Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Church Covenant: Practically recovering regenerate church membership

What can a church do practically to begin recovering regenerate church membership? There are three main ways: (1) Go back to the old practice of the church covenant, (2) Examination before and training after believer’s baptism, (3) Return to church discipline.

Church Covenant Church covenants have always been part of Baptist life from the beginning. It is a statement of the membership’s aims and its commitment to one another. It should be reaffirmed annually by every member, and read corporately at important times in church life, such as when the ordinances are celebrated. We find Nehemiah leading Judah to covenant together and reaffirm it (Nehemiah 9:38-10:39). 

Reaffirming the covenant gives churches a way to handle inactive members without the offense of the church taking action against them. We don’t want offense taken, but if they cannot participate enough for this, then they choose to exclude themselves.

Traditional Baptist Covenant (click to enlarge)
Some congregations handle it this way: If they do not affirm the church covenant by coming and signing it, then they are visited or contacted and urged to come and sign the church covenant as soon as possible. If they do not come, effort is made to determine why they have not come. This is a time of emphasizing restoration (“We really miss your presence at church”) or perhaps evangelism. The tone is gentle but insistent that being a Christian means following Christ, and that means participation in His Body. 

After a time of patient work, their membership status then comes before the church body to regard this person as a member “not in fellowship.” They make it clear that this does not affect their salvation, nor that they will shun them, but that they will try now to win them back into fellowship. It is a call for special attention to be given to loving and praying for them. It is a way to say that membership means something in the church. It encourages a committed, participating membership.

Our church has a policy that does nearly the same thing. One year of absence from services means that member is moved to an inactive list in which they lose their voting rights on church matters. The deficiency in our policy is that we do not emphasize enough their restoration to fellowship, and our love and prayer for them.