Why I'm Glad We Changed Our Church Covenant

Earlier today our church voted, with little opposition to adopt a revised constitution. There are several issues in the revision I'm glad we were able to address: deacon selection process, naming the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as our official statement of faith, moving our normal revival services date to a more convenient time.

We also added our church covenant to the constitution. The covenant was adopted in 1896 at the same time the church was founded. It is similar (identical?) to most church covenants adopted around that time period. Overall it was a very biblical, helpful statement about many aspects of life together as a church family.

However, in adding the covenant to our constitution, the church also decided to amend one clause in the document. Where the previous text read that we pledged to "abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior." The church adopted new wording for that clause so that it now says that we pledge to "abstain from the abuse of drugs and intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our savior."

So we added drugs as a concern and also changed from 'abstaining from the use' to abstaining from the abuse." So the new language does permit the use (but not abuse!) of alcoholic drink. More importantly, in my mind, is that we now no longer have this extra-biblical requirement for church membership.

Here are some reasons I am glad we made this change:
  1. It allows us to avoid adding to biblical commands for salvation or church membership. Regardless of whether you think drinking alcohol is a bad thing or not, I hope we can all agree that someone should not be denied church membership or disciplined out of church membership for occasionally drinking alcohol in moderation. The way our covenant was worded, we were actually saying: "If you choose to drink, you cannot be a member here." That should send chills down your spine—to think we would elevate an extra-biblical command to that level.
  2. It moves us closer to being grace-centered, rather than law-centered. It is all-too-common (especially in this area of the country) for people to mistake Christianity with moralism. In most people's minds, Christians are people who "don't do" this and that. I'm glad to take a shot at that misperception by taking out one of those common "commandments" of moralism.
  3. It allows us to take our covenant seriously. For years and years (long before I ever arrived as pastor), we've had members who have chosen to drink occasionally. So when we read our covenant together, that clause reinforced the idea that we didn't really mean what we were saying—that it was ok to not take this covenant seriously. So, if we were to begin taking our covenant seriously, we're faced with one of two choices: (1) Discipline those members who drink, or (2) Change the covenant.
  4. It reminds us to think biblically about human regulations. It reminds us that "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" have only the appearance of wisdom. But they lack any value in actually restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:21-23)

I hope that this will not be construed as a desire to promote drinking in people who have chosen not to. I also hope this will not be seen as a reason for people who have chosen to drink to drink more and more often. That is not my intention nor the intention of our church. I recognize that it could be misconstrued that way by some. But we must stand on the Bible. We cannot add our own preferences as criteria for joining God's people, the church.

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