Church Covenants–Some Thoughts and Meditations

In Nehemiah’s day, after reading the Word of God together corporately and publicly, and following their careful observance of the Feast of Booths in accord with the instruction of the Law of Moses, the leadership of Israel prayerfully entered into a purposeful covenant in writing and sealed with the names of all participating leaders (Neh 9:38–10:39).

As the people of God who recognized their own sinfulness and the grace their God had shown them, the leaders of Israel (princes, Levites, and priests) entered into a voluntary covenant commitment to obey the Word of God which they had received (Neh 10:28–29). Their covenant contained four points of commitment:

  1. They promise not to marry their sons and daughters to unbelieving spouses (Neh 10:30).
  2. They promise not to defile the Sabbath by engaging in commercial transactions on the Sabbath or any other sanctified day (Neh 10:31a).
  3. They promise to observe the sabbatical year (Neh 10:31b).
  4. They promise to support the work and the house of God through tithes and offerings (Neh 10:32–39).

Note the following aspects of this covenant:

  • The motivation for composing and entering this covenant was spiritual: immersion in the Word of God and in prayer (Neh 8:1–9:37).
  • This covenant was not one of the biblical covenants initiated by God (e.g., Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Deuteronomic, Priestly, Davidic, or New), but a voluntary covenant initiated by the people themselves to express their commitment to an ongoing obedience as a Scripture-based, faith-based community of believers.
  • The use of the term “covenant” legitimately and biblically expresses the believers’ commitment to be obedient to the Word of God corporately, as well as individually.
  • The leaders of the believing community entered into this covenant and appended their names to a formal document as an expression of their commitment and their public accountability within the assembly of believers in Jerusalem.

An equivalent covenant for a New Testament assembly might contain the following stipulations regarding commitment:

  1. We promise not to marry our sons and daughters to unbelieving spouses (2 Cor 6:14–7:1).
  2. We promise not to forsake the weekly assembling of ourselves together to encourage and stimulate one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24–25).
  3. We promise to trust ourselves to God’s care in all circumstances resulting in material need when we obey His Word (Rom 15:22–29; 1 Cor 9:2–14; 3 Phil 4:19; 1 Pet 5:6–7; 3 John 5–8).
  4. We promise to support the ministries, pastors, staff, facilities, and missionaries of our church through our faithful giving (1 Cor 16:1–3; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Eph 4:28; Phil 4:15–20; 1 Tim 5:17–18; Heb 13:16).

These four stipulations might be argued as biblical minimums, since they find a parallel in this type of covenant among God’s people after the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian Captivity. They identify, in brief, key commitments in which the New Testament instructs believers to intentionally and voluntarily participate. The ultimate authority does not reside in the human covenant itself, but in the authoritative Word of God from which these commitments have been drawn. At minimum, the leadership of the local church should make such a formal covenant corporately and publicly. Leaders must lead by example (Heb 13:7, 17–18). As leaders in the church, our goal is to train those whom we lead to become actively involved in ministry and in preparation for leadership (1 Cor 10:31–11:1; Eph 4:11–16; 2 Tim 2:1–7; Titus 2:1–8).

Therefore, biblical precedent exists for church covenants in both name and content. Commitment is not an unbiblical concept, nor is it absent in the teachings of the New Testament in regard to believers’ commitment to a local assembly of believers. Hebrews 10:19–39 presents the most specific biblical description of the commitment which Christ demands from all believers—and, it is clearly within the context of a local assembly.

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