Folks who join Good Shepherd Community Church sign a church covenant. That is, we covenant together to work toward the glory of God and the good of each other in the context of our community of faith. Some wonder whether there is value in such covenants. One of my fellow members, Wayne Conrad, recently recommended an article on membership covenants from Zion Baptist Church in Taylor, MI. This is a very good article on the value of membership covenants. I do highly recommend you click through on the link above to read the article which is presented in catechism format.
That said, here are some of my own thoughts on the matter. We live in an individualistic and consumerist culture. We often forget that while we've been united with Jesus, we've also been united to His bride: His church. I prefer to call it His assembly. While this assembly has a universal and timeless expression, the most common expression is that of a local assembly of believers. Even when speaking of a region (such as Galatia), Paul uses the plural form (assemblies). There is great primacy on the local assembly of believers in the New Testament. Jesus spoke of that assembly, in Matthew, as a means of accountability for those who make her up. The New Testament pleads with us to remember that we no longer exist for ourselves, but we now exist for the glory of Jesus and the good of His people. We are to "...consider the interests of each other as much as our own." We are not free to consider ourselves merely as individuals who have a private relationship with Jesus. There is no loving Jesus if there is no loving His bride. Jesus' words in John make it clear that the two go hand-in-hand. Rather we need, and are needed by, the rest of the assembly!! It's one thing to join an assembly. It's an entirely different matter to be an assembly that is committed to the good of each other. A membership covenant is one of the ways that we keep ourselves accountable to seeking the good of one another. It's a way to remember the commitment we have, not just to Jesus, but also to His bride whom He loves gloriously. It's a way to remember that I need you and that you need me.
Below are a copy of our own church covenant as well as a paper I presented at a conference about ecclesiology--the doctrine of the church.
We're all familiar with "Amazing Grace," but did you know that John Newton, the writer of that beloved song wrote many others. One of our favorites here at GSCC is "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds". The content of this song brings tears to my eyes every time I sing it. Enjoy. The lyrics are public domain.
How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
John Newton 1725-1807
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer's ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds
and drives away our fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
and calms each heart oppressed;
it's manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary rest.
Dear name, the rock on which I build,
my shield and hiding-place;
my never-failing treasury, filled
with boundless stores of grace!
By you my prayers acceptance gain,
although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain
since I am God's own child.
Jesus, my shepherd, brother, friend,
my Prophet, Priest and King,
my Lord, my life, my way, my end,
accept the praise I bring.
Weak is the effort of my heart,
and cold my warmest thought;
but when I see you as you are,
I'll praise you as I ought.
Till then I would your love proclaim
with every fleeting breath;
and may the music of your name
refresh my soul in death.
Below is a video of a contemporary arrangement we like to sing it in.
"Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, 'Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.'" --1 Samuel 14:6
The history of God's people, for the most part, is the history, at least according to conventional wisdom, of an underdog. We see it from the beginning. From Noah, to Abraham, to King David, to the return from Exile, to Jesus and his disciples, to the early church, and much of church history. The nation of Israel, throughout her history, was the underdog against much more powerful nations. Throughout much of church history, we see Christians being the underdog. What the west has experienced in terms of a cordial relationship with the state is largely an anomaly. Christians, in the west, experienced unprecedented freedom and favor over last 500 years. We often forget that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world do not have that freedom. They are true underdogs. Recent events in the west, from Europe, to Canada, and now to the United States are signalling that the unprecedented favor and freedom is coming to an end. We see panic and fear filling social media timelines and circles. We hear preachers and commentators telling us its time to shelter up and shield ourselves.
The above cited verse is part of a larger context. Israel has found itself cornered and on the defensive. The reign of King Saul is already at the beginning of its end. Israel has no weapons and is dependent upon their dreaded enemy, the Philistines, to keep their weaponry up. They'll fix it, but for a steep price. They are surrounded. There were several responses. Some joined the Philistines. Some went and hid. However, we see the most poignant contrast between Saul and Jonathan. Saul and his army go on the defensive and hide. Jonathan, grabbing his armor bearer, goes on the offensive. For Saul, God was too small. For Jonathan, all enemies were small. After all, "It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few."
Jonathan and his armor bearer go and scope out the situation. They spot a garrison and present themselves. The test is this: if the guards say "come up here and we'll show you a thing" that means Jonathan is going to win. If the sign is to wait there, it's time to flee. The former happened. Jonathan and his armor bearer begin scaling the hillside. They slayed 20 men in one pass. The earth then shook and the Philistines panicked. At that point, the rest of Israel's army saw what was happening, and upon seeing that "we're winning," opted to join in the battle.
Increasingly, here in the west, we find ourselves becoming more and more of an underdog. This is not something foreign to our brothers around the world. The panic we're seeing is much like Saul and company cowering in the caves. We even see many joining forces with the culture around us. However, a few voices are calling us to march forward, like Jonathan. It is when when God's people have no strength, no visible "light at the end of the tunnel," and are facing apparent defeat that God will show how strong He is. When He acts in these situations, there is only one possibility as to how things turned our way: God acted.
As we see our culture become increasingly antagonistic toward the Gospel, let us remember the lesson of Jonathan and the armor bearer. Just because the odds are against us does not mean we need to retreat into a defensive posture. We must remember that "It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few."
Let us remember that Jesus, the one who calmed the storm, said, "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not stand against it." Let us pray with the apostles, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” The room was shaken and they went out with boldness. Jesus rose from the dead. We've already won. Let's march onward in the proclamation of the gospel. Let's march onward pursuing God. Let's march onward in love and fellowship with each other. It's when things are against the odds that we need to remember that it is "nothing for God to save, whether by many or by few." Let us not worry ourselves about survival. Let us concern ourselves with victory!!
I leave you with this song of marching onto victory from Egypt.
Pratney, Witnie. "Victory or Survival." Part 1 http://ia600702.us.archive.org/9/items/SERMONINDEX_SID0979/SID0979.mp3
Ibid., Part 2. http://ia600604.us.archive.org/20/items/SERMONINDEX_SID0980/SID0980.mp3
Ibid., Part 3. http://ia600306.us.archive.org/28/items/SERMONINDEX_SID0981/SID0981.mp3
One of the mantras of our day in age is that God accepts who we are. This is usually done to get people to stop addressing behaviors we might be engaged in. However, God does NOT accept who we are. Who we are is just plain not good enough because it's a tainted version of humanity. We lost our authentic humanity when, in Adam, we ate a piece of fruit we were commanded not to. We're now sinners. He accepts who His Son is, however. He, the man Jesus Christ, the Word (who is both with God and is God) who BECAME flesh, succeeded where we failed. In Him, and only in Him, we find acceptance with God. That's the beauty of the Gospel. We have the promise of that authentic humanity restored in the hope (expectation) of the resurrection. We have the removal of our guilt in justification and a taste of that glorious hope in our sanctification. All of which is secured by that same Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection!!! I thank God for His grace freely given which was lavished upon us.