OUR COVENANT OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP


By the providence of God, Pilgrim Covenant Church began her first worship service on 4 July, 1999. Today is our third anniversary Sabbath. It is a day that is not any more holier than any other Sabbaths of our Lord; but it marks the faithfulness of God toward us over the last three years, and we want to take this occasion to thank the Lord for His goodness, to confess our failures, and to renew our resolve to serve Him according as we have covenanted at the beginning of our membership in this body.


When we talk about covenant or covenanting, in this sense, we are referring to vows made unto the Lord by God’s people. We must not confuse such covenants with the Covenant of Grace by which Christ covenanted with the Father to redeem a people unto Himself. This Covenant of Grace is manifested as various subordinate covenants in the Scriptures, and is referred by God as “my covenant” in numerous places (Gen 6:18; 9:11; 17:2, 4, 7, 10; Ex 6:4; 19:5; Judg 2:1; etc.), because it is a promise on God’s part to redeem His people. The covenants we make unto God, on the other hand, are promissory oaths (WCF 22.5), wherein as part of our religious worship, we solemnly call upon God to witness what we assert, or promise, and to judge us according to the truth and performance of what we have vowed (WCF 22.1).


Such covenants have their precedence in the history of God’s people, recorded in the Scriptures. During the reign of King Asa in Judah, for example, there was a great revival and reformation, and we are told that the people “entered into a covenant to seek the LORD God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul…” (2 Chr 15:12). Later, during the reign of King Josiah, when he had read the rediscovered “book of the covenant,” he,—representing his people,—“made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book” (2 Kgs 23:3). Notice the distinction between the stipulation of God’s covenant and the covenant that Josiah made on behalf of the people. This exercise of ecclesiastical covenanting was again carried out during the reformation in the time of Nehemiah. There, we are told, the people made a “sure covenant” which was written and sealed by the princes, Levites and priests (Neh 9:38).


Based on these biblical examples, most Protestant churches had in earlier days made conscious use of some form of church covenants. In recent days, however, in line with the modern culture of accommodation and non-imposition, these covenants, if used, are more often known as membership pledges. These pledges are generally very simplified and used only when new members are entered into the church.


In this church, we recognise our own weakness and our proneness to wonder from Christ, and therefore deem it necessary to bind ourselves the more strictly by way of an explicit covenant which we would renew every year (not that our vows have an annual expiry date, but that we have an expiring memory).


With this in mind, let us take a look again at the ten-point covenant, which we have made, that we may be reminded of our resolution to seek to serve the Lord according as we have covenanted, as we enter our fourth year as a local branch of the body of Christ.


Article I


I do believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inerrantly inspired Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and life.


Articles I to IV are really a declaration of faith. They contain such core doctrines of the Christian faith that it is highly doubtful that anyone who has any maturity of understanding and yet object to any of these articles can be truly a child of God.


Article I states, in very simple terms, our corporate confession that the Protestant Bible containing the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments is the inspired Word of God (2 Tim 3:16), which we hold as our final authority in doctrine and conduct. We also believe that the autographa or the original manuscripts were without any errors however small when they were written under divine inspiration. Though along the way, due to sin and negligence on the part of copyists, some errors were introduced to some manuscripts, we have every reason to believe that the manuscripts (Textus Receptus) used to translate our English Bible which we use (the KJV), being the subject of God’s preservation (Mt 5:18; WCF 1.8), reflect so closely the autographa, that we can use it with full-confidence that all that is taught therein is perfect or infallible.


More broadly, by this confession, we affirm that we will subject ourselves to the truth and direction of God’s Word and will neither argue against it for any reason, nor give excuses for our negligence when we fail to measure up to what God requires of us in His Word.


Article II


I do believe in the one living and true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as revealed in the Scriptures.


In this article, we affirm with all true Christians that there is only one living and true God; and that He subsists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which three persons are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory (WSC 5–6). Furthermore, though not explicitly stated apart from the reference to what is “revealed in the Scripture,” we also affirm, by this confession, the verity of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, as described in the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325, amended A.D. 589 in the Council of Toledo) and the Chalcedonian formula (A.D. 451) pertaining to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-Man. This doctrine is outlined in our Confession (WCF 2, 8; see also WSC 4–6, 21, 22; WLC 6–11).


We agree, by implication with the Athanasian Creed (referred to by the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article IX), that anyone with maturity of understanding who does not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity as defined in our creeds cannot possibly be a true Christian. Thus, by our confession, we denounce all attempts by the ecumenical and inter-faith movements to make it sounds as if we worship the same god as do Muslims and the Jews today; or that it is not necessary to believe in the full deity of Christ to be saved.


Furthermore, in acknowledging our belief in this doctrine, we are affirming our conscious reliance on each of Persons in the Godhead as they lovingly effect our salvation as one God yet three persons.


Article III


I do acknowledge that I am a sinner deserving eternal damnation, and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, alone is able to save me from sin, from Satan and from the wrath to come.


Thus far, our covenant has emphasised on the objective doctrines of God and His revelation. Here in Article III, we not only affirm the scriptural declaration that all men are sinners (Rom 3:10, 23), but acknowledge that we ourselves are totally depraved sinners deserving God’s eternal damnation. We are sinners not only by actual sin, but also by Original Sin comprising guilt in Adam, want of original righteousness, and corruption of nature. As such, by nature we are dead in sins (Eph 2:1, 5) so that even our most righteous deeds are but filthy rags in the sight of God (Isa 64:6). There is therefore no way we can save ourselves. We are utterly helpless. And indeed, since our rebellion is against God who is infinite and holy, no one but God Himself can deliver us from our bondage to sin and Satan, and from the certainty of God’s wrath. But thanks be to God, we may have deliverance in Christ Jesus, the second person of the Godhead, who didst condescend to take on human flesh in order to be a substitutionary and propitiatory atonement for His elect! Not only does Christ clothe His elect with His righteousness so that they appear righteous before God and can enjoy communion with Him, but He also sends His Spirit so that such as belong to God are renewed in their inner man day by day, dying unto sin, becoming more and more like Christ.


Article IV


I do repent of my sin; confess my guilt and helplessness as a sinner against God; profess Christ as my Saviour and Lord; and dedicate myself to His service. I do promise that I will endeavour to forsake all sin, and to conform my life to His teaching and example.


Faith has three elements: notitia or knowing, assensus or agreeing, and fiducia or trusting. While in Article III we acknowledge (know and agree) that salvation is only to be found in Christ, in Article IV, we confess our personal reliance upon Christ to deliver us from our guilt and helplessness; and so profess Him to be our Saviour and Lord. He is our Saviour because He has paid for our sin, has rescued us from the wrath of God, and is delivering us from the power of sin and our own inclination to sin. As such, we acknowledge Him to be our Lord, deserving our humble and grateful submission. In particular, as the Apostle Paul commands us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, (though it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure—Philippians 2:12–13), we dedicate ourselves to serve the Lord in every aspect of our lives, whether we be at work, at play, at home or at church. And we resolve to combat sin with the help of the Holy Spirit, and are determined with God’s help to resist conformity to the world so that we may be conformed unto Christ’s teaching and example. We are motivated by gratitude to Christ and by a desire to be His salt and light in this world that God has set us in.


Article V


I do promise to submit in the Lord to the teaching and government of this Church described in the substance of the Westminster Confession of Faith as being founded upon the Scriptures. (I do agree to come under the regulations of the latest Constitution of Pilgrim Covenant Church as submitted to the Registry of Societies, it being a legal document, which is doctrinally subordinate to the Confession of Faith of this Church).


In Article V, we come to the first statement of our covenant, which has to do specifically with our membership in Pilgrim Covenant Church. Since Pilgrim Covenant Church is a branch of the body of Christ, we must receive any credible professor of faith who applies to be a member in this church, not withstanding the fact that he may have some degree of differences in secondary issues. Nevertheless, it is necessary for the church to have a declarative statement of truth and practice in order that “all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40; cf. Amos 3:3). This statement must be derived from the Scripture and therefore acknowledged as subordinate to the Scripture. Pilgrim Covenant Church has adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1649 (together with its Catechisms) to be such a subordinate standard of truth, believing that what it teaches is consistent with the Holy Scriptures and therefore may be received as truth.


Yes, the church comprises a body of believers, who, because of remaining corruption, will unlikely be totally homogeneous in understanding and conviction. As such we do not require all members to subscribe (i.e., fully, and unequivocally agree) to the Confession, though office bearers, especially elders, are so required. But as the Confession will serve as the doctrinal yardstick for practice, for teaching and also for judgments in disputes (see “
The Importance and Use of Creeds” in PCC Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 14, dated 3 October 1999), it is essential for all members to agree to come under the teaching and government of the church as is consistent with the Confession of the church. This is also the reason why we require any new member who is conscious of any disagreement with our Confession of Faith to sign a “Declaration of Reservation” in their application form, in which he promises, after stating his areas of difference:

The Lord helping me, and with the hope that I may one day be one with the Church in doctrine, I will endeavour to make a careful study of the subject with the guidance of the elders and pastor(s) of this Church. In the meantime, for the sake of the unity of the Church, I promise not to promote my viewpoints on these issues, nor be contentious about them when they are taught in accordance with the Confession or Constitution of the Church.


The parenthesis in this article refers to the Constitution of Pilgrim Covenant Church. This “Constitution” is, as noted, a legal document submitted to the civil authorities in this land. Because it is not a doctrinal statement, there may be places where it appears to differ from our Confession. In such case, the priority is to be given to the Confession of Faith in terms of interpretation. But it is included in our covenant, especially in the written form because it contains some administrative details necessary for the function of the church, which are lacking in our Confession of Faith.


Article VI


In case I should need correction in doctrine or life, I do promise to respect the authority and discipline of this Church.


One of the marks of a true church is that it exercises church discipline faithfully. This is often easier said than done, because the exercise of church discipline is often painful and ugly, especially when personality clashes and pride gets into the way. But church discipline is essential for scandalous sin gives occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme God’s name (Rom 2:24), and dulls the effective witness of the church. For this reason and others God appoints elders in the church to rule over the church and keep watch over our souls (Heb 13:17).


We live in an individualistic age, in which most of us by nature and nurture hate to be accountable to anyone, much less corrected or disciplined by anyone. This disdain for authority is especially evident in the church, for were our attitude of disrespect evident at our work places, we might long have been asked to leave. But in the church, it is different. The elders of the church, being appointed not to be lords over the flock (1 Pet 5:3), are expected to be extremely tolerant of faults so that anyone who speaks out against error in behaviour or doctrine is deemed to be inflexible and unloving. Indeed should the church persist in disciplining anyone it would be highly unlikely that the person will stay on in the congregation to receive the necessary chastisement. He will more likely simply move on to another congregation, which will gladly receive him. This has made a mockery of the exercise of church discipline in this land.


In vowing that we will respect the authority and discipline of the church, we are vowing that we will not simply leave the church at the slightest trouble or disagreement, and that should we need corrections, we will with the Lord’s help humbly receive the necessary admonishment in order that we may return to the full privileges and fellowship of the church. And also implicit in this vow is a resolution that should we, for any reason, wish to worship in another congregation for any length of time, that we will accord courtesy and honour to the elders by informing them before hand and seeking their advice also in the process.


Article VII


I do recognise my responsibility to work with others in the Church and promise to support and encourage them in their service to the Lord.


The church is a body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), as such “there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Cor 12:25). How can such a unity be achieved? It can be achieved only when every member of the church consciously resolves to work with others in the church as members of the same family. Yes, the church is a family, and it is sad when the family persists on with unresolved disputes, personal vendettas, and unspoken tension between members.


In making this covenant to work with others in the church, we are vowing to do as the Scripture teaches: to allow charity to cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8); to lovingly approach those who have aught against us (Mt 5:23–24); to approach those who have sinned against or wronged us with the view of forgiveness and reconciliation (Mt 18:15–20); to confess our faults one to another and to pray for one another (Jas 5:16); to judge ourselves more strictly than we judge others (Mt 7:3–5); to admonish one another (Rom 15:14); to prefer one another in honour (Rom 12:10); to esteem others better than ourselves and so look on the things of others before our own (Phil 2:3–4); and to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2).


There are many practical implications to this vow, which we make. If we are consciously seeking to follow it, we will not gossip about one another, much less spread rumours about one another outside the church. We ought rather to solve any disagreements privately within the church and amicably as soon as possible. Again if we are consciously seeking to do as we vow, we may have to go against our personal feelings to work with others in the church with whom we may not agree fully.


Article VIII


To the end that I may grow in the Christian life, I do promise that I will diligently read the Bible, engage in private prayer, keep the Lord’s Day, regularly attend the worship services, observe the appointed sacraments, and give to the Lord’s work as He shall prosper me.


We come now to the articles that pertain to our personal or private walk with the Lord. These things that we are vowing before the Lord to do are precisely what we ought to be doing as disciples of Christ. We ought to read the Bible, for herein is God’s self-revelation of who He is and what He requires of us. We ought to engage in private prayer: one who does not pray in private is fooling himself about his Christianity. We ought to keep the Lord’s Day holy. This day belongs to the Lord, we should desist from all unnecessary deeds, words or thoughts. In fellowship with the saints, we should seek to converse on spiritual things and on how God is dealing with us. We should attend all worship services and appointed means of grace, especially on the Lord’s Day. It is hard to keep the Lord’s Day while holding the attitude that you have done your duty so long as you attend one worship service. No, this day is a day of spiritual rest and feasting. Let us seek to do as we resolve before the Lord. We should observe the appointed sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. No member should delay baptising their infants without giving a valid reason to the Session, and no one should privately abstain from the Lord’s Table for any reason than unrepented sin, which ought really to be quickly repented. We should also give to the Lord’s work as the Lord shall prosper us, knowing that it is God who supplies all our needs in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19).


Article IX


I do resolve to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in all the relationships of life, faithfully to perform my whole duty as a true servant of Jesus Christ, and seek to lead others to Him.


Article IX wraps up our resolve to live for Christ. As Christians, it is necessary that we give priority to seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness above all other pursuits in life. A professing Christian who gives more priority to his work than to his faith and worship ought to re-examine his foundations. A professing Christian who prefers godless friends over Christ and Christians is really in a severe state of backsliding, no matter what may be his reasons.


That said, it is imperative that a Christian does all he has to do at work, home, school or church, heartily as unto the Lord and not to men (Col 3:23). So in making this vow we are not only promising to live for Christ in the sphere of the church but in every aspect of our lives. This is necessary that we may be witnesses for Christ in the generation and the world that we are set in. Yes, it is our resolution too to seek to lead others to Christ by our verbal and non-verbal testimony and by our inviting them to seek after Christ by hearing and reading the Gospel. Our relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and classmates comprise our first mission field. As we covenant to lead others to Christ, let us reflect on what we have done for these who are lost and perishing, whom God has set in our paths. As the Lord blesses us with growth, stability and substance, we need to think about foreign missions so that we do not become parochial and inward looking; but we must and ought to begin with those whom we meet regularly. Who knows what the Lord would do in this church, if each one of us would begin to talk to our neighbours!


Article X


I do make this declaration and profession of faith and resolve in the presence of God, in humble reliance upon His grace to keep what I have promised. I do fully realise that the Lord knows my heart and I desire to be able to give an account of my life with joy when I stand before Him at the Day of Judgement.


How do we take our covenant? Do you take it lightly, that it is a small matter to call upon God to witness our declarations and resolutions? Or do we take it with a tinge of pride and hardness of heart that betrays a sense of over-confidence that the covenant is easy enough for us to fulfil? Knowing that God knows our hearts and that one day He shall require us to give an account for all that we have done, let us be careful to take our covenant with the attitude that this final article enjoins: with humble reliance upon God’s grace to keep what we have promised. We know all that we have covenanted to do is proper and good, and we know that if we stray from what we have covenanted (for we are prone to wonder), we would not only sin by way of breaking our covenant, but by way of walking in the broad way that leads to damnation. Therefore we make this covenant to more strictly bind ourselves to be fruitful disciples of Christ, thereby voluntarily asking the Lord to chastise and admonish us should we stray. It is, no doubt, a fearful thing to be chastised by the Lord, but we call upon Him to do so, nevertheless, believing that should He need to do so, it will be for our best interest and for His glory.


Conclusion


Three years have passed, the fourth is upon us. Let us not be complacent. We are still a young and untested congregation desiring to please God with our lives and worship. What would this new year be like for us as a church? May I impressed upon your conscience, dearly beloved, that to a large extent how we will be, or to what degree we will be to the praise and glory of God this year, will be dependent on you individually—on how well you walk the Christian life. May the covenant that we renew this day be used by the Spirit of Christ to spur us to a higher ground than yet we have been able to attain unto in the years before. And may He also equip this assembly with more godly men to serve in Christ’s stead as elders and deacons. Amen.