We view Covenant Membership as a commitment between Christians to care for one another, do life together, and unite under a particular church leadership. In our Covenant Membership course, we spend one whole session considering 8 expectations that we have for our members. This is part one in an eight part series that will look at each of these expectations individually. Click here for more information on what we believe about Covenant Membership.
I will be a Christ-follower before all else.
When a person agrees to become a covenant member of a church, there is, in one sense, a lot that they are agreeing to. Every church has a particular way of practicing church leadership, it has a particular strategy, a unique language, a certain way of doing the sacraments, the ministries are different and run differently, with different philosophies. This is the reason that we offer a Covenant Membership course at all. We think that joining a church as a covenant member ought to require that you are familiar with how that church functions, since how much you agree with or appreciate those things will likely dictate how much you enjoy the fellowship in that community and willingly and joyfully support the leadership. In that sense, joining any particular local church requires more than joining the universal church of Jesus Christ–but it never requires less.
We emphasis that if you have put your full confidence in Jesus Christ, then you are a member of Christ's body, the church. This is the most important membership any of us can have. It, too, is a covenant membership, but it is one that is totally and perfectly fulfilled because it is written and sealed by Jesus himself. His blood, poured out on the cross, drafted the new covenant and declared it complete and unbreakable. This is the good news: because of Jesus, we are made totally righteous in front of our Father God, and as a result, we can live free from condemnation, eternally reconciled to Him. If we believe that, we are a part of the God's family not as a result of what we have done, but because God, in his infinite, one-way love for rebels like us, chased us down and adopted us into his family. The enormous group of people who have believed this throughout humanity–that God, in his mercy, would make a way–make up what the Bible calls the "great cloud of witnesses". All believers, past, present, and future will be a part of this great body, and their status is irrevocable, so Paul states with confidence in the book of Romans. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
This commitment that we will be Christ-followers then is more than just a statement we make so that we can check off the list. Everything that we do as a church is based on the reality of that commitment. Restore is a local expression of the universal church of Jesus Christ–just one expression, but an expression nevertheless–and so membership at Restore can nly follow membership of Christ's church universal. If we affirm and put our confidence in Jesus, the rest of the commitments that we make with one another will naturally follow, and where they don't, we have committed to one another to gently exhort each other on to the Christ-following that we claimed as part of expectation number one.
Being a follower of Christ before all else means not only that we affirm our status in the universal church of God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also that we consider it to be the most important thing about us. Many of the covenant expectations are built on that premise; the commitment to worship with the body unless our location or sickness precludes it, for example. The reason we worship with the body is because our identity in Christ is the most important thing about us, thus, our life revolves around our commitment to Christ, first, and his body, second.
At the end of the Covenant Membership process, there is an interview with the Elders, and although we seek feedback on all of the covenant expectations, it is this ultimately only this one that we seek to affirm. The affirmation that a person truly is a Christian is essential. First, because as was already stated the local church is always part of the universal church of Jesus Christ, not the other way around. Second, because it is only in this context that a genuine covenant relationship with other Christians can even work. We know that we are unable to do it on our own power; a Christ-follower, however, is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Third, because it is only if a person is truly a Christ-follower that the work of the Elders will have any meaning in that persons life. The Elders of a church have been given a charge to oversee the people that Jesus himself has placed under their care; a Christ-follower will submit to that oversight with joy and not begrudgingly.
The Christian life is a journey, and one that will have slip-ups, failures, successes, good times, and difficult times. Our commitment to a body of believers allows us to proceed on that journey together, with the encouragement and sometimes the loving words of correction that we truly need. A Christ-follower will not only show demonstrable growth resulting in an increasing love towards others, but they will also show genuine repentance in their own life; the gentle rebuke and exhortation of a fellow member, or an Elder, will be likely to bring them back in alignment with how God has called us to live.
Covenant membership is a promise between Christ-followers that we will protect one another, as much as we are able, so that like Paul, we can say that our goal was to present one another as a spotless bride to our savior, Jesus.