This article seeks to encourage the believers to use covenantal language when inviting or encouraging people to attend church services. The church is indispensable; hence, Mark Dever calls it “the gospel made visible”1, and Charles Spurgeon “the dearest place on earth.” Paul calls it “the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15.). When one hears statements like these about the church, they ought to believe the church is important. It is important because of what God says it is and what it exists for. What it is and does may be addressed by asking, “Is it faithful to God’s plan for the church as delineated in Scripture”? If so, how?
A church that is faithful to Scripture is a church that is theologically grounded in biblical ecclesiology, God’s plan for the church. This manifests itself when the church is healthy and produces healthy results emanating from practicing healthy biblical church polity. The church desperately needs to think about the church. Due to the weakness of teaching on and understanding the church in evangelicalism, there has grown a lack of love, and need for the church. Individuals think they can be the church as individuals, an oxymoron of note. Some argue that the subject of the church is subjective, so they can call whatever gathering they wish to call “a church.”
The order of nominal churches is not about the gospel of Christ shining forth from the church that causes professing Christians to commit themselves to this privilege of being the embodiment of the gospel, but pragmatism, individualism, and sectarianism have become the mark individuals look for to choose to belong to a particular church. The church, for some people, must be a place where their preferences are met, and where their feelings are nursed. The church must fit the imaginative design of a church they have conjured up, instead of being part of it as the Master’s design for the church.
Individualism, self-reliance on one’s wisdom about the church has become acceptable in society. Wayne Mack and Dave Swavely address this attitude helpfully in their book titled Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church. They note that individualism is a danger society has sold to the church. One author states that individualism misunderstands church membership, which should be about faithful church attendance, and active service in the body of Christ which are not considered optional. Sadly, some professing Christians hinder their spiritual growth and freedom in Christ by being individualistic.
Commending Life in the Father’s House, he continues to observe that
in these days many professing Christians think only of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and, consequently, wander loosely without regard for their relationship to the church. God has designed that we be joined not only to him, but to his church, as well. Believers compose one priesthood, one nation, one race, one temple, one plant, one flock, one family, and one body. We have all been made one spiritually, and we belong together in communion, living out that oneness in local churches. We are commanded to not forsake our own assembling together, so that we can stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
There is a great need, therefore, to rekindle the love of the church in professing believers by showing them from Scripture what God’s view of the church is and why God loves the church the way he does, to the point that he even died for the church (Ephesians 5:25). The church is dear to God, which is why he calls the church “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). In his household, God has regulated how members ought to conduct themselves. As the church of the living God, members of the church have to live out the gospel God’s way. As the pillar and support of the truth, members of the church have to believe the right doctrine to be able to be a church that makes the gospel visible.
In order to achieve this, they need to covenant themselves and live covenantally.
Covenant as a Verb: Between God’s People and God
The main term used for covenant in the Old Testament is a word that Williamson describes it as a “a solemn commitment, guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both covenanting parties.”2 Louw and Wolvaardt define it as “the verbal content of an agreement between two persons specifying reciprocal benefits and responsibilities.” Covenant comprises a pledge, required obligations and promises of blessings flowing from the keeping of the covenant. These actions emanating from a covenant may be carried out by the parties in the covenant reciprocally, or one party may assume the role of carrying out the stipulations of the covenant. This may be the case where that party is the only one vested with the power to carry out that particular covenant stipulation.
As the above indicates, and gleaning from Jeremiah 31:33 and Hebrews 9:15, a covenant that exists between God’s people comprises of promises God’s people make to one another and to faithfully live out the stipulated covenant requirements. God, on the other hand, has entered into a covenant with his people by doing only what he can do for them, through the death of Christ who is the mediator of the covenant. Pursuant to this covenant, God continually blesses those in the covenant with every spiritual blessing they need.
Covenanting as a Participle
Since covenant is a word that describes actions taken by people who have mutually covenanted, those in the covenant are thus to continue fulfilling their covenant stipulations. In the case of believers towards one another, there is a plethora of promises and obligations they must fulfil as a sign of the covenant they have together and to maintain the bond of that covenant. Not exhaustively, believers are to meet together regularly to stir one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), pray together and for one another, partake of the ordinances, practice church discipline, work towards uniting the church, submitting to their leaders and encouraging others to do likewise, lovingly and sacrificially meet the needs of one another, study the Bible together, evangelise together, rejoice and weep together, and financially support the work of the gospel together.
These and more are to continue in the life of believers as they use the gifts that God has given them to serve him and one another. Therefore, when I check up on people who have not been faithful at attending church services, I have started using covenantal language such as we have not seen you come together with other believers to study the Bible, or you have not been fellowshipping with the believers by rejoicing with those who rejoice or working towards unity with other members of the church. This is deliberate, rather than “come to church.” Similarly, although those on duty prepare to fulfil their duties weekly, and the pastors prepare to preach, we make it clear to the members that it is their responsibility to ensure that church covenanting happens on Sunday. We all attend church to serve and be served, and if I do not contribute to ensuring a service happens on Sunday, who should? In the family, it is not the responsibility of one person to ensure everything is always in order and theirs is just to benefit from the labours of others. We all contribute and help one another.
Believer, church services are for you. Think of attending the service as part of the family preparing to have a meal together. One cooks, one sets up the table, one gets drinks ready, one washes the dishes when you are all done. If you don’t know who is going to do any of these, or if any of these will be ready, especially the food (or even if food is available), can you come to the dinner table prepared to eat a mean you are uncertain if it is going to be there or not? Or imagine if everyone in the family had to prepare a meal for themselves and there was never a time of sitting together to have a meal together, will you always enjoy having your meal alone, and will it be healthy for your family?
God has, through the church, made us a family through the covenant that we have with one another and him. He has given one another in order to dispense the blessings he has for us through one another. Do not rob yourself of God’s blessings by neglecting to covenant with God and his people. Be clear in encouraging other believers to attend church that attending church is about the covenant and covenanting according to God’s design. The Lord relates to his people by covenant. Christ inaugurated God’s promises of the covenant. The Holy Spirit empowers the church to participate in the covenant and to keep covenanting3.
- Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (New York: B&H Publishing Group, , 2012). ↩
- P. R. Williamson, “Relationship of the Old Testament and New Testament” in T. D. Alexander & B. S. Rosner (eds), New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 419–429. ↩
- N. L. Odede, “Jeremiah 31: 33 and the New Covenant Law” (master’s thesis) (2019), North-West University: Potchefstroom. ↩