At Emmanuel Baptist Church we seek to govern ourselves by means of God’s word, as we recognize its sufficiency in all matters of faith and practice. But how can a church actively protect what we believe and do? Is it enough to simply say that we follow the Bible? I would suggest that this is insufficient, and so we have written several other documents which more clearly articulate how the Bible speaks to what we believe and do as members of EBC. Two documents in particular are key: the confession and the covenant.1
Confession – A confession or statement of faith is simply a concise summary of our doctrinal beliefs. Throughout church history, Christians have used confessions and creeds to define and describe the faith to which they hold, and I think they are just as valuable today as ever. Our Articles of Faith include statements concerning all the major doctrines of systematic theology, giving guests the ability to know what we believe and how we handle the word of God. This confession establishes boundaries by which the congregation may judge the teaching and preaching of church leaders and within which those same leaders can safely speak with confidence and authority. For the members of the church, the statement of faith also provides the basis for our fellowship in the truth, because we all affirm these doctrines and commit ourselves to believe the truth. While our confession is not inerrant, it does help us define what “right belief” looks like.
Covenant – A covenant is a compact or agreement entered into by the members of the local church body, in which each one agrees to live according to the principles of Scripture. Where a confession defines “right belief,” a covenant defines “right behavior.” Does this mean that the covenant supersedes God’s word as the standard for righteousness? Of course not. But it is a useful tool to help prospective church members to know what commitments are expected of those who belong to Christ. The covenant lays out in general terms what it means to pursue holiness as God’s people in this culture, and includes pledges to live with integrity, to practice brotherly love, to support the church leaders through prayer and personal service, to seek to follow Christ and to make disciples of others. The covenant is not a substitute for regular devotion to God and his word, but it is a reminder of what it means to be a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church, and as such, it should be taken seriously by every member as a personal oath of fellowship and obedience to the principles of Scripture.
Rather than ignore these documents, we ought to commit ourselves to know and understand them as tools for our own discipleship and our unity as a local body of believers.
1Aaron Menikoff has written a helpful article on the purpose and importance of church documents at 9marks.org/article/do-we-really-need-church-documents/.