"But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all… All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
Are church leaders asking you to sign a membership covenant (aka church covenant) in order to join the congregation? If so, then you should ask why?
We are so grateful that Pastor Wade Burleson, who has led Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma for over 25 years, has included a chapter in his recently published book Fraudulent Authority entitled Five Reasons to Say No to a Church Covenant.
He begins Chapter 10 with the Bible verse at the top of this post — Do not swear an oath and let your yes be yes and your no be no.
How frightening that God's Word says that "anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
Wade Burleson lists five reasons why he would NEVER sign a church membership covenant to become a member. Here they are:
(1). A church covenant makes the Holy Spirit irrelevant in my life.
Wade explains that we are called in Scripture to be led "by the Spirit." Even though there is counsel in the wisdom of many, when we sign a covenant we have abdicated our right to hear from the Spirit ourselves.
(2). A church covenant replaces my one true Mediator with inferior mediators.
There is only One High Priest who stands between us (as Christians) and God – Jesus, the Son of God – and anyone who comes between us and Jesus as we walk by His wisdom and counsel, is a detriment to our growth. A true servant in the Kingdom will only and always point us to Jesus Christ for our marching orders, and will never demand that we accept their orders as from God. When we sign a church covenant, we are in essence handing over the authority of Jesus Christ in our lives to mere men.
(3). A church covenant makes the institutional church equivalent to the Kingdom of God.
Wade explains that a 501(c)3 non-profit institutional church plays an important role in the Kingdom of God; however, he stresses that the local church is NOT the kingdom of God. Institutional churches that demand spiritual authority over individual believers have wrongly placed their earthly institutions on par with God's kingdom. Wade further explains that the 17th century Church of England as well as some 21st century churches believe their institution is equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Their leaders falsely believe that they hold the keys of life and death and of heaven and hell. It isn't so. Then Wade admonishes his readers: "Don't sign a covenant and perpetuate this dangerous lie."
(4). A church covenant by its nature is designed to protect an authoritarian structure.
When a Christian signs a church covenant that demands submission to elders/pastors, (s)he is enabling that institutional church to maintain an authoritarian structure. Rather than the weak and wounded sheep being the focus of attention within the church, most modern covenants are written with phrases that seem intent on bringing church members into "submission to church authoritiies."
Wade recommends scanning any church covenant. (If you Google 'church covenant', there will be plenty of examples!) If "submission to church elders" is anywhere to be found, then you should know that the covenant is designed to keep control of the members and maintain the authority of the leaders. Further, Wade reminds his readers that Jesus said that the world uses titles, positions of honor, and seeks to "exercise authority over those they rule," but "this should never be the case among His followers" (Mark 10:35-45).
(5). A church covenant requires something more than a simple "Yes" or "No".
Wade writes: "Jesus said that anything you have to do that goes beyond your simple words of "Yes" and "No" is from the "evil one" (Matthew 5:37). When I join a church, I will forever refuse to sign any document, whether it be a "tithing card", or "a membership covenant," or any other document that requires a vow from me regarding my future performance or activity. In fact, if I ever attend a church that requires such a thing, I will refuse to join on the basis of principle. I will live freely, speak with integrity, and rest in the simplicity of following Jesus and living by the Spirit. Written vows will not fetter me to a church that is seeking to protect their authority over me."
Then Wade Burleson concludes with these powerful words:
I need no covenant to guarantee that God will finish the work He's begun in me.
Did you know that church membership covenants are legal documents? They are always written to protect the "religious institution" and its leadership.
If you are ever faced with the demand that you sign a membership covenant, I hope you will review these five reasons why a pastor would NEVER sign it. If you review some of the testimonies we have shared about Karen Hinkley, Marie Notcheva, Todd Wilhelm, and others, you will quickly discover that it was the church's membership covenant that was used to attempt to control them.
Don't let anyone back you into a corner and force you to sign one of these covenants.