Why is the covenant important in Congregational churches?

At the time of
the reformation stress was placed upon the church being the community of the
New Covenant, the New Covenant being Christ Jesus. Being confident in Gods
unconditional and unending grace and the infinite gift of God’s Love in Jesus,
the reformers, separatists and dissenters believed that they were called to
make a special covenant with God as an act of obedience. (Ellis & Blyth, 2005, pp. 94 – 95) Alan Argent writes
that the early Congregationalists adopted the practice of framing and using a
covenant when planting a church very early on in their work. For them, the
covenant was a summary of the beliefs and principles held by those gathered,
written down and then signed, rather like a contract, by all the members. As
the fellowship grew and developed down the years, new members would be asked to
sign the Covenant as a sign of their entering into this spirit centred
agreement. (Argent, 2014, p. 44)

Denominations
which conduct themselves in a congregational way claim that their way of
understanding church and scripture leads them to a deep rooted belief that God
makes an unbreakable covenant with each congregation. As each local church and
congregation – and the believers within them – live their lives under the rule
of Christ, the mediator of the Covenant, God himself takes charge, the
believers pledging to be obedient in their living out of their faith. (Wright, 2005, pp. 4 – 5)

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Ellis and Blyth
develop this covenant further than the simple but hugely strong vertical
agreement between God and His people. They write of the profound horizontal
dimension to this promise made. Due to the persecution which dissenters found
themselves suffering at the time of the reformation, members of the local
church would make covenants with each other where they promised to walk with
each other and watch over fellow members every day. (Ellis & Blyth, 2005, p. 94)

Alan Argent
develops this again by writing that the horizontal relationship between
brothers and sisters in churches is enriched and strengthened by the member’s
vertical relationship with Christ just as the vertical relationship with Christ
will enrich and strengthen the horizontal relationship enjoyed between members.
He also writes that the promise made within the covenant of membership is not
light – it comes with the full endorsement and binding of the one held between
the believer and Christ. (Argent, 2014, p. 44)

Albert Peel and
Nathaniel Micklem noted that the principle of Congregational Churches and
Congregational fellowship shows the essence of Covenant Fellowship due to the
fact that they regard Christ as the head of the church and are fully Spirit
led, therefore the members are bound to one another and to Christ through their
pledges at membership. (Argent, 2012, p. 18) By trusting God, and
trusting the members whom God has called together in a covenant relationship,
congregational Christians open the door to the power of God’s Spirit.

By being bound
together by the work of the Holy Spirit there are radical implications for
member’s commitment to each other and their surrounding community. Covenanted
congregations follow the example set by Christ and the expectations of
brotherhood set by God and express this commitment through their public promise
in this way.

Argent uses Richard
Mather who says that the Covenant is a solemn and public promise made to God by
the gathered church. The promise, he writes, cleaves the gathered church both
to Christ and to each other. This unity with each other and with Christ, Mather
argues, allows each gathered church, and the individuals within it, to fully
enter into the life and work of the church in confidence of Christ’s leading,
endorsement and protection. (Argent, 2012, p. 18)

Geoffrey Nuttall
wrote of the mutual trust which is brought about through entering into a
Covenant relationship. By promising to both God and each other, a Christian commits
to place as much trust in their fellow members as they do God, and to look
after each other as Christ would, therefore forming a hugely strong bond which
is strengthened even more by the integral involvement of the Holy Spirit. (Argent, 2012, pp. 18 – 19)

The act of covenanting
invites Christians into an act of obedience, to acknowledge God’s gift of love
and life by responding with a promise to commit that same generous and costly
love to one another within the church and covenant, but also to our community. (Ellis & Blyth, 2005, pp. 94 – 95)

Most Congregational
churches will enter into a covenant relationship when a new church is planted,
however most churches now like to incorporate all members and attenders into
the promise every year. The special service celebrates God’s unparalleled love
for His people and calls for us to emulate that love within the covenanters
gathered, with other covenanters ecumenically and in the wider world. (Ellis & Blyth, 2005, pp. 96 – 97)

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