How Our Church Covenant Helps Us Care for One Another During the Pandemic
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Throughout the world, the church finds herself in a unique season. Pastors are wrestling with practical questions about how to faithfully shepherd God’s flock when we can’t gather. Yet it’s not only pastors who have responsibilities during this season. The church must continue to be the church.
But how do churches do that when they can’t do the very thing that makes them church in the first place: assemble?
I’ve instructed my congregation that if we pay attention to our church covenant, we’ll have some clear marching orders for how to live in this season. Here are a few ways our church covenant practically helps us obey our Lord and live out these pandemic days faithfully.
1. The Church Covenant Defines My Commitments to Others
While this global pandemic interferes with our promise “not to neglect to gather,” it does not abridge our biblical obligations to each other. We’re still called to be the hands or feet to a body. But how? Our church covenant makes at least some of these responsibilities explicit. We are still responsible not to “neglect to pray for ourselves and others” (Col. 4:2). The “ourselves and others” are not just your closest friends or family but those whom God in his wisdom bound you together with in the church. Especially in this season, your steadfast prayer for each member of the body matters deeply.
Only our triune God can prepare us for days of great fear, depression, and loneliness. It’s his wisdom that we confess in our church covenant as we bind ourselves “to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). As with everything else in this season, the way we do that may be unique, but the obligation still stands. Unfortunately, our struggle with sin was not deemed nonessential during this season, so we still need to be “encouraging and building one another up, exercising watchfulness over each other” (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:22). Our church covenant helps you know how to aid fellow members in the fight.
In the church, the Holy Spirit has bound you to other Christians. Government-mandated social distancing guidelines do not nullify the bonds that are ours in church membership. The church covenant gives you biblical ways to love other members that you’ve committed to in your congregation.
2. The Church Covenant Assures Me of Others’ Commitments to Me
I not only need to be reminded of my obligations to others; I also need to be reminded of their commitment to me. Perhaps for you, the struggle with loneliness, sin, fear, or doubt has intensified during this pandemic. Missing the weekly gathering and other ways of in-person contact have taken away the vital life support you depended on in your own fight of faith. I would encourage you to read through your church’s covenant and remind yourself of the God-given gift of other members’ promises to you: promises “to be devoted [to you] in brotherly love” and to “carry each others burdens” (Rom. 12:10; Gal. 6:2).
You may feel, and actually be, socially isolated. But your church covenant assures you that other Christians have committed themselves to you in tangible ways. I recently tore my calf muscle, and that calf muscle made sure the rest of my body knew it needed it to compensate for its weakness. In the same way, if you are struggling in this season, the church covenant gives you freedom to call on other covenant-bound members of your church to come to your rescue at a level only the gospel can empower. When you bind yourself in covenant membership, you not only bind yourself to the many, the many bind themselves to you. And, the church covenant helps you understand the actual shape that takes.
3. The Church Covenant Practically Helps Us Glorify Christ
While much has changed in our world, Jesus’ teaching that, “the world will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” has not (John 13:35). That love takes shape in the local church as we live together. As we wait not just for the end of this pandemic but—much more importantly—“the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:14), our church covenant helps us glorify Christ together. As we continue to help each other live “godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12) and “work and pray for the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3), this pandemic does not stop us from displaying “the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” or to the watching world (Eph. 3:10). Especially in the midst of this pandemic when we cannot gather or make use of the gospel sacraments, our church covenant practically helps us glorify Christ by making explicit other responsibilities we have that might otherwise be left vague.
In spite of what the world says, our responsibilities to the other members of our body during this pandemic continue to be essential services, and our church covenant gives us practical ways to perform them.
So, here’s two brief encouragements for you during this season. First, go read your church covenant (you can’t say you don’t have time!). Remind yourself of the commitments you’ve made to the other members of your church and the commitments they’ve made to you.
Second, if you don’t have a church covenant that makes clear your responsibilities to other members, consider prayerfully encouraging your church to adopt one. They make explicit not only the biblical commitments of church membership but also a known, biblically-expressed standard to which your local church can hold itself to account. As Christ’s body on earth (1 Cor. 12:27), we take heart that even in these days when we are distanced from each other, the risen Jesus is not distanced from us (Matt. 28:20). Our membership in his body gives us the inestimable privilege of doing eternal good to other members in our various local manifestations of it. Especially in a pandemic, I can think of few better—and more practical—reasons to make use of your church covenant than that.