“Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, “if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond space time tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?” ― Charles Stross link
Recently, Jared Wilson wrote a post that helps to pinpoint the problems with the word *covenant* as it relates to church membership. In 5 REASONS YOU SHOULD (PROBABLY) LEAVE YOUR ATTRACTIONAL CHURCH, I find myself agreeing, in principle, with his thoughts on what he calls *attractional churches.* I disagree with his solution because I happen to know that the men he admires and serves have hurt lots of people with church covenants.
What is an attractional church according to Wilson?
By attractional, I am referring to the ministry paradigm that has embraced consumerism, pragmatism, and moralism as its operational values.
He states there are 5 aspects to identifying an attractional church.
1. It is rare to hear anything from the stage resembling the gospel.
2. There is no meaningful membership process or pastoral care.
3. There is no significant attention given to life or discipleship beyond the weekend worship service.
4. You’re not in a position of significant influence.
5. The teaching your children are receiving in the church is training them to become the consumeristic moralists the church is currently reaching.
There is an idea running in the background that gives legs to my coming critique and that involves the use of the word or the implication of the word *covenant.*
Nobody should leave any church lightly, and it should never be a Christian’s first impulse or first resort. A covenant lightly instituted might still be heavily held.
Does your church have membership? If it does, does it function beyond assimilating volunteers into areas of service in the church? Is there a ministerial structure in place that oversees and cares for the needs of members, taking responsibility for their ongoing discipleship, and disciplining them when they engage in unrepentant sin?
Do you have any kind of beyond-superficial relationship with any pastor or elder or anybody else in leadership responsible for your spiritual well-being?
If your church puts very little energy toward helping Christians at all stages of spiritual life grow in Christlikeness, it’s possible you have outgrown them and need to covenant with a church that functions more like the multi-faceted body of Christ.
If your primary parental discipleship of your kids consists largely of trying to “undo” or protect against what they’re getting in Sunday School or children’s church or the Fantabulous KidZone, this might be a good prompt to reconsider which covenant community you want supporting your development of them as followers of Jesus.
Where I agree with Jared Wilson
I, too, want a thoughtful worship experience along with a carefully thought out sermon which is on short secondary disagreements, devoid of politics and long on the love of God and the love for one another. I spent about 2 years listening to Ed Young Jr.'s sermons and cannot remember anything beyond his antics involving tanks and fishing poles on the stage. We thankfully found Bent Tree Bible Fellowship and Pete Briscoe shortly thereafter. We both take the Bible and the living out of our faith seriously.
The two main usages of the word "Covenant."
The first one is not the focus of this post. However, since covenants are usually stressed by the neo-Calvinist groups, it is important to understand the distinction. I am only providing a brief overview of both usages of the word covenant.
1. Covenant Theology link
Covenant Theology isn’t so much a “theology” in the sense of a systematic set of doctrine as it is a framework for interpreting Scripture. It is usually contrasted with another interpretative framework for Scripture called “Dispensational Theology” or “Dispensationalism.”
Covenant Theology looks at the Scriptures through the grid of the covenant. Covenant Theology defines two overriding covenants: the covenant of works (CW) and the covenant of grace (CG). A third covenant is sometimes mentioned; namely, the covenant of redemption (CR). We will discuss these covenants in turn. The important thing to keep in mind is that all of the various covenants described in Scripture (e.g., the covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant) are outworkings of either the covenant of works or the covenant of grace.
2. Covenants are legal agreements between one or more parties. Link
This is the definition which I shall use for the post. I want you to note that this is a legal agreement, something which is rarely mentioned by churches. I use the word contract since that word, in modern usage, is a more descriptive word.
A covenant (Hebrew berith, Greek diatheke) is a legal agreement between two or more parties. The word, "covenant(s)," occurs 284 times in the Old Testament (as found in the New American Standard Bible). "Covenant(s)" occurs 37 times in the New Testament, which gives a total of 321 occurrences.
The following is taken from Covenant by CARM.
In this quote, carefully look at the sentence that describes obligations on the part of both parties.
A covenant is a contract or agreement between two or more parties. Covenant is how God has chosen to communicate to us, to redeem us, and to guarantee us eternal life in Jesus. These truths, revealed in the Bible, are the basis of Christianity. The Bible is a covenant document. The Old and New Testaments are really Old and New Covenants. The word, "testament," is Latin for Covenant.
There is a pattern to the covenants found in the Bible. Basically, it is as follows. The initiating party describes himself and what He has done, then there is a list of obligations between the two (or more) parties
The difference between a conditional and a nonconditional covenant/contract
Read this carefully. Remember, Wilson is describing a covenant that gospel™ church members should sign because…why?
Covenants can be conditional or non-conditional. A conditional covenant might depend on the faithfulness of one more more parties, and the covenant is invalidated should one or both break the conditions. An example of this would be the Adamic Covenant where God promised Adam eternal life if Adam remained obedient to God's Word.
An unconditional covenant is one that is not dependent on the faithfulness of the parties but remains valid. The Noahic Covenant is unconditional in that it is God's promise to never destroy the earth again by water. There is no condition for the covenant.
The website, Bible Study Tools, offers further insights into the word Covenant.
Pay particular attention to the idea of a contract between two equal parties versus one between God and His people. Note also, that Joshua made a covenant that was expressly forbidden by God. In other words, he did something he shouldn't have done. Therefore, covenants can be used wrongly by sinful people.
The generally accepted idea of binding or establishing a bond between two parties is supported by the use of the term berit [tyir.B]. When Abimelech and Isaac decided to settle their land dispute, they made a binding agreement, league, or covenant to live in peace. An oath confirmed it ( Gen 26:26-31 ). Joshua and the Gibeonites bound themselves, by oath, to live in peace together ( Joshua 9:15 ), although Yahweh commanded that Israel was not to bind themselves to the people living in the land of Canaan ( Deut 7:2 ; Judges 2:2 ). Solomon and Hiram made a binding agreement to live and work in peace together ( 1 Kings 5:12 ). A friendship bond was sealed by oath between David and Jonathan ( 1 Samuel 20:3 1 Samuel 20:16-17 ). Marriage is a bond (covenant) for life.
The covenants referred to above were between two equal parties; this means that the covenant relationship was bilateral. The bond was sealed by both parties vowing, often by oath, that each, having equal privileges and responsibilities, would carry out their assigned roles. Because a covenant confirmed between two human parties was bilateral, some scholars have concluded that the covenant Yahweh established with human beings is also bilateral. This is not the case. God initiated, determined the elements, and confirmed his covenant with humanity. It is unilateral. Persons are recipients, not contributors; they are not expected to offer elements to the bond; they are called to accept it as offered, to keep it as demanded, and to receive the results that God, by oath, assures will not be withheld.
A Church Covenant is not a contract between the church member and God.
I think this is the key point to consider. I am so grateful that God has made many promises to all of us. If we repent, believe, and seek to follow Jesus, He will be merciful and forgive our sins and give us eternal life with Him. He loves us.
I trust God. He is not devious and I certainly I do not expect Him to pull a new *rule* out of his hat and say that He doesn't forgive us because we were really were not supposed to eat shellfish! I trust Him totally to do what He has promised.
A Church Contract is a legal obligation between you and who?
Here's the deal. First, you are rarely told that you are signing a legal document which could have serious legal implications for you down the road. Any church which denies that you are signing a legal document is either stupid or devious. If they are just plain stupid, you are still obligated legally. Let me assure you that your stupid *leaders* will quickly learn the value of the signed contract if something untoward happens.
If your leaders are devious, narcissistic, little Napoleons or Admirals in rowboats, then let me warn you that they are really into church discipline and you may be on the receiving end of their punishment before you can say *That's not in the Bible!*
The problem with most contracts in churches is that they appear to be between you and the church yet they are often enforced by church leadership. So, the other party involved is not well defined.
Church covenants/contracts do not outline the obligations of both parties and this could come back to cut you to your soul.
As I said above, I trust God. I believe that He is faithful, loving and just at all times. He is not out to punish me because His feelings got hurt or I didn't go to my small group last week. Unfortunately mankind is frail. I know that I am a sinner as well. As I have told a number of people, I am human. I will fail you, myself and God. But, I rejoice in Jesus who was crucified, resurrected, ascended and coming again. He loves me and forgives me and in that I find peace and freedom. I love my church in which we do a general time of confession of sins and our pastor reminds us afterwards that all of our sins are forgiven. All of them…
This is the problem with church contracts. I am signing a legal document that tell sme what I am supposed to do but rarely tells me what the sinful church members or the sinful church leaders are supposed to do. Let's look again at what Wilson had to say.
If it does, does it function beyond assimilating volunteers into areas of service in the church? Is there a ministerial structure in place that oversees and cares for the needs of members, taking responsibility for their ongoing discipleship, and disciplining them when they engage in unrepentant sin?
When I sign a contract which states that I am subject to discipline for unrepentant sin, what in the world does that mean? Does it mean adultery or skipping church 4 weeks in a row? Maybe it means that you will not be allowed to divorce your pedophile husband until the elders say so? (See The Village Church.) Maybe it means you cannot quit your church until you join another, even when you disagree with their support of a ministry that you personally find repulsive. (See Todd Wilhelm, CJ Mahaney and 9 Marks.)
Did you know that signing such a contract could allow a sinful church leadership to send out a letter to 6,000 members about you wanting to divorce your pedophile husband and how he is repentant and you are not? Do you understand that contract allows them to chase you to another church, spreading their version of the so-called gospel™ truth to the other pastor? (See my letter to an Anglican pastor.)
When you join the church, you do not have any idea of the internal struggles and sins of your elders and church leadership and they don't have to tell you.
For a minute, I thought Wilson was going to get to this point but he stopped short.
Do you have any kind of beyond-superficial relationship with any pastor or elder or anybody else in leadership responsible for your spiritual well-being?
Wilson claims that there is no problem with being in a megachurch since it is possible to have this sort of relationship. This is where I say BALONEY! First of all, most of the gospel™ boys are flitting around the country going to conferences, speaking at other churches, and writing books. The number of people who know Matt Chandler in any sort of relational way are far and few between. Did you know that the elders did not apologize to Karen Hinkley after their epic fail yet they were the ones *caring for her soul and trying to push her under their leadership?* Did they own their own sin?
The main problems with church contracts for church members.
- It defines what the member is supposed to do. It rarely defines what the church (church leadership, whatever) is supposed to do for the member except, maybe, to discipline them for whatever they feel is the gospel™ discipline issue du jour.
- All men are inherently sinful and you, lowly church member to be, have no idea with what sins the gospel™ dudebro leaders are struggling. Their sins could become your problem.
- The problem with evangelicalism is that each church, in general, is a city unto itself. What one church defines as unrepentant sin (not tithing) is not what the other church is concerned with (not supporting the latest $40 million building campaign.)
Unless you like to live on the edge of gospel™adventure, here are my suggestions to avoid unnecessary pain and to be a support to others.
- Do not sign any church contract unless your have discussed it with a lawyer who is not a member of your church.
- Do not sign any church contract (or even verbally assent to it which is also binding) unless it spells out the sort of unrepentant sins that are subject to church discipline.
- Do not sign any church contract unless it states what the church's obligations are to you. It should go both ways.
- If you see unjust church discipline being applied to another person, don't remain silent. Speak out against unjust behavior. There were few people, including elders, who spoke out on behalf of Karen Hinkley at The Village Church, either before or after the apology. This is an example of a church filled with gospel™ wusses. They stay silent since they do not want to be on the receiving end of such discipline.
- Remember, if unjust discipline is being applied by 9 Marks churches, churches led by men like Matt Chandler and CJ Mahaney who are supposedly leaders in how to apply church discipline, why do you think this will not happen in your church? Be prepared to respond.
Revoke your church membership if you realize that you made a mistake in signing such a contract.
The United States recognizes the right of people to resign from membership in a voluntary organization. You are not slaves to your local church.You may send a certified letter to your church stating that you are withdrawing from membership. If they do not let you go quietly, you might also tell them if they put your name into retroactive church discipline and making it public, that you will seek legal redress for public harassment. I happen to have experience with pastors who played games with pursuing me to another church. They really do not know what to do with those who do not follow their paradigm.
Finally, never, ever forget that God loves you. If you feel like your church emphasizes your sins, makes you feel like a lowly worm, and emphasizes their authority over your life, get out! Also, tell them that TWW would love to post your story.
I hope this makes you laugh. The picture at the top which was cut off is a picture of Mentos, Coke, and a Rocket! The guy who writes notes like these is a practical joker.