The Practical Goodness of Social Covenanting
In this last look at social covenanting and why us ARPs should be interested in renewing (no pun intended) this mercy in the life of our local church and in our denomination we are going to ask a practical question. What is the point of taking these oaths and using the covenanting format for the Christian life? We need to be sure to understand that there is a lot going on with the doctrine here, and that it behooves us to be clear about it. For the reality is God has graciously provided for us ways to revive our confession for the betterment and growth of our faith in Him, both in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as in the act of social covenanting.
As we have seen, social covenanting is a public performance, whether by an individual, by the Church, or by the State, that confirms, commits, and confesses our trust in Christ Jesus as Lord of our lives and seeks to grant unto Him our full pledge to be His forever and ever. The nature of the weakness of the flesh is that it is helpful to remember these promises so more to be encouraged to the keeping of them. There is utility here. In a sense those churches which have a reading of the Apostles’ Creed or a portion of the Confession or Catechism are already engaging in a form of what is before us. However, if we look back at the early Associate Presbytery it is more than a mere weekly rote recitation of a truth we all hold dear. It is an intentional gathering together of the people of God for the purpose of making a particular statement which deals with circumstances unique to the moment.
A mark of social covenanting is a call to repentance for a specific sin which is present in the body, as well as a confirmation of the source of forgiveness along with a plan towards gospel obedience. If you go and read the 1638 National Covenant you’ll see they are especially concerned with the idolatry which had come into the life of the Scottish Church. If we at Bethany were to do something like this what would our social covenant contain and what would we need to be seeking the Lord’s mercy for? It is a question worth mediating on, if we are serious about dealing with the sin in our midst in a way that would encourage us to holiness, and to maintain that holiness in love for Christ.
Historically the Scottish Church had taken these covenants regularly for the needs of the Church can and does change from generation to generation. Our Associate forefathers were committed to be Covenanters. It is good to remember that there is continuity between the A’s and the R’s in the ARP when it comes to the Biblical teaching we’ve been looking at the last several weeks. An example of the type of thing we are talking about is helpfully laid out by Alexander Moncrieff in the same book we quoted from last week. Read the quote below:
In this vow and covenant we swear, not only to an Article of Acceptation, to an Article of Dedication, but also we swear to an Article of Renunciation. We must all acknowledge to our God, that other Lords beside him have had the Dominion over us, but resolve that now, by his grace, we will make only mention of his name, (Is. 26:3). It is to be our work to rejoice in Christ Jesus, and to renounce all confidence in the flesh, to deny ourselves, renouncing our Self-Righteousness, Self- Seeking, and Self-Confidence ; we must renounce all our spiritual enemies, such as the Devil, the world, and the flesh; the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, and, in the name and strength of the captain of salvation, we are to maintain a warfare against principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world. We must lay aside every weight, and the sin that does most easily beset us, and resolve, in the strength of grace, to be upright before the Lord, and to keep ourselves from our own iniquity.
As you read what Moncrieff has laid out a key thing to take note of is the way that everything he writes about is soaked in the gospel of the forgiveness of sin and the free offer of the blood of the lamb in His grace to those in need of it. Sometimes in the work of the local Church we can get to forget what has brought us together to begin with. We are not a club, nor a community center, nor a justice organization, nor a non-profit. The Church is a collection of men and women saved by Christ, brought out of darkness and into the marvelous light of His love. Remembering that truth is central to living out the path laid out for us by our Redeemer. That is why social covenanting should be a Biblical testimony it would be wise for us to recapture. There is great need to keep in front of our eyes our need of Jesus, the blessedness of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the sure promise we have in the decree of the Father.
Our Triune God is keen to hear the word of thanksgiving from His covenant people. We see examples of this in the days of Moses (Deut. 29:1-29), Joshua (Joshua 8:30), and Ezra (Ezra 10:3), and the Lord Jesus (John 17). Each of these instances involve the public work of Jehovah’s own committing themselves in assurance grounded in the promises of future blessing, with the recognition that we are not to use the LORD’s name in vain. It is helpful for believers to be reminded of what we have confessed in our coming to Christ, to be fortified by His grace, and to see the goodness of the united body of fellow saved men and women joining as one to renew that bond. There is much encouragement which can be drawn for this blessing.
Let us consider again the purpose so that we might know why it is our ARP ancestors held so dearly these truths.
Here is a word of testimony more:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church