Robert F. Turner
A genuine "local church" has its beginning in the determination of individuals to put Christ absolutely first in their lives. Each one must make this decision, without regard to what anyone else may do. Service to the Lord according to one's knowledge of the truth, must have precedence to all else. One may have just learned of Christ, and submitted to him in baptism. Another, having learned the truth more perfectly, may have left a denomination or maybe a "church" that is unfaithful in doctrine and practice. But in each case the individual must have acted in keeping with conscience toward God, not for social or business purposes, or peer pressure.
Now, these individuals are brought together by their common faith, and determination to serve God as a "team." Instructions and examples in the New Testament lead them to this decision (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 1:2). The local church is a distinct entity: not a saint (1 Tim. 5:16), and not simply a plurality of saints (Matt. 18:17). It is a company (Acts 15:22), formed by mutual agreement of its members (9:26-28), who function as one in specific activities (1 Cor. 5:4; 16:3; Phil. 4:15). From these and many like Scriptures we conclude that members of a local church enter into covenant relationship with one another.
Many brethren of our day may not think of local membership in this way; and that failure may account for "congregation hopping" over trivial likes and dislikes - refusing to recognize our responsibility to the Lord and to fellow saints in the local church. Unless one has had an active part in planning and forming a new local church, the whole idea of "covenant relationship" may seem strange - and few indeed may think of putting this "covenant" into written form. But it has been done, both by our earlier brethren and by others who claim to practice congregational independence.
Recently an elderly member of the Oaks-West church asked me to see that a church "Record Book" passed to her father be repaired and made available to the community it touched. The tattered and time stained leaves of the book revealed the beginning of a Missionary Baptist Church, in Burnet County, Texas, "May the 29th, A.D. 1869." I am not saying such written "covenants" are necessary, nor am I offering this as an example for present use. For one thing, they begin by "adopting the Articles of Faith as held by the Austin Baptist Association." I could not endorse that even if it read, "as held by a majority of the Churches of Christ in Texas." But I believe all of us can profit by considering the spirit of the "covenant relationship" so apparent in what follows.
So we do now solemnly covenant with each other (as God shall enable us) to walk together in brotherly love -
That we will exercise a Christian care and watchfulness over each other, and faithfully warn, rebuke and admonish our brethren as the case may require -
That we will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together nor omit the great duty of prayer both for ourselves and others -
That we will participate in each other's joys and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other's burdens and sorrows -
That (we) will seek Divine aid to enable us to walk circumspectly and watchfully in the work, denying ungodliness and every worldly lust -
That we will strive together for the support of a faithful and evangelical Ministry among us and to spread the gospel abroad -
That we will through life, amidst evil report and good report, seek to live to the glory of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Brethren, whether we rewrite it with Scripture citations, or simply read the Scriptures and determine to work together under their principles - a better grasp of adherence to our "covenant relationship" with local church members could do much to eliminate church fusses, and put us to work for the Lord.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 15, p. 453