Church Membership Covenants
by Paul Proctor
Note from Berit: Church "covenants" seem to serve the same purpose as the obligatory "compacts" between parents and public schools in many states. Both hold people accountable to ambiguous, evolving standards which can easily be adapted to the aims of contemporary change agents.
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Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California recently came out with an article in the Baptist Press recommending pastors and congregations adopt church membership covenants as a way of compelling their flock to become more involved in and committed to the ministry of their church. Although, on the surface such covenants might seem practical, here’s what Jesus Christ had to say about making covenants with men.
“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, SWEAR NOT AT ALL; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:” - Matthew 5:33-34 (emphasis added)
In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, he makes the following point:
“The worse men are, the less they are bound by oaths; the better they are, the less there is need for them.”
When a church becomes dependent upon carnal mechanisms for spiritual motivation rather than the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, contracts become fashionable among frustrated pastors who find it necessary to coerce members into carrying out the church’s ministry. Those who are led by the Spirit of God don’t need to sign on some dotted line guaranteeing their faithfulness. Those who aren’t led by the Spirit have no business in a Christian ministry to begin with. We don’t sign contracts guaranteeing our commitment to Christ for our salvation. So, why is it now necessary to sign a contract guaranteeing our commitment to serve in His church? Because faith isn’t required – that’s why. It’s only when you set out to fill your church with the faith-LESS that guarantees become necessary.
Saddleback, one of the “cue ball” churches in the purpose-driven/seeker-sensitive/church growth movement has been at the forefront of promoting unbiblical ideas like this over the past decade along with Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Under the banner of Christ these “men of faith” rely on marketing strategies, polls, opinions, experimentation, psychology, consensus, compromise, consultants and “worshiptainment” to draw and hold large numbers of “unchurched” people into their “worship centers” each week to “get connected” with their “felt needs” and finances.
In spite of the fact that such things have little or nothing to do with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, church growth gurus like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels have marketed all sorts of psychological contraptions to the Body of Christ through their member associations, leadership conferences and self-help books like “The Purpose Driven Church” and “Honest To God” as biblically acceptable ways of “doing church”.
Let me begin by stating upfront that Jesus Christ never commissioned His followers to go out into the world and “church” lost people. Nowhere in scripture will you find the Lord or any of His Apostles attempting to lure and entice the lost into the first century church. That was NEVER our Lord’s intention.
The church was created WITH and FOR the REDEEMEND ONLY -- not for the faithless, rebellious and unrepentant. It only became the primary place for the lost to hear the Gospel preached because church members throughout the 20th century couldn’t maintain enough faith and courage to talk about Jesus Christ outside the church sanctuary. So, for decades now, instead of Christians inviting the lost to Christ with an open Bible, a convicting Spirit and a working knowledge of scripture, we’ve been inviting them to church instead to hear our pastor do what we ourselves should have been doing all along.
Imagine what would become of our military if recruiters bribed civilian passersby into putting on a uniform, taking a loaded gun and boarding the next plane to Iraq to fight Saddam Hussein and his minions over in Baghdad. Bribing the lost into spiritual service armed with little more than human wisdom, strength and talent to battle Satan and his demons on the streets of America is just as ridiculous and destructive. To say it defeats the purpose of the church would be a gross understatement. Ultimately, church attendance, membership, personal sacrifice and service should be the RESULT of one’s salvation, not a means to obtaining it. If it becomes the latter, it eventually corrupts, confuses and degrades the church as a whole and undermines its divine purpose.
Because of a growing scriptural ignorance among today’s believers, many dumbed-down Christians from the church growth movement (CGM) simply take the misguided word of pop culture pontificators like Warren and Hybels as gospel and embrace their Christian-flavored psychobabble without ever opening their bibles to investigate its legitimacy.
My focus today, however, is primarily on pastor Warren’s Church Membership Covenant concept. He includes this covenant in the following Baptist Press article for readers to consider as a useful instrument for today’s church.
Church Membership Covenant: Expect What the Bible Expects [http://www.baptistpress.com/bpfeature.asp?ID=676]
Consisting of four basic promises it includes twelve brief clarifications and accompanying scripture references. If agreed to, it could send an entire church down the road to spiritual defeat whether the parking lot is full or not.
Note: My brief comments follow each of the various commitments below in parenthesis to demonstrate the potential for confusion, deceit and disaster. In the interest of time and space, I did not include all of the scripture references he listed – just the ones that are problematic by their misapplication.
“(1.) I WILL PROTECT THE UNITY OF MY CHURCH”
(Unity occurs automatically when church members consistently obey scripture – not when they make covenants with men, ignore heresy and accept sinful behavior.)
(a) “...By acting in love toward other members” (Is “love” defined here by the CGM as going along to get along – i.e., compromise?)
(b) “...By refusing to gossip” (Does that include challenging, questioning or criticizing any unbiblical teaching or behavior by a pastor, teacher or staff member?)
(c) “...By following the leaders” (Regardless of their error or deceit?)
Warren’s scripture reference:
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be no advantage to you." - Heb. 13:17
Just as Romans 13 is so often misused today to persuade us that we should blindly obey those given governmental authority over us, even if it goes against God’s Word and Will (as tragically demonstrated by the rise and reign of Adolph Hitler over Germany during WW II), Hebrews 13 CAN BE and OFTEN IS misused in the same way regarding leadership and “followship” in the church.
Having come from a Willow Creek member church myself whose pastor regularly deceived and abused his flock by dedicating much, if not most of his “ministry” time consolidating for himself a political powerbase from which every decision he made could be forced upon the church body without question or discussion, I understand all too well the danger of absolute power. You see -- Rick Warren’s church membership covenant makes no exception here for errant pastors, staff members or teachers who disobey or disavow scripture to carry out some other agenda. This is an open door for corruption, especially in a church that is scripturally illiterate and emotionally driven.
“(2.) I WILL SHARE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MY CHURCH” (as defined by whom, the pastor, the church staff or the Word of God?)
(a) “...By praying for its growth” (The word “its” could imply inanimate objects like bank accounts, credit lines, buildings, property, programs and church rolls instead the spiritual growth of individual believers.)
(b) "...By inviting the unchurched to attend” (Inviting the lost to attend your church is NOT the great commission – inviting them to Christ IS)
(c) “...By warmly welcoming those who visit” (Regardless of their attitude, behavior or agenda?)
Warren’s scripture reference:
"So, warmly welcome each other INTO THE CHURCH, just as Christ has warmly welcomed you; then God will be glorified." - Rom. 15:7 (emphasis added)
Using a version of scripture Warren designates as “LB”, (Living Bible?) Warren obligates signers to welcome anybody and everybody into the church regardless of their reason for being there. Notice that he never clarifies whether he’s referring to the Body of Christ, the church building or a worship service. First of all, the two “Living” translations I found online never used the words ”into the church”. So, I don’t know WHERE he came up with that. Maybe there is some other version called “LB” that I don’t know about.
Even still -- if THIS conveniently edited “version” of scripture is what pastor Warren is using to justify anybody and everybody being welcomed “into the church”, it is another example of how the Word of God can be twisted into saying what someone needs it to say at any given time. Using the King James Version, you can clearly see that Paul was instructing Christians to “…receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God “ -- (whether circumcised or not) God is not glorified by the lost and unrepentant. So, Paul is obviously instructing us here to receive anyone redeemed by the blood of Christ – not just anybody and everybody regardless of their spiritual condition or position.
Even though welcoming the lost to worship with you might be entirely appropriate for purposes of them hearing the Gospel preached, there is no command here to receive the faithless and unrepentant as you would a brother or sister in Christ. This is how the Hegelian Dialectic is carried out in the Apostate church today; to water-down the gospel message, create fellowship between good and evil (redeemed and lost) and grieve the Holy Spirit. Thesis (saved) + antithesis (lost) = synthesis (Apostate Church) Remember – all it takes is a little leaven. (1st Corinthians 5)
"The Master said to the servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes, and urge the people there to come so my house will be full." - Luke 14:23 (NCV)
This scripture reference Warren provides for his second of four commitments is grossly misused. “My house” as it is used here refers to the Kingdom of God, which can only involve the redeemed. Jesus was not commanding us here to fill our church’s “worship center” with the lost. He made it perfectly clear at the beginning of His parable in verse 15 that He was talking about “the Kingdom of God” (Heaven) not a church building on Sunday morning.
Unfortunately, those whose “Christian faith” is grounded in group-think and emotion instead of the Word of God don’t recognize heresy when it’s staring them in the face. What’s more -- this particular error (instructing believers to essentially fill the church with anybody any way they can) is the driving philosophy behind the entire seeker-sensitive church growth movement – a philosophy that I believe reveals its spiritual illegitimacy.
“(3.) I WILL SERVE THE MINISTRY OF MY CHURCH” (Just what is your church’s ministry – becoming a wealthy and entertaining mega-church or serving God by obeying His Word?)
(a) “...By discovering my gifts and talents” (The bible does not teach self-discovery or encourage the use of human talent to grow a church.)
(b) “...By being equipped to serve by my pastors” (Even if they are following the flesh and the devil?)
(c) “...By developing a servant's heart” (The phrase “servant’s heart” is an ambiguous CGM term which could imply one’s cooperation with and dedication to some other agenda whether biblical or not. Again, another open door for evil to enter and corrupt.)
“(4.) I WILL SUPPORT THE TESTIMONY OF MY CHURCH” (Even if it strays from the truth?)
(a) “...By attending faithfully” (Faithfully attending what?)
(b) “...By living a godly life” (Undefined -- ambiguous)
(c) ”...By giving regularly” (Again, undefined – ambiguous)
The bottom line is this: Once you’ve signed a church membership covenant and boarded the CGM train -- you’re committed to its destination, even if it changes direction somewhere along the way. This is why Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:33-34 to not make oaths with men – because when it’s all said and done we might find ourselves following the wrong god.
“Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” Jeremiah 17:5
Paul Proctor, a rural resident of Tennessee and seasoned veteran of the country music industry, retired from showbiz in the late 1990's to dedicate himself to addressing important social issues from a distinctly biblical perspective. As a freelance writer and columnist, he extols the wisdom and truths of scripture through commentary and insight on cultural trends and current events. His articles appear regularly on a variety of news and opinion sites across the internet and in print. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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