Church covenants date from very early times. A reference to some such practice is found in Isaiah 44:5, where one declares himself to belong to the Lord, while "another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord." For at least seven or eight centuries before the Christian Era, men were singing covenants by. which they declared their theological beliefs and their intentions to fellowship with each other in the name of Jehovah. Most Christian groups today have something in the form of a covenant by which intending members declare their acceptance of the principles for which the particular church subscribes.
From our earliest years Adventists have had covenants of one type or another. Usually these have been worded very simply. .We have observed, however, that some have been very comprehensive in their statements. Our covenants have usually contained little more than a declaration of belief. Sometimes a summary of doctrines such as is contained in the uniform Baptismal Certificate has served as both covenant and Baptismal Certificate. It was the need of some unified pattern of procedure which led the General Conference in session in 1941 to ask for the preparation of the present certificate, which has proved such a blessing to our evangelists and pastors.
Knowing that our ministers will be interested in reading the Baptist Church covenant, we include it here with a few words of commendation. Although it may not be just what we would prepare, there are some features well worth our study. In this covenant one pledges to maintain family devotion, to work for the salvation of friends and relatives, to educate the children in religious principles, to be just and honest in all business dealings, to avoid criticism, and to lend one's aid in sickness. Even more impressive is the inclusion of Christian sympathy and courtesy in speech. The absence of any reference to such definite features as the imminent return of our Lord and the Sabbath necessarily place this covenant in contrast with those we have used. It certainly is not an Adventist covenant, and because of certain omissions it is weak. But there is a wholesome omission of such long lists of merely detailed regimentation of minor points which have sometimes found their way into our covenants or summaries of belief in certain sections of our world field—details which pertain to local custom and practice rather than Christian character and development. All of us have regretted that the precious time of our workers, when they have gathered together .for counsel, has at times been absorbed in endless discussion of these minor issues, when we should have been grappling with the great issues of our time.
The vital principles of Christian living which this covenant includes place an emphasis where it belongs. Thinking our workers would be interested in the Baptist covenant, we are giving it here:
"A CHURCH COVENANT
"Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another, as one body in Christ.
"We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love ; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort ; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations.
"We also engage to maintain family and secret devotion; to religiously educate our children; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances, to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our department ; to avoid all tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drink as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour.
"We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer ; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech ; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Saviour, to secure it without delay.
"We moreover engage that, when we remove from this place, we will as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's word."
In Christ no man is ever a law unto himself. As a member of the body of Christ he has a responsibility to every other member. When he enters into covenant relationship with God and the church, he declares his obligation to endeavor to maintain "the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace." He has a responsibility to all the members of the body.
A covenant does not take away one's liberty. It only provides a working agreement upon which the members maintain their fellowship. It is important because, from time immemorial, covenants have proved their value. It may be a means of keeping before the membership the seriousness of the business of God. It can be a continual reminder of the members' obligations lone to another.
The suggestion has been made by some that if, in transferring from one church to another, members were invited to express, by some kind of covenant card, their desire for fellowship in the church to which they are applying, this very Teaffirmation of their loyalty to the cause, and -their recognition of the principles for which the sanctified body of Christ stands, would prove truly helpful. Such a plan would provide opportunity for both the incoming member and the receiving church to restudy their mutual obligations and privileges. We are not advocating this as a plan, but more than one leader has expressed himself as favorable to some such procedure. Perhaps we have more than enough cards already in the routine of our church program. However, a reaffirmation of faith is always a good thing.
When C. H. Spurgeon was carrying his tremendous program of pastoral-evangelism in London, he gave opportunity on a certain occasion every year for his whole congregation to reaffirm their faith and pledge their loyalty. At the conclusion of his annual sermon on "Evangelism by the Whole Church," it is said that snore than thirty-five hundred of his members would file past their great leader, and clasping his hand, covenant before God to walk in the ways of truth and, by the guidance of God's Spirit, bring another soul to Christ during the corning year. Men who have shaken cities for God have not hesitated to set forth the principles of true Christianity.
Not only to work for Christ but to live like Christ should be the purpose of all who take His name. Sympathy, kindness, long-suffering, and love—these are the true credentials the world longs to see in the lives of Christians. Criticism, lack of self-control, harboring griefs and grudges, and crooked business dealings—these have done more to retard the cause of Christ than have all the armies of the persecutors combined. As the body of Christ we must be "one in hope and doctrine," but more than anything else, we must be "one in charity."
R. A. A.