The church has been described as having a trellis and a vine. There is a part of the church that is the built structure and there is the part that grows naturally on the trellis. Apart from the vine, the trellis is a pointless wood structure. Apart from the trellis, the vine lays on the ground, the fruit rots and the vine’s growth is stunted.
The church needs both, she is both an organization and an organism. It sure sounds cool to say we just want everything to happen organically in the church, but just like in nature, she needs structures on which to grow.
Which is why we are working on new (old) founding articles for our church, specifically, a new constitution, an old confession of faith, and the first ever member covenant in the history of Big Rapids First Baptist Church.
These would definitely fall under the trellis category. For some of us, our eyes glaze over when we hear the three C’s – constitution, confession, and covenant. For others of us, we get all geeked out and come with lots of opinions. Of course, we need all types of people. The first group might need to dig in and seek to understand the importance of these documents. The second group might need to remember that our ultimate hope is Jesus and not the brilliance of our wording or constitutional makeup.
In light of that overview, here are short explanations of what each article is supposed to do:
- The Constitution – The main idea here is authority. The constitutions primary purpose is to place authority in the church in the biblically correct places. If you’re wondering who is in charge of this thing – look to the constitution.
- The Confession of Faith – The main idea here is belief. The confession of faith exists so that the entire church family can be clear about what we believe about core doctrines of the Christian faith. If you’re wondering where the church stands on various doctrines – read the confession of faith.
- The Membership Covenant – The main idea here is lifestyle. The membership covenant is meant to map out how we want to live together as members of the same church family in this place and time. If you’re wondering what members of the church do and how they live – read the covenant.
When adopting founding articles that will, Lord-willing, be in place for years to come, it’s very important to understand the function of each one. Because each has a specific function to do one thing, it also means that it is limited and cannot do everything.
For example, the constitution is not meant to be thousands of pages that tell us what to do with every situation that comes up. Instead, it can be relatively short and point the reader to the proper authority and then biblical authority can lead the way.
Similarly, the membership covenant is simply meant to be an agreed upon way of living out our beliefs under the authorities the Bible gives us in a specific time and place. It is not meant to be an exhaustive description of the things that must be done to be a Christian, nor is it meant to make any claims about who is and who is not a Christian.
Over the millennia, Christians have had all kinds of covenants and agreed to many ways to live out beliefs under the authority of the Bible. The beautiful thing about belonging to a local church is that you can join that long stream of faithful Christians and prayerfully commit to a lifestyle that reflects the beliefs of this particular expression of the universal body of Christ in a particular time and place.
Perhaps moving forward, we can have more information on each document. But for now, I hope this clarity creates some freedom and excitement for what we are doing together as a Church family.