At the time ofthe reformation stress was placed upon the church being the community of theNew Covenant, the New Covenant being Christ Jesus. Being confident in Godsunconditional and unending grace and the infinite gift of God’s Love in Jesus,the reformers, separatists and dissenters believed that they were called tomake a special covenant with God as an act of obedience.
(Ellis & Blyth, 2005, pp. 94 – 95) Alan Argent writesthat the early Congregationalists adopted the practice of framing and using acovenant when planting a church very early on in their work. For them, thecovenant 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.
Asthe fellowship grew and developed down the years, new members would be asked tosign the Covenant as a sign of their entering into this spirit centredagreement. (Argent, 2014, p. 44)Denominationswhich conduct themselves in a congregational way claim that their way ofunderstanding church and scripture leads them to a deep rooted belief that Godmakes an unbreakable covenant with each congregation. As each local church andcongregation – and the believers within them – live their lives under the ruleof Christ, the mediator of the Covenant, God himself takes charge, thebelievers pledging to be obedient in their living out of their faith.
(Wright, 2005, pp. 4 – 5)Ellis and Blythdevelop this covenant further than the simple but hugely strong verticalagreement between God and His people. They write of the profound horizontaldimension to this promise made.
Due to the persecution which dissenters foundthemselves suffering at the time of the reformation, members of the localchurch would make covenants with each other where they promised to walk witheach other and watch over fellow members every day. (Ellis & Blyth, 2005, p. 94) Alan Argentdevelops this again by writing that the horizontal relationship betweenbrothers and sisters in churches is enriched and strengthened by the member’svertical relationship with Christ just as the vertical relationship with Christwill enrich and strengthen the horizontal relationship enjoyed between members.He also writes that the promise made within the covenant of membership is notlight – it comes with the full endorsement and binding of the one held betweenthe believer and Christ. (Argent, 2014, p. 44)Albert Peel andNathaniel Micklem noted that the principle of Congregational Churches andCongregational fellowship shows the essence of Covenant Fellowship due to thefact that they regard Christ as the head of the church and are fully Spiritled, therefore the members are bound to one another and to Christ through theirpledges at membership. (Argent, 2012, p.
18) By trusting God, andtrusting 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 boundtogether by the work of the Holy Spirit there are radical implications formember’s commitment to each other and their surrounding community. Covenantedcongregations follow the example set by Christ and the expectations ofbrotherhood set by God and express this commitment through their public promisein this way.Argent uses RichardMather who says that the Covenant is a solemn and public promise made to God bythe gathered church. The promise, he writes, cleaves the gathered church bothto Christ and to each other. This unity with each other and with Christ, Matherargues, allows each gathered church, and the individuals within it, to fullyenter into the life and work of the church in confidence of Christ’s leading,endorsement and protection. (Argent, 2012, p.
18)Geoffrey Nuttallwrote of the mutual trust which is brought about through entering into aCovenant relationship. By promising to both God and each other, a Christian commitsto place as much trust in their fellow members as they do God, and to lookafter each other as Christ would, therefore forming a hugely strong bond whichis strengthened even more by the integral involvement of the Holy Spirit. (Argent, 2012, pp. 18 – 19)The act of covenantinginvites Christians into an act of obedience, to acknowledge God’s gift of loveand life by responding with a promise to commit that same generous and costlylove to one another within the church and covenant, but also to our community.
(Ellis & Blyth, 2005, pp. 94 – 95)Most Congregationalchurches will enter into a covenant relationship when a new church is planted,however most churches now like to incorporate all members and attenders intothe promise every year. The special service celebrates God’s unparalleled lovefor His people and calls for us to emulate that love within the covenantersgathered, with other covenanters ecumenically and in the wider world. (Ellis & Blyth, 2005, pp. 96 – 97)