Why Churches Should Require Membership Covenants

Man Signing Contract

Next week, Lord willing, OGC will take in a dozen new members.

Note: for a biblical defense of the concept of church membership click here.

We praise God for the new bunch of folks He has brought into our fellowship. Each of these saints has attended our membership class. They have completed an extensive application and submitted to an interview with two of our officers. They have been approved by the elders in a formal motion at a business meeting and so noted in the minutes. And without exception, each has signed a dated covenant of membership. Copies of that covenant will be made available in the service next Sunday for every member to reaffirm the commitments that come with belonging to a covenant community of believers.

The question I wish to address in this post is why insist on members of a local body signing a membership covenant? Answer? INFORMED CONSENT. What in the world is that? Informed consent is documentary evidence of a church member’s familiarity with the teachings, policies, practices, and requirements of participation in the community and most importantly their agreement freely and willingly to abide therein. Why does that matter? Many reasons, but none more important in our litigious age than in the matter of church discipline.

The reason, among others, that there is a covenant of membership on file in our office with my name and date on it is because I don’t trust my own deceitfully wicked heart (Jer. 17:9). Should I wander off into unrepentant sin, perish the thought, I want my elders and church to come after me with the full force of Matt. 18:15-20, Gal. 6:1-2, and a bunch of other texts aimed right at that heart. Furthermore, I don’t even want to be tempted in the event of such an unfortunate set of circumstances to entertain the idea of suing my church for slander or some such nonsense. Having given my informed consent in the way of a covenant of membership assures that OGC doesn’t have to think twice about even excommunicating me if necessary for fear of an expensive and damaging lawsuit, not to say the havoc such a thing would bring upon the peace and welfare of the church.

Most people I speak with to attempt to persuade them about the importance of church membership rarely even give this aspect of the matter any thought whatsoever. Peacemaker Ministries has done a good job of articulating this and can help to explain:

Church membership is generally viewed by the courts as being a matter of contract, whereby members freely choose to associate with a particular church community and in doing so accept the benefits and duties of that association. The membership process provides an ideal means to obtain informed consent to a church’s policies and practices. Informed consent is easier to prove if you establish membership in a clear and explicit manner.

The article then proceeds to outline four steps to this end:

  1. Membership Class
  2. Membership Interview
  3. Declaration of Membership – public installation and records to that effect
  4. Written Commitment

Here’s how they unpack that all important fourth dimension:

Further evidence of express informed consent may be obtained by requiring new members to sign a written commitment to membership, which includes a specific reference to having received a copy of the Relational Commitments and to being willing to support and submit to them.

The entire article is worth your time and effort. To read it click here.

Have you thought about this as a professing Christian? It matters a lot to your spiritual welfare and that of the church to which you belong that you do think long and hard about it and that you give your informed consent for the glory of God, the welfare of the church, and the good of your soul.

How Not To Resolve Disputes Among Believers

Today’s message from 1 Cor. 6:1-8 is now on the web. You can listen to it here.

I summarized the passage and closed with applications this way:

Believers must reject the ridiculous and audacious folly of resolving their disputes in secular courts of law – given the special destiny of judging for believers (the world and angels), the serious disconnect with adjudicating by unbelievers (they have no standing in the church), and given the shameful defeat of litigating against family (why not rather suffer wrong, be defrauded than to wrong and defraud your brothers). Let me close with five practical steps of application.

1.       If you haven’t done so already, read Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, especially if you are in a conflict and/or if you are a member of OGC. Maybe even read it again. We place a high value on fostering a culture of peace. Nothing will equip you better.

2.      Consider joining the reconciling team at OGC. Matthew Antolick, himself trained by Peacemaker Ministries in conflict mediation is heading up this ministry to help serve our body in resolving disputes so that we have godly recourse when disputes come. See him for more info about what’s involved and how you can be trained.

3.      Inventory your heart in a conflict. If you can’t overlook an offense, follow the pattern of restoration clearly set down by Jesus in Matt. 18. Be willing for wise, objective and godly people to speak into your life along the way when they see something potentially out of order.

4.     Become a church member if you aren’t already. Conflict resolution through godly mediation and arbitration and church discipline is one of the privileges and responsibilities that membership affords. Think about it. There is nothing for you or your opponent to be put out of if necessary, if you aren’t already those who have voluntarily put yourselves in it.

5.      Trust God and the gospel of grace and forgiveness to rule your relationships within the body of Christ. Behavior that chooses to suffer wrong, defrauding as opposed to coercing rights, doesn’t come naturally to the sinful flesh. That takes the fruit of the Spirit controlling the heart through the power of the gospel.

Praise God for His faithfulness to us over these last years in preserving the peace within our fellowship!