In 1990, Charles Deweese wrote a book entitled Baptist Church Covenants that was published by Broadman Press. This great resource is tragically out of print, and unless you are willing to pay $50 for a used copy on Amazon, you will not be able to benefit from it (note to Broadman and Holman: regenerate church membership is a front burner issue these days, and it would be great it you put it back in print!). The idea of a church gathered together in a covenant commitment articulated in a signed document explaining the responsibilities of church members may be a foreign idea to some today, but church covenants were, in fact, normative and prescriptive for growing and maintaining healthy churches.
I have looked through several websites of Southern Baptist churches to see how many churches provide information such as their statement of faith (confession) and church covenant. To my surprise, a rather large percentage of them provide no information on these important matters. In recent years, Baptist scholars, especially John Hammett, have argued for the necessity of church covenants for the purpose of recovering regenerate church membership. But before we consider what Dr. Hammett has argued, I want to provide an excerpt from Deweese on the practicality and usefulness of the church covenant in years past. My hope is that, by emphasizing the necessity and usefulness of church covenants, more and more churches will desire to work toward a covenantal church membership that better reflects the New Testament commitment of believers in the body of Christ.
“Churches tended to use covenants in four main settings: in forming new churches, admitting new members, engaging in covenantal renewal, and discipling errant members. Besides these settings, at least four other features characterized covenantal practices in England. First, churches often adopted and renewed covenants on days solemnized by fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving. Second, churches tended to write their own individualized covenants. Third, members tended to sign covenants when chartering new churches. . . . Fourth, congregations sometimes read covenants aloud while renewing commitments to their contents.
[ . . .] Perhaps the most important value of covenants was their role in constantly reminding church members of the moral and spiritual duties and privileges to which they had initially committed themselves in uniting with a church. Since each church prepared its own covenant and built into it a continuing emphasis upon committed membership, the likelihood increased that each voluntary covenanter would attempt to conduct his life in alignment with his religious vows.”
– Charles W. Deweese, Baptist Church Covenants (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990), 31-32.
In the coming weeks, I hope to provide some current as well as historical examples of church covenants. If your church does not currently have such a covenant, I would encourage you to check these out and consider developing one for your church.