Our Mutual Covenant
October 8, 1998
Down in Texas they say that football is a religion. But I ran across something the other day that made me think that the same thing might be true in Chicago. It happened while we were browsing through a shopping mall. I walked into a department store and found a whole area reserved for Chicago Bears souvenirs. There were hats. There were gloves. There were sweaters. There were warm-up jackets and warm-up pants. There were tennis shoes with the Chicago Bears logo. All kinds of things.
Eventually I came upon a whole row of sweatshirts with different insignias on them. Emblazoned across the front of one of them was the slogan—Whatever it takes. If you’re a football fan, you recognize that as Mike Ditka’s slogan for this year. That’s not very unusual, but underneath it was something that I didn’t expect. Underneath, it said “Ditka 8:89.” At first I thought it was just a date, as in 8-89. But then I looked again and I saw they had written Ditka 8:89 like it was a Scripture verse. Ditka 8:89—as if it were a quotation from the gospel according to St. Mike, or something like that.
I filed that away in my brain and didn’t think about it anymore until this week when there was a little blurb in the Chicago Tribune. It was in their Bears Notes. The end of the column added this tidbit:
A point to ponder from Ditka. “Football is like church. Many attend. Few understand.”
That’s deep. There must be something there, if only I could discover what it is. It’s funny and it’s also thought-provoking. St. Mike is right. Football is like church. Many attend. Few understand.
Many Attend, Few Understand
It reminds me of the little boy who went to his Sunday School class the day they were talking about Joshua marching around the walls of Jericho. When the teacher was finished, she called on him and said, “Johnny, can you tell me who played his trumpet and made the walls fall down?” He looked at her and said, “No, ma’am, I can’t tell you that. But I know I didn’t do it.”
It’s true. Many attend and few understand. Just the other day as I drove into the parking lot, a couple came off the sidewalk and walked up to my car. They didn’t know I was the pastor and I neglected to tell them. We got into a discussion and they said, “We’re here from New Jersey visiting our daughter and we thought we’d stop and talk to you.” So we exchanged pleasantries for a few moments. Then the couple asked a question that seemed simple enough on the surface: “What kind of church is this?”
“What Kind Of Church Is This?”
That’s a easy question to answer until someone actually asks you. My first reaction was to scratch my head. “Well, we’re a church with a lot of people. We’re a real nice church. We’re a real big church. We’re a church where a lot of things are going on.” And I stumbled around with the answer. It occurred to me that maybe St. Mike was right. Maybe it’s true that many attend and few understand. Maybe it’s true that there are a lot of us here who don’t understand what the church—this church—is all about.
And beginning today I am going to preach through the most forgotten document in Calvary Memorial Church. It is probably the most forgotten document in the history of this church. I’m going to preach through the Church Covenant. We read it just a few minutes ago in the responsive reading. After the early service, David Brackley commented that it had been at least 15 years since the Church Covenant had been read at a public service of Calvary Memorial Church. It may be even 25 years since that’s been read out loud. To tell you the truth, if I didn’t tell you that it was the Church Covenant, or if Brian hadn’t identified it for you, most of you wouldn’t have known. In the past you’ve probably looked at it and gone right past it. It’s part of the church Constitution. I have no idea how old it is. I have never seen it printed anywhere else. As far as I know it’s unique to this church. And it is the most overlooked document in this church. And I’m going to preach on it for the next few weeks.
St. Mike Is Right
And you say, “Why?” Because I think St. Mike is right. Many people attend, few understand the answer to the question, “What kind of church is this?” Our church covenant tells us in great detail what kind of church we are supposed to be. It tells us who we are. It tells us what we are promising to do. It tells us what we believe God is going to do for us. It is one of the most wonderful statements of the Christian faith you would ever hope to find in your whole life.
One thing I need to clear up at the very beginning is that this is the Church Covenant. Part of the problem comes whenever you say the word covenant. It’s not a word that we use very much in normal conversation. Sometimes you run across it in legal terminology. Sometimes the word is mentioned in connection with the great covenants between God and man in the Old Testament. Sometimes you hear it mentioned in connection with marriage when the minister speaks “the marriage covenant.”
A Covenant = A Holy Promise
Let me explain what the word “covenant” means by reading from the wedding ceremony I use whenever I marry someone.
Of all the words the Bible uses to describe marriage, none is more significant than the word covenant. It is an old word, one we don’t hear much anymore. But it perfectly describes what marriage is supposed to be. Throughout the Bible, covenants were made between God and man as the most serious means of making an agreement. A covenant is not a contract. In a contract a person pledges to do something contingent upon the performance of the other person. If one person fails to do his part, the contract is broken. But a covenant is not like that. A covenant is a holy promise. A personal commitment that cannot be broken by the whims of adversity.
When God promised to send his son into the world, he did not make a contract for he knew we would never keep our part. Instead the Bible says that God demonstrates his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God did not make a contract, because he knew the human race was a bad credit risk. No, he made a covenant, a holy promise, that no matter what we did, he would send his son. And that is what God did. That is the gospel, the Good News.
A covenant means this: God is not looking for faithful people. He looks rather for people who will count on his faithfulness. John and Jane, who stand before me, have done that. They have trusted in that most famous of all the biblical promises, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) John and Jane, knowing full well what this means, come today to make a holy promise to one another. It is not to be lightly entered into. It is not to be broken at all. Marriage is for life. Any other commitment is not Christian marriage. And so we come to make the deepest commitment two people can make—the marriage covenant. A lifelong partnership. Unshakeable. Unbreakable. Unmovable.
That’s what a covenant is. It is a holy promise. It is a sacred promise. It is a holy agreement you make when you come into the fellowship of this church. That’s why we call it a Church Covenant. It is a record of the holy promises we make to one another.
A Gathering Of Saints
The Church Covenant is that which takes us from being a mere group of people and transforms us into a church. It is that which transforms us from a conglomeration of people into a gathering of the saints of God. The covenant is that which binds us together. Even though we ignore it and pay no attention to it, even though we pass right over it and even though we don’t think about it for years on end, without that covenant we would not be a church at all. It is the agreement that binds us together. It is the answer to the question, “What kind of church is this?”
When you come to look at the covenant you will find that it breaks down very easily into three parts. First there is a preamble. Then there are six declarations. Then there is a benediction.
The preamble tells us who we are. The six declarations tell us what we are promising to do. The benediction tells us what we believe God is going to do for us.
There are six declarations which make up the heart of the document. We are not going to talk about those this morning. I’m going to take those one by one in weeks ahead. But note this: Two of the six declarations have to do with our relationship with each other. One has to do with our relationship to God. One has to do with our relationship to the world. One has to do with our relationship to our families. And one has to do with the way we spend our money. It’s a pastor’s dream. Everything that you would want to say is right there in that covenant. It’s wonderful. If only we could be a church that really kept the covenant and really lived up to it. What blessings would pour out upon us.
I’m preaching this series for two reasons. First, so that you will know the biblical basis upon which our covenant rests. I want you to know that it was not merely pulled out of the sky. I want you to know the biblical foundations of it. Second, I am preaching these sermons so that you will understand what the covenant really means.
With all that as background, we turn to the preamble of our Church Covenant. We read it just a few moments ago. I would like to read it to you again. “Having been brought by divine grace to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and to give ourselves wholly to him, we do now solemnly and joyfully covenant with each other to walk together in Him with brotherly love to his glory as our common Lord.” It’s a wonderful statement. Just underline this. If you want three words this preamble tells us who we are. It tells us who we are in Jesus Christ and who we are as a church.
Now the first part of this preamble I have dealt with in an earlier sermon so I pass on to the second part of the preamble. As I study these words it seems to me that there are three words here which jump out as the meaning of who we really are and the agreement that we are really making. “We do now solemnly and joyfully covenant with each other to walk together.” To walk together. That, my friends, is who we are. We are a group of people who have agreed to walk together. We have agreed that in our going we shall go together. In our traveling we shall travel side by side. In our journeying up the mountain of glory we shall make the journey together. As we are moving toward the celestial city we will not walk alone. We will walk side by side and hand in hand. We will go together. We’ll walk together. We’ll go in the same direction. We’ll go at the same speed. We’ll go at the same times. We’ll head for the same destination. That’s the agreement that we are making. We’re agreeing to walk together.
I studied the Bible this week to find what the biblical foundation of the concept of walking together as believers would be. I discovered that the concept of walking together is only mentioned one time in the whole Bible. It’s mentioned in Amos 3:3 which says, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” So I went back to my concordance just to look at the word “together” to see how many times it is mentioned. Do you want to do a good Bible study this week? Take your concordance and run through the word “together.” As I studied, I discovered that God had a lot to say about it. And I found that one of the most important passages in the New Testament speaks of believers being together.
Happy Birthday To Us
If you are a Bible student, you know that Acts 2 is the story of the birthday of the Christian church. It’s the story of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the outbreak of tongues of fire and of the tongues that men could hear in their own languages. This is also the chapter where Peter stands up and preaches that marvelous sermon on the streets of Jerusalem just fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. He preaches to the men who had crucified our Lord. At the end, his message is so convicting that the audience gave the invitation. They interrupted him and said, “Peter, Peter. Hush up now. Men and brethren, what should we do?” Peter responds by telling them to repent (that’s personal salvation) and be baptized (that’s public identification). Verses 40-41 tell us what happened next:
With many other words he warned them and he pleaded with them. Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. And those that accepted his message were baptized. And about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Then the next few verses fill in the details. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. Verse 44 tells us that “All the believers were together” It means they were almost in a communal situation. “They were together and had everything in common.” Verse 45 adds this detail: “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as he had need.”
I wonder what would happen if we did that. What if we said we want you to sell everything and bring it into the church, and we’ll distribute whatever you need out of a central storehouse. We’d have to have a special church meeting or two or three to talk about that. But that’s what they did in the early church. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” (46) We would say they came to church every day. Not just one day a week. They broke bread in their homes. They ate meals together. “They ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” (46)
Put it all together:
Verse 44: “They were together.”
Verse 46: “They met together.”
Verse 46: “They ate together.”
It’s clear, isn’t it, that the early church put a premium on spending time together. They had to act together because they lived together, because they ate together, because they spent time together. Togetherness was the chief mark of the early church. They were together all the time.
Is this idea of walking together a biblical concept? Sure it is. It’s right there in Acts 2. It goes all the way back to the birthday of the church. The early church was born in an outburst of togetherness. They were together all the time. That was the mark of the first Christians. Togetherness.
Rooted In The Word
Notice something else in this text. It’s very exciting to me. I notice a remarkable correspondence between the first phrase of our Church Covenant and the words of Acts 2. Go back up to verse 41. Peter has preached now. He’s given the gospel. They are ready to respond. Notice what it says. Three things happen in verses 41 and 42 that perfectly parallel our Church Covenant.
Acts 2 Church Covenant
“Those who accepted his message” (41) “Having been brought by divine grace to
embrace the Lord Jesus Christ”
“And were baptized” (41) “And give ourselves wholly to Him”
“They devoted themselves” (42) “We do now solemnly and joyfully covenant with each other”
Now I know you can say to yourself, “Pastor, don’t get all worked up about this. It’s just the Church Covenant.” But I am very excited about this because the foundational document of this church has its roots back in Holy Scripture. This is a point of enormous importance: Our church finds its very reason for existence in the Word of God.
Four Crucial Experiences
Look at verse 42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Here you have the four crucial experiences around which the early church was built:
Learning Together = The Apostles’ Teaching
Sharing Together = Fellowship
Eating Together = Breaking of Bread (Communion plus a meal, in all likelihood)
Praying Together = Prayer
Those four crucial experiences were the central core of the early church.
Sometimes people are a little surprised to find out that eating together is in the Bible. Of course, they shouldn’t be surprised. Look at all those feasts in the Old Testament. God is the one who thought that up. But sometimes you hear people say, “Well, the only way you can get people to come out to church is to feed them.” As a matter of fact that is very often true. We do it at Calvary. Tonight we’re having music and Bible teaching and also refreshments. That’s not just tacked on. Eating together is biblical. We ought never to be ashamed or discouraged that God’s people like to eat together.
If you invite me over to your house and want to talk with me, and we just sit down and talk and you don’t offer me anything, well, I feel like it’s just a business deal. But if you invite me over to your house and give me an RC Cola and a Moon Pie, I feel right at home. Eating together is a biblical principle. Do you see what I’m saying? This is togetherness. That’s what the church is all about.
Three Wonderful Results
Now, I’m not through with this passage yet. I want to show you in what happens when the family of God truly practices togetherness. It’s right here in the passage. Three wonderful things happened when the early church got together.
1. There was joy within. Look at verse 46. “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God.” They had a good time. They enjoyed themselves. There was happiness. There was joy. Something happened when they came together that could never happen as long as they were by themselves. There was gladness. There was sincerity. There was praise going up to God. There was joy within.
2. There was favor without. This is in verse 47: “Praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” They enjoyed the favor of the people outside the church. Unbelievers. People who hadn’t come to Christ yet looked at those new Christians having a good time praying and singing and laughing and giving their money and spending their money on the poor and taking care of their needs and fellowshipping together. And they said, “Hey, those Christians are a bunch of party animals and I like it.” And they said, “How can I get in on this?”
3. There were daily conversions. The outsiders wanted to be insiders. Look at verse 47. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Isn’t that remarkable? They weren’t waiting for the pastor to give the invitation. Didn’t wait until Sunday. Didn’t wait for the crusade or anything else. Every single day people were beating down the doors to get into the church and God was saving people left and right
Why? Primarily because of their togetherness. Learning together. Sharing together. Eating together. Praying together. Togetherness was the glue that held the church together. That was it. That was the key to the explosive growth of the early church.
Two Simple Applications
That’s the preamble of our Church Covenant. We have made a sacred promise that we will walk together. We will live together. We will learn together. We will laugh together. We will cry together. We will pray together. We will rejoice together. We will play together. We will serve the Lord together and nobody will tear us apart. We have made that commitment. That’s who we are. We are a together people and we intend to stay that way.
I make two simple applications and then I am through this morning.
1. Joy comes when we make a personal commitment to walk together.
What happened to them happens to us when we make that commitment that we are going to walk together in the Lord. I know a whole handful of miserable, grumpy Christians—no, I know two handfuls—and I think I know what is wrong with most of them. They have decided that they’re going to keep the body of Christ at arms length and they’re not really going to get involved. They are not going to join the church. They are not going to really get involved and they are going to sit on the fence and watch as things go by. They’re going to stick their toe in and pull it out and stick their toe in and pull it out and that’s all they’re going to do. And generally speaking they are the most miserable, grumpy people in the world because joy comes when we make the commitment to walk together. It comes when we jump off the diving board into the deep end of Christian togetherness. It comes when we get in over our heads and let the people of God begin to love us. When we really begin to love each other and live together and work together and pray together and walk together and serve together—then joy comes. It’s supposed to be that way. God set it up that way. When we make that commitment, one to the other, joy comes. Something happens together that could never happen when we’re apart.
2. A strong commitment to walking together produces the most natural atmosphere for evangelism.
When we are really committed one to the other an atmosphere is created in which evangelism easily takes place. That one fact explains what happened in Acts 2. People were amazed as they were singing together and praying together and giving priority to each other. People on the outside were amazed at what they saw on the inside. “Wow! What is going on with these people? “ That’s the way it was in the book of Acts.
Somebody may say, “Well, Pastor, don’t you believe in programs?” Absolutely. I believe in evangelistic programs. I’m all for Evangelism Explosion. I worked in it for years in Texas. I’m in favor of door-to-door visitation and I am in favor of crusade evangelism. Whatever you want to do, I’m in favor of it. But programs work best in a church where the people really love each other. Where they really spend time together. Where they are really committed one to the other. That’s where the programs really work.
There’s not much togetherness in this world we’re living in. Go outside these doors. Turn left on Lake Street. Go down to Harlem. Turn right. Or go out these doors and turn right. Go down to Austin. Turn Left on Oak Park, Go up and down Chicago Avenue. There are 56,000 people living in Oak Park. Did you know that basically 80 percent of them are not in anybody’s church this morning? Not ours. Not anybody’s. 80 per cent of the people in Oak Park. Go out knocking on the doors. You will find that Oak Park is filled with lonely people and hurting people and people with really deep needs. And all the church buildings in this world are not enough to get that 80 percent to come. But, oh, if ever they can find a church where love is. If they can ever find a church where the people love each other. Where the people are deeply committed to meeting the needs of each other. Those lonely people will come in and they’ll say, here’s a place for me.
If you don’t believe people are lonely and hurting just go out and meet the people of this area. Oh, if only we could become that kind of church. A commitment to walking together produces a natural atmosphere for evangelism.
Ten Little Christians
I found a little piece of poetry. This isn’t exactly Longfellow but it drives the point home another way.
Ten little Christians came to Church all the time
One fell out with the preacher.
Then there were nine.
Nine little Christians stayed up late.
One overslept on Sunday.
And then there were eight.
Eight little Christians on their way to heaven
One took the low road.
Then there were seven.
Seven little Christians chirping like chicks,
One didn’t like the singing
And then there were six.
Six little Christians seem very much alive,
One took a vacation
And then there were five.
Five little Christians asking for more
One took a nap
And then there were four.
Four little Christians each as busy as a bee,
One got his feelings hurt
And then there were three.
Three little Christians couldn’t decide what to do,
One couldn’t have his way
And then there were two.
Two little Christians, each one won one more
Now, don’t you see,
Two and two makes four.
Four little Christians worked early and late,
Each one brought one and now there are eight.
Eight little Christians, if they double as before
In just seven Sundays, we’d have one thousand twenty four.
In this little jingle there is a lesson so true.
You belong either to the building or the wrecking crew.
Which crew are you on this morning? Your commitment to walk together with us really does matter. It matters to you. It matters to us. It matters to God. Ultimately it matters to the world.
Make The Church The Social Center Of Your Life
Now, I want to close with this challenge. Some of us need to decide to make the church the social center of our lives. Not the worship center. It’s already that. Not the Bible center. It’s already that. Not the religious center. It’s already that. The social center. The center, the hub around which our life revolves and rotates. That’s what the church was in the beginning. The church was the social center. Things have changed now. Today we center our lives around our work or the schools our children attend. We throw everything we’ve got into work, or we throw everything we’ve got into school activities. I am challenging you to change the focus of your life and to let the church be the center of your social life. If you will do it, it will be strength to you, and to your family, and to your children, and to your children’s children, and to the third and fourth generations. If you will dare to do that, you will never, ever regret it.
There are two reasons why you ought to. First, because the church of Jesus Christ is the only agency on earth that is willing and able to take care of you from the cradle to the grave and beyond. Every other human organization is temporary and limited in scope. But the church was there when you were born, and we’ll still be here when you are dying. No other organization can make that claim.
Second, you might as well make a commitment to make the church the center of your life because we’re going to still be together ten thousand years from now. And ten thousand years after that. And ten thousand years after that. After all the schools have crumbled into the dust and after all the buildings that men have built are gone and after all the works of our hands have passed away, the church will still be here. And we will still be together. So, go ahead. Settle down. We’re going to be together forever.
That leaves me with one other question to ask you this morning. If we’re going to be together in ten thousand years, where are you going to be in ten thousand years? Are you going to be in heaven with us? Or are you going to be someplace else? Or maybe this morning you are not too sure. Maybe you need to make sure where you’re going to be in ten thousand years. I urge you and encourage you and plead with you to put your trust in
the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you. Open your heart to Jesus and say, “Lord Jesus, come into my life. I am trusting you now. Lord Jesus, I take you as my Savior. Thank you for dying for me. Amen.” I urge you, to do it. Make the decision for time and eternity to trust the Lord Jesus Christ.
Heavenly father, we thank you that you have brought us into your family. You have made us brothers and sisters; now make us a family. May we live in such a way that in our day it will be said of us as it once was said of the first Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” We ask it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.