Affirmations, Covenants and “Legaleze”

16 Apr

This morning I found the Bethlehem Baptist Elder Affirmation of Faith. I began reading it and quickly decided that at 50 pages I didn’t have time to read it today. What impressed me, however, is that of the 50 pages in the document, only 10 pages contained the Elder Affirmation. The rest of the document was footnoted Scripture references to support the points of the document. Over 290 Scripture references are foundational to those ten pages. Whether you agree with every point in this document or not, that is the way to do it if you are going to have a document which distills the basic focus of a ministry.

Interestingly, in our day we are more likely to see membership covenants that are more concerned with legal language and covering liability than with unfolding biblical principles for all to see.

I believe membership affirmations, leadership affirmations, and covenants can be good things. Some would reject all such efforts as controlling and authoritarian. But a good affirmation is just an open statement of the principles which direct a ministry. Of course, the affirmation is only as good as the follow-through.

Membership covenants can be a good thing. There is value in reminding members of their responsibilities to one another and for the leaders to be reminded of their responsibilities as well. Where it becomes problematic is where it is used as a means to control people through legal channels rather than guiding people through scriptural principles.

So as you consider your church by-laws, do you have forty nine pages of “legaleze” and one page of Scripture, or are your principles of ministry flowing from the principles of God’s Word? Are there some in your congregation who take the church constitution more seriously than they take the Bible and know it better than they know the Bible? If you are a pastor/elder and you desire a membership covenant, what is your motivation? Are you trying to foster spiritual health or are you trying to cover your back? Are you trying to make people change through a piece of paper or are you trusting the Holy Spirit to work even as you faithfully hold out the truth?

The issue is not having documents in themselves. The issue is what we do with them and our motivation in their use. A hammer is intended to be used to build and to repair but can also be used to kill. The issue is the heart of the one holding the hammer.

Here is a link to the Bethlehem Affirmation for those who are interested . . .

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