Thursday, January 30, 2014
Why the Membership Covenant?
At our annual Family meeting we announced changes to our membership covenant. We've always had one but we recently re-vamped it and wanted to make it available to our Dwell family. Here are some questions or objections that we've heard or anticipate with the new document.
Frequently Asked Questions/Objections about the Membership Covenant
1) "Why a membership covenant? Isn't it going to lead to legalism of some kind?"
The importance of membership and a membership covenant is addressed in the document itself. But underneath that fear is that people will be held to some arbitrary standard and forced to live a certain way that seems contrary to God's love and grace enabling a legalistic environment. I have two ways I try to respond to what are legitimate concerns.
a) Legalism is one extreme error of the gospel and rightly a false gospel. But so is lawlessness. Christians are not better than anyone else, but by the Spirit they are leaving behind their life in the flesh. Christ did not die on the cross to forgive sin so that we could continue in sin (Rom. 6). He died to free us not just from the penalty, but also the power of sin. A Christian is being renewed in the image of our creator, is a new creation, is part of a redeemed community, is experiencing freedom from sin not because of the law but because we are united with Christ by the Spirit in his death and resurrection. Meaning, victory over sin is possible in the here and now. To not believe God can or needs to change you or that you need to be transformed at all, is to lack faith in power of Christ to renew you by the gospel on some level.
b) Perfection is not required, but progression is.
In other words, sanctification is the fruit of true salvation. The membership covenant is not intended to say, "You have to be at X level before we think you are a legit Christian." It is intended to say, "I need the body of Christ to foster the work of the Spirit to produce the fruit of God's grace in my life. I need other people to hold me accountable, to help me work through my hopes and fears so that God's Spirit may change my heart to the heart of Christ." We would never deny membership to anyone on the basis of what they have or have not done. We would only deny membership to those who say, "I have no sin," to those who call evil good, and good evil (Is. 5:20; 1 John 1:8).
2) "I can't be a part of this church if I don't agree to the Covenant."
This is simply not true and a misunderstanding of how membership functions in a church. There are lots of people who are a part of our church and who attend our church consistently but they are not members. Even though being a member is a Biblical concept, it is clear there were people who regularly attended worship services or participated in the life of the God's people but were not committed members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 14). The Membership Covenant is for voting members and ministry leaders. It is not for our wider community and every attender. Membership is best reserved for those committed to being a disciple of Jesus Christ in this particular body of believers and see this church accomplish God's charge to make disciples.
3) "What is different about the new one?"
a) Leadership Expectations
We wanted to add what leadership's obligations are to its members. The old Membership Covenant had lots of language about being a devoted Christian and voting privileges. But it had no language about how the leadership was supposed to serve its members. It would be like God telling Israel what the law was in Deuteronomy but leaving out the blessings and warnings. "You have to do this. But I don't have to do anything for you or hold you accountable."A covenant in the Bible is an agreement to be faithful even when the other party is not. It is given in the context of a redemptive relationship. God saved Israel and then covenanted with his people to always be faithful to them because he was the God of grace who saved them, even if they were not always faithful to him. Our leadership is committed to serve you whether you fill like a Christian rock star or a Christian failure.
b) We wanted to include that members should participate in the ministry of the church, not just believe what we do and attend.
We think it was necessary to communicate being a member is more than merely calling yourself a Christian and attending regularly. It is a commitment to contribute to the church's worship, service, and mission.
c) We needed more clarity on organizational and doctrinal unity with a Spirit of charity.
The previous one simply mentioned agreement with our Affirmation of Faith but nothing about the spirit of agreement or disagreement. We need to agree on essentials. But we need to not be jerks about minor matters we disagree on. The Apostle Paul was hard on blatant unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 5) and false teaching (1 Tim. 1:20). But he was also hard on divisive people who threatened the unity of the church (1 Cor.; Tit. 3:10-11). We need to receive each other in Christ as Christ has received us (Rom. 15:1-7).
d) We needed more clarity on being holy in Christ while also continuing to pursue holiness in Christ.
I think this is a frequently misunderstood part of the gospel, grace, and God's love today. People know Jesus is about unconditional love and Christians are not supposed to be judgmental. But how does one balance that with the clear commands to be holy and Jesus' words himself, "If you love me, you will obey my commands." Christ came to save us from the power of sin. We will change and we are destined to reflect the image of Jesus. There is an "already and not yet" aspect to the kingdom of God and our own holiness. We don't have to be perfect or as holy as the person next to us. But we do need to be optimistically committed to walk in his Spirit.
e) We needed to make things previously implied explicit.
The old Membership Covenant said things like, "forsake the ways of sin," but did not say what was a sin or not. It was assumed you knew that meant not committing adultery, being addicted to porn, abusing alcohol or drugs, being an abusive parent or spouse, etc. We need to be clear about these things. We need to be clear that we were saved by grace alone through Christ Jesus to do good works.
4) "There are lots of other things called sins in the Bible that are not spelled out in the Membership Covenant. Why only address these particular ones?"
This is a valid point. Its a contextual decision. Traditional societies worshipped family, honor, and one's tribe - this can lead to communalism, classism, and racism. Modern society tends to worship money, sex, and power in order to create an identity for the individual previously gained through community. All of these are good things but when they become ultimate things they corrupt the soul and destroy people's lives. This is why we encourage unity, submission, servant leadership, and accountability to the body (denial of power), generosity and giving (denial of money), and sexual fidelity and chastity (denial of the worship of sex). We have to avoid the love of money, of power, and the lusts of the flesh. Eventually they catch up with you, and you find the fruit of your love is loneliness because people are tired of being used for your own sense of identity. Remember, the love of Christ is expressed most profoundly in the cross (1 John 4:10). Our identity is found in finding mercy from the very one we rebelled against.