27 Ways to Use Your Confession and Covenant
As pastors, we know that it’s important to not just have a Statement of Faith (SOF) and Church Covenant (CC), but to help our congregation understand why we have them and how we use them. They are not intended to be dusty documents that hang on a wall, but active aids in guarding the sound doctrine we’ve been entrusted with (2 Timothy 1:14).
What follows are a list of several ways you might consider using these documents in the life of your church. Our church does not use all of these, but we do use many of them.
Keep in mind, these documents must never be held on par with or in the place of Scripture. They are summaries of what the Bible says and ought to push us to open and value God’s Word all the more.
PREPARING THE DOCUMENTS
- As you prepare your documents, include Scripture references to not only show each teaching is rooted in the Word, but to aid future readers who will use the documents to study what God says on particular issues.
- Consider adopting or at least incorporating historic and broadly embraced confessions and covenants. This unites you not only with like-minded believers in your day, but like-minded believers over the centuries. This is a humble posture that honors the Lord and the church he has been building since his resurrection.
- Ensure your documents major on the majors and minor on the minors. It’s unwise to include secondary beliefs (e.g. particular views of the millennium) and it is sinful to divide the body of Christ where the Bible doesn’t, say, by restricting a particular Christian freedom (eg. forbidding alcohol or tobacco). Those issues should be taken up in personal discipling relationships.
- Call the congregation to prayerfully support the elders as they review and prepare the documents for them to consider. This provides them with an important opportunity to “be in” on the process of formulating the documents.
- Hire a good lawyer to examine your church’s SOF and CC before the church adopts them to ensure that the wording best protects you from legal issues down the road.
- If you’re presenting the documents for the first time, take the process slowly and ensure that you teach through them thoroughly before the church officially votes on them. When we implemented them in our church we set aside nearly three months’ worth of Wednesday nights to teach through the SOF and CC, line by line, showing where the ideas came from in the Scriptures.
NEW MEMBERS CLASS
- As someone applies for membership, we require him or her to go through a membership class during which the documents are presented. Prospective members must be in full agreement with these documents to be able to join the church. Pastoral wisdom will of course be needed in some cases, as some will hold to varying degrees of agreement.
- Teaching through the church’s SOF and CC during a membership class is essential. This helps everyone who is coming into your church know plainly who the church is, what it believes, and how members are expected to live together as followers of Christ. I strongly recommend not short-circuiting this process by just having them read it on their own.
- After someone has been taught the SOF and CC, the membership process encourages meetings with elders to discuss questions that may have arisen. This provides opportunity for members and elders to discuss any secondary issues an individual may have questions about.
- Before a member is presented to the congregation for affirmation, we require them to sign the SOF and CC as a way of publicly affirming their agreement with the church’s understanding of the Scriptures.
FOR NEW CHRISTIANS
- The SOF and CC serve as discipling tools for new Christians. A young man named Alvin became a Christian and another member took him through our church covenant line by line, looking up the references and discussing them in context. Doing this helped Alvin understand more about how the gospel moves us to obey Jesus and how that obedience should affect the life of the church.
- The SOF and CC help introduce new believers to a whole host of doctrines that they would have previously been unfamiliar with.
- The SOF and CC can serve as discipling tools for your church. Whether it is family devotions, 1-on-1 discipling, small groups, or a Sunday school class, believers can be greatly edified by reading sections of the statements and then studying and applying the Scriptures from which the statements are taken.
- Church members can encourage other believers by sending a note and thanking them for carrying out a particular aspect of the church covenant they have witnessed.
- Pastors and Bible study leaders should consider referring to the SOF or CC when teaching through a related topic. The CC in particular serves to help the church consider certain applications of gospel truth to their walk with God. Doing this shows the relevance of the documents and reinforces the weight of the Scriptures they summarize.
- Sections from the SOF can be read during a worship service as an element of the corporate worship. This may be especially appropriate on a Sunday when a particular doctrine is being taught or sung.
- Sending out a line from the CC with a corresponding Scripture in the church’s newsletter is a way of regularly keeping our responsibility toward one another before each other.
- You may consider printing the SOF and CC in your church’s membership directory as a way of aiding the regular prayers for one another.
- Reading a selection from the SOF or CC before someone is baptized could serve to people draw clearer connections between how the person’s public profession of faith fits into the faith and life of the church.
- The CC can be read before taking the Lord’s Supper as a way to remind the church of how they are to be following Jesus together. One brother testified that, when his church did this, he was convicted by a line that reads, “I will seek to share the gospel with my family and friends.” After seeing that line afresh, he knew he needed to share the gospel with his brother who eventually trusted in Christ. The brother then shared with the church how God had used the covenant to move him to evangelize, which encouraged everyone.
- Our church reads the CC at the beginning of every members meeting as a way of reminding each other of how the gospel calls us to live together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
- We often remind each other as we are receiving members that we have biblical responsibilities toward each other that are laid out in the CC.
ELDERS & DEACONS
- Use the SOF as part of the vetting process for new elders. A current elder could meet up with a prospective elder and read through each section to ensure that the there are no questions or disagreements with the SOF.
- When we install elders, we have them read elder vows, which include a promise to uphold the doctrine and practice of the church as summarized in the SOF and CC.
- Our elders compose “Shepherd Statements” from time to time that explain our stance on particular issues (children and baptism, regular attendance, financial giving, etc). In these statements we reference not only Scripture, but also relevant portions of the SOF and CC.
- A friend relayed to me that in trying to reach out to a wandering brother, he reminded him of a portion of the CC. He showed him the statement of promise to “walk together in love . . . exercising affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonishing one another when required.” He explained to him that when he joined the church, he not only agreed to the CC, but also desired that kind of loving and gracious accountability. Pray for this to impact his heart.
- If a church discipline case arises, we will use the CC as one of the aids to instruct the church about why we are responding as we are. We want to show that the person in question has violated the commands of Jesus as summarized in our church covenant. That being said, I suggest that you lean most heavily on Scripture in these cases to ensure that the congregation and the offending person understand what God’s Word says.
The ways we can use Statements of Faith and Church Covenants in our churches are many, but what matters most is that if we have them, we use them to help each other follow Jesus.