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SERIES    "RESTORING THE CHURCH'S TRUE IDENTITY"  

 

SESSION No. 2     WE ARE A COVENANT PEOPLE  

 

INTRODUCTION:  

 

Although the concept of "Covenant" is very much a biblical one (appearing over 280 times in Scripture), it is not one that we commonly use or understand in our Churches. This is despite the fact that the Bible is divided into two parts, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Very occasionally we will refer to the marriage relationship as the marriage covenant.   Because of this unfamiliarity with the concept, we want to take more than usual space and time to ensure that we get a good hold of the concept rather than make the assumption that everyone who does this session has a clear understanding of the covenant concept and its implications for us as a Christian Community. So, please read on!!    

 

DEFINING AND EXPLAINING THE COVENANT CONCEPT    

 

A covenant, in its simplest expression, is a solemn promise whereby people commit themselves to a common action. The most important element in the promise is commitment. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to realise that our culture places very little value on commitment. Marriages struggle to survive through lack of commitment. The spirit of individualism rather than community dominates our culture and has infiltrated the Church.  

 

When this covenant principle is applied to the local Church, we recognise that believers must be able to count on each other for support, care and encouragement. A Church Covenant or Membership Covenant serves as a focal point of mutual commitment and it also clarifies our common understanding of just what it is we are committed to be and to do. A Church Covenant can serve to identify the essential nature of our corporate and individual commitment to Christ and His Church.  

 

Covenanting was originally God's idea as He entered into solemn agreement with His people in the Old Covenant (Testament). The essence of these Covenants was that He would be their God and they would be His people. He committed Himself to faithfully fulfill all His promises and His people, in turn, promised love and obedience.  

 

For example, take a few minutes at this point to read Genesis 9/8-17. Note the initiative of God and the response of Noah....and the number of times the word "covenant" is used.   Perhaps the greatest covenant we know of in the Old Testament was the one established at Mount Sinai when God called and chose a slave people from Egypt to become His people. The Ten Commandments are essentially the "terms of the Covenant".  

 

There are many examples in the Old Testament of covenants made between people. One of the most powerful is the one made between David & Jonathan. Take time now to read 1 Samuel 18/1-4. The strength of commitment in that covenant exposes and challenges the superficial nature of much that passes for commitment today. It really was a life and death commitment and both are ready to lay down their lives for each other.  

 

As believers, we live under what we call the New Testament or New Covenant. Almost every time we participate in the Lord's Supper, we remember how Jesus described the cup as the "blood of the New Covenant". The book of Hebrews talks a lot about the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. More of that later.  

 

But the concept of Covenant is not limited to the Scriptures. It is very much part of Church history. The Scottish Reformers of the 17th century were known as the "Covenanters" because of the strength of commitment they made to the Lord and to each other. The Pilgrim Fathers signed the Mayflower compact (or covenant) before stepping ashore in America.   Early in the 17th century, when the Puritans began to meet separately from the Church of England, they were persecuted because of their views and, as a result, they organised separatist churches. These new groups were organised on the basis of a covenant which bound the congregation to walk in all of God's ways "made known, or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavours, whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them".  

 

In their book, The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall & David Manuel say,   "How critically important for us Christians is this business of commitment to one another. There are TWO great steps of faith in the Christian walk and they correspond to the two Great Commandments: 'You shall love the Lord your God....and you shall love your neighbour as yourself'."   The first step of faith is the vertical commitment.....and it is a covenant relationship which means there are two parties to the agreement.   The second step of faith is the horizontal commitment to one's neighbour and ultimately to that specific body of Christian neighbours of whom God calls us to be a part.   This second step calls one to yield to that local part of the Body of Christ and to dedicate oneself to that congregation and its work. Indeed, the body's effectiveness will be magnified to the extent to which its individuals mutually dedicate themselves.  

 

The Church Covenant can become a vehicle to call forth and clarify the commitments that Christians are making to God and to one another as they are joined together as one Body.   The Covenant then is simply to affirm our commitment to God and His Word and to one another in Christ. It allows us to mark our mutual commitments as we begin to live as biblical people together in Christian Community.  

 

How does the Covenant relate to the Church Constitution? In simple terms, a Covenant is relational in nature while a constitution is organizational. Given that the New Testament majors on relationships, a Church Covenant ought to have a higher profile than the constitution in the life and function of the Church.   We often make jokes about Church constitutions but they do provide a series of guidelines to help us function as a decision-making community and, therefore, they can serve a helpful purpose when they are used correctly.  

 

Some who are reading this material know of situations where the constitution was allowed to become a monster that dominated the Church rather than served it and thus become a tool of dissension and power games whereby people sought to control the decisions of the Church.   A Church Covenant is not immune to the same abuse if it is turned into a legalistic document and used to manipulate or control people. But the emphasis is on relationships rather than organization.  

 

THE GREATEST BIBLICAL EXAMPLE OF COVENANT  

 

You have already looked at two examples - God and Noah, David & Jonathan. Take time to consider the following Scriptures, note how many times the word "covenant" is used.  

 

[1]  MATTHEW 26/26-30 _______________________________________________  

 

[2] 1 CORINTHIANS 11/23-32 ___________________________________________  

 

[3]  HEBREWS 8/1-13 __________________________________________________  

 

How would you define "covenant" in your own words? Is there another word or phrase that you find helpful to your way of thinking?    

 

AN EXAMPLE OF A CHURCH COVENANT  

 

At the end of these notes I have given you a copy of a sample Church Covenant. In the time remaining in your group, you may be able to read it and comment on it but you are asked to take it with you and, during this coming week, ponder its implications.  

How would you feel about such a Covenant (not necessarily this one word for word) being adopted by your Church?

Does this express a level of commitment that you could make?

What would you change, add or subtract?

Would you be willing to make such a commitment within the context of our local Church?  

 

The commitment expressed in such a Covenant should not be a static thing but renewed annually or bi-annually in a Covenant Commitment Service. This would help make your sense of belonging much more dynamic than may generally be the case at the moment. What do you think?   Next week, we want to further pursue the matter of belonging as we examine together what it means to be A COMMITTED PEOPLE. In a sense, it is an extension of this week's theme so please follow through the readings below in preparation for that session.  

 

 FOR YOU TO READ THIS WEEK: KEY THOUGHTS - "COMMITTED" AND "BELONGING"  

1. Acts 2/36-47

2. Acts 4/32-37

3. 1 Corinthians 12/4-27

4. Galatians 6/1-10

5. Ephesians 4/1-16

6. Philippians 2/1-16

 


A COVENANT OF COMMITMENT  

 

Covenant = the solemn pledge by which members of a Church commit themselves to one another so as to maintain its faith (Relational)

Constitution = the fundamental laws and practices that normally govern the operation of an association. (Organizational)  

 

The Covenant terms set out below provide the essential climate that any Church ought to have for the welfare and encouragement of its members.  

[1] I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and I gratefully acknowledge that He is the Lord and Saviour of my life. I now commit myself anew to love Him and live for Him accordingly.  

[2] I now commit myself afresh to become a mature, disciplined and serving Christian through the disciplines of worship, Bible reading, prayer, fellowship and practical ministry. I recognise my need to receive the support and ministry of the Body of Christ to fulfill these disciplines and I commit myself to my fellow disciples tothat end.  

[3] I now commit myself afresh to co-operate with the Holy Spirit as He produces in my life the fruit of the Spirit and, in partnership with others and their complementary gifts, I will seek to know and exercise the spiritual gifts God has given me for the benefit and strengthening of the local church.  

[4] I believe that Jesus Christ has made me part of His Body, the Christian Church, and I now commit myself afresh to serve Him in that part of His Body known as the DuralBaptistChurch. I will give high priority to actively share in and support the worship and ministry life of this local Church.  

[5] I now commit myself afresh to the welfare of this Church Family and to be loving in all my relationships. I commit myself to be an encourager of my fellow disciples and to think, speak and act in ways that love, honour and affirm them.  

[6] I now commit myself to the Lord Jesus Christ so that I am available for Him to use me in any way He chooses for the mission of reaching the world with the Gospel of the Kingdom.  

[7] Because God is the owner of my total life and resources, I now commit myself afresh to be a faithful trustee of all the material possessions He has placed in my care and, as part of that responsibility, I acknowledge and embrace my responsibility to financially support the life and ministry of this local Church.    

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