GBC Members' Covenant
What does it mean to be a member of the church? Upon our profession of faith in baptism, we enter into promises with each other. This is probably the clearest answer to the question of what church membership means. At GBC, we remind ourselves of our responsibilities and duties as church members by reciting the Members' Covenant at the church anniversary service each year.
GBC’s membership covenant was included in our church’s M&A in 1988 but its origins are from beyond that. The covenant we use is written by Baptist minister John Newton Brown, one of the authors of the 1853 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith. Let’s take a look at what the covenant says, and what it means for us today. Care group leaders may wish to use this material in your discussions with members, and what it means to belong to GBC.
THE BIG PICTURE TO KEEP IN VIEW
The covenant has 5 paragraphs, and each lays out a big idea and key promises. The first paragraph introduces and frames (1) the big idea the 'covenant' we make with one another. The next four paragraphs make promises for what we will do: (2) as a church body together; (3) as individual believers; (4) as people in relationship with one another; and (5) what we will do if we move or leave this particular church.
In paragraph (1), we confess that church life begins with the gospel of Jesus Christ through the work of the Triune God. The covenant makes it clear that the God of our faith is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and before Him and witnesses in heaven (angels) and on earth (this assembly), we covenant/make solemn, promises together freely. We should be “joyful” in covenanting – not grudgingly, or forced into any of the promises therein. Like the sweet vows of the marriage covenant, we enter into sacred promises that shape our identity and how we will live. Like the wedding ring, the sign of the marriage covenant, baptism is a physical sign that we have trusted in Christ through the gospel. In the church, we are baptized because we believe the gospel in a public profession of faith. There can be no church without baptism, and no baptism without faith in the gospel.
THE BIG PROMISES WE MAKE
In (2), we express our reliance on the Holy Spirit for our church life together. We know that without the enabling of the Spirit, we cannot live this supernatural life of being the body of the risen Christ. We promise in the covenant to advance His church, not just in its activities but in its truth and message. We also promise to live as good stewards of our resources, promoting the work of the church and sustaining its life and doing so practically through financial contributions and missions.
In (3), we make promises at the individual level, in private and public, at home and before the world. In our families and in our private lives, devotions are the main priority as we promise to read God’s truth. As parents, we promise to teach our children about God, and as witnesses to our unbelieving friends, to share the gospel with them. In the world, we promise to be uncompromised, or ‘circumspect’ – a way of saying that we will not be worldly, but holy, specifically in the righteousness, faithfulness and godly conduct we display. In all of our dealings, we want to be godly – putting God’s work and priorities first – loving Him and fellow man, refusing even to stumble others or possibly distract ourselves from spiritual growth. In short, we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
In (4), we covenant to serve and love one another in the church through relationships. We promise to do specific things: watching, praying, remembering, learning to love, being courteous and forgiving - all to obey the “rules of our Savior”. We desire to obey the law of Christ's love to “love one another as [Christ has] loved you” (Jn 13:34-35). In watching, we practice accountability and mutual pastoral care for our spiritual health and habits. In praying and remembering, we strive to meet spiritual needs through prayer and intercession. In learning to love, we promise to work hard at “cultivating Christian sympathy” even when it’s not natural to us, as is the case for being courteous with our words. In forgiving, we remember that Jesus has overlooked our faults, so ought we to do so with one another. And all these, we promise to do “without delay”, but promptly, and cheerfully.
In (5), we pledge to make practical Christian commitments beyond this place and fellowship. In other words, if church members feel led to another country or church, the “spirit of this covenant” is still to be observed. In (5) we promise to “not neglect fellowship” which means being faithful in church attendance and worship, and even joining a church of like faith and not neglecting regular worship and discipleship to Jesus Christ.
THE BIG GOD WHO ENABLES US
While it may seem overwhelming and ambitious to make such audacious promises, the covenant reminds us of our unending reliance on the grace of our great God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to live out the promises we have made. The promise we make before angels and before witnesses is only possible because of the Triune God who has saved us and will make us like Him, perfect. He who has begun a good work will complete it (Phi 1:6). We must live out this vision of the disciples’ life together, supporting one another and endeavouring together to do so – not by might or in power, but by the strength the Holy Spirit supplies.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION/REFLECTION
- Why is it important that only baptized Christians become members of the church? What kind of church is described in the details of this covenant?
- According to this covenant, what does church membership mean? In 2-3 adjectives/describing words, would you describe it?
- Do you think it is possible to live out the details of this covenant practically? What does it important to “engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit”? What does that mean practically?
- Having understood the ‘big picture’ of the covenant, which area of your church life are you not paying attention to? Rank them in order of neglect.
- (2) focuses on our commitments to be the body of Christ. How can we practically “strive for the advancement of this church”? Name 1-2 terms in (2) that stand out to you.
- (3) focuses on our commitments as individual believers. What kind of “zealous…efforts…advance the kingdom of our Savior”? Name 1-2 terms in (3) that stand out to you.
- (4) focuses on our relationships with one another. Can you think of any of your relationships right now which are addressed in this covenant? What is God’s will, and your Christian duty, as a church member about this relationship?
- (5) focuses on promises we make should we ever leave GBC. What kind of future commitments are we making? Why is it important that we commit ourselves to this beforehand?