A church covenant is a promise. It is a promise made to God and one another by a group of Christians. It is a promise to live together distinctly as Christians, by God's grace.
From their earliest gatherings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries congregational and especially Baptist churches have written and taken church covenants. They have established constitutions and rules of order to govern church, business. They have written countless creeds and confessions of faith to declare their common understanding of Christian doctrine. But they have also written just as many church covenants. A church covenant is a statement of how we pledge, by God's grace, to live out the Christian faith together. They were commonly taken verbally by new members of the church (sometimes even signed) and were regularly read together by members of the church before taking communion. In fact, in the late 19th century, it was the practice of this church to meet together the Thursday evening before communion was taken in order to have a "Covenant Meeting" in which the members would re-affirm their commitment to God and each other in the words of the covenant.
Since our church first constituted in 1878 we have had four different church covenants. They are reprinted below.
Our Original Church Covenant
When the four-year-old Metropolitan Baptist Association of the City of Washington, District of Columbia decided to constitute as a church in 1878, they, like Baptist churches before them, adopted a church covenant. They chose a shortened version of a church covenant which had been written in New Hampshire in 1833. Though sounding today a bit old-fashioned with its statement about working "for the elevation of mankind," this covenant was brief and biblical.
Having been brought as we trust, by divine grace, to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour and to give ourselves wholly to Him, we do now solemnly and joyfully covenant with each other, and in His strength do engage:
That we will walk together in brotherly love and will exercise a Christian care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully warn and exhort; and as occasion may require will admonish one another in the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted, and that as we have been buried with Christ in baptism, and raised again, so there is on us special obligation henceforth to walk in newness of life;
That we will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but will uphold the public worship of God and the ordinances of His house, and will cheerfully contribute according as He may prosper us for the maintenance and spread of the Gospel and for the relief of the poor;
That we will not omit private and family devotions nor neglect the religious education of our children and those under our care for the service of Christ;
That we will seek divine aid to enable us to deny all ungodliness and every worldly lust, to walk circumspectly in the world to the end that we may by our influence win souls for Christ;
That we will be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, temperate in our lives, and by our counsel and example strive to promote every good work for the elevation of mankind;
That we will remember each other in prayer, visit and aid each other in sickness, and seek to cultivate and maintain Christian sympathy and courtesy and earnestly endeavor to avoid doing, or giving utterance to anything which may grieve or offend any from the least to the greatest of those for whom Christ died;
And may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting Covenant, make us perfect in every good work, to do His will; working in as that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Our Second Church Covenant
In October 1896, the church's Committee on Rules, presumably with the support and encouragement of the new pastor, Granville Williams, presented to the church a new church covenant. It was accepted without any discussion being noted. The confession is as biblical as the previous one, and even more concise.
Having, as we trust, been brought, by Divine Grace, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and to give up ourselves to Him, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly renew our covenant with each other.
We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church; exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another, as occasion may require.
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.
We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any tune be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and lovely example to win our kindred and acquaintance to the Saviour, to holiness, and to eternal life.
We will rejoice at each other's happiness, and endeavor, with tenderness and sympathy, to bear each other's burdens and sorrows.
We will seek, by Divine aid, to live circumspectly in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the emblematical grave, so there is on us a special obligation henceforth to lead a new and holy life.
We will strive together for the support of a faithful evangelical ministry, and for the spread of the Redeemer's Kingdom among men; and through life, amidst evil report and good report, we will humbly and earnestly seek to live to the glory of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Our Third Church Covenant
The third church covenant was written by J. Newton Brown in the mid-nineteenth century. (Brown was also the author of the Statement of Faith adopted by the church.) It had been printed in his Baptist Church Manual in the 19th century, and had gained such wide acceptance among Southern Baptists that it was printed in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.
Though this change was the most recent, the exact date of the change from the previous covenant to this one has not been established. In the 1948 church membership directory this third covenant appears; while in the 1943 church directory the previous covenant had been printed. The church membership directories which were printed annually are missing from 1944 until 1948.
We not been able to locate the minutes of the church for the period in which the covenant was changed from the previous one to the one printed below. The minutes after Nov. 28, 1945 are missing for over a decade.
John Compton Ball resigned as pastor in 1944 and was replaced by K. Owen White. Before Dr. Ball had resigned, a re-writing of the constitution was already under way, though it was not completed before Dr. White's arrival. It seems certain that Dr. White led the church to adopt the following document as their statement of faith. It is longer than the previous covenants, containing many more pledges, some particularly good (as in the last paragraph) and others more difficult to support from Scripture, (for example, the absolute prohibition of the use of alcohol as a beverage).
Having been led, as we believe by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and, on profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God 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 devotions; 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 deportment; to avoid all tattling, backbiting and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale of, and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage; and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior.
We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and Christian courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation and mindful of the rules of our Savior, 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.
Our Current Covenant
In 1996, our pastor Mark Dever asked the deacons to consider proposing to the church the re-adoption of our second covenant, with a few amendments and additions from the other two covenants. The deacons agreed and made this as a motion to the congregation in January of 1997. It was adopted in February of 1997.
Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.
We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church; exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.
We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
We will rejoice at each other's happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other's burdens and sorrows.
We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.
We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines.
We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.
We will, when we move from this place, 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.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.
May God continue His work here among and through us as we covenant together anew to serve Him here on Capitol Hill.