delineate our need for covenant church membership and why such a covenant approach is biblical, historically Baptist, and necessary for the health of our church. I pray our church will be edified by my focus on this important issue.
Loving God and Loving Our Neighbor,
Well, it has been a great week in Jakarta. We are anxious to share with you what God has done through our team and through Adam and Rebecca. We have been truly blessed through the process.
We spent the last few days saying goodbye to our Indonesian friends. Please pray for them as they seek to reach their family, friends, and neighbors with the gospel. They are living Love Your Neighbor Tell Your Story and have been an example to us regarding how we should be salt and light back home.
We are glad that the Belize team made it back safely and ask that you will continue to pray for us as we travel. We are excited about what God is doing in helping us fulfill His Acts 1:8 strategy for our church. Both teams will be leading our morning service on June 28th. It will be a great time of worship and celebration regarding what God has done.
See you soon!
Loving God and Loving Our Neighbor,
Sorry it has taken this long to write a new post. We have limited access here.
God is doing some amazing things here. Two days ago, we went to a neighborhood to do a backyard Bible study. The local leaders opened the mosque to us to use as a place for the children to meet. We met at the mosque with about sixty children and taught them about Jesus and His love for them. Isn’t it awesome that God used a place of false worship as a place where the good news of Christ was shared. While we were there, a group of teenage students came to see what was happening. Myself and Adam talked to them about my beliefs as a Christ follower. That topic led Adam to share the good news of Christ with the boys. We gave them Bibles from which they read Romans 10:9-10 and John 3:16. Isn’t God good!
That afternoon, we went to do a backyard Bible study at a landfill on which a small housing area has been built. The people there literally live in houses built on top of trash. It was heartbreaking to see small children walking barefooted among trash covered by swarms of flies; however, they sang with joy and had huge smiles on their faces as we and our hosts taught them about Jesus. Continue to pray for them and for those who show Christ’s love to them.
I think Ken already mentioned our times of worship yesterday in his comments on the Belize blog (see www.lakeviewfamily.com). By the way, was our video shown in worship yesterday? If so, what did you think about it?
Today we taught Bible study to children in a school. It was great to see their joy and to watch our team in action. Our team had the opportunity to pray with a Muslim woman who is struggling with cancer. She requested they pray with her and was in tears afterwards. Pray that she will surrender her life to Christ as Lord and Savior.
I had the opporunity and honor to teach at the Baptist seminary in Jakarta. I taught a group of students in a class on church planting about Love Your Neighbor Tell Your Story. The students were very receptive and asked some great questions.
Please continue to pray for our team and the team in Belize. Your prayers are working.
Loving God and Loving Our Neighbor!
I am sitting in Adam’s study writing this post. We are at Adam and Rebecca’s new house. It is awesome.
We arrived late last night without any major problems. Everyone is healthy and excited about being here. We look forward to meeting some of Adam and Rebecca’s friends today. Then, we will travel around the area and see some places of interest. God is definitely working here.
Thank you for all of the cards that were sent with us. They have been an encouragement to us. Also, thank you for your prayers and support.
I want to take this time to shout out to the Belize team and let them know we are praying for them. God bless you.
We will write new posts in the days to come. Keep an eye out for them.
By His Grace,
Hey everyone. It’s Ken. I am in Seoul, South Korea. We landed at 5:40am Thursday morning. We have a nine hour layover here. Our next flight leaves at 3:45pm and we should arrive at 8:45pm. Right now the time is 9:28am Thursday (8:28pm Wednesday for you) The trip has been tiring but everyone is doing great. We still have another 7 hours of flying but right now we are getting showers and hanging out. I want to encourage everyone to check out the Belize blog. The students seem to be doing great but I know they would appreciate hearing from you. I will be communicating with you guys through this post. We still have a ways to go before we reach our destination, keep us in your thoughts. Ken
I am so excited about our upcoming mission trips next week. Our students travel to Belize to conduct Vacation Bible School, perform dramas, and do evangelism. In addition, they will host sports camps, clean up villages, and do lite construction. I am excited about what God will do through our students for His glory and for the advancement of His Kingdom in Belize. I hope you will pray for them as they seek to accomplish our Acts 1:8 strategy to be witnesses of Christ around the world.
Another group travels next week to the Pacific Rim. This team will conduct a wide range of missions ministries. They will prayer walk areas in the host country. Part of the team will conduct Backyard Bible Clubs for the children there. Individuals will tell their stories about how they came to follow Christ. Some of our team will teach native pastors about youth ministry and church planting. They also will seek to share the gospel through conversational evangelism. Please pray also for this team as they seek to be witnesses around the world.
Do not lose the significance of how privileged we are to be a part of God’s Kingdom work in Hartsville, South Carolina, the United States, and among the people groups in nations around the world. I am reminded of the church in Antioch that, though small in size, was faithful to send out missionaries who spread the gospel and planted churches throughout the ancient world. My prayer is that God would use the people who are Lakeview Baptist Church to make the same type of Kingdom impact. I believe that these two mission trips are an answer to part of that prayer.
Thank you to all who are faithful to serve by going. Thank you also to all those who are faithful to serve by praying and sending.
I am reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah who wrote, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” Isaiah 52:7
Loving God and Loving Our Neighbor,
Jesus told the disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 ESV
During this time of year, I am particularly thankful for the men and women who serve in our country’s armed forces. They often serve away from their families in areas where their lives are in danger. Some of them pay the ultimate price for our freedom. While we are enjoying time with our families and friends this Christmas season, let’s commit to pray for these service members who are away from their families. Pray for them and their families, and thank God for the freedom they provide.
As you are thinking about earthly peace and freedom this Christmas, think about the true peace and freedom that God provides us. Any freedom or peace we experience from protection by our armed forces are but a shadow of the peace and freedom found in Christ Jesus. This Sunday morning and evening, I will be preaching two sermons entitled “Peace On Earth” and about “Slaves to Sons.” These messages will focus on how we can have true peace and true freedom in this life and in the life hereafter. I hope you will come and bring a friend.
It is a privilege to serve alongside you!