Commitment to Peacemaking and Reconciliation
Commitment to Preserving Marriages
Commitment to Protecting Our Children
Commitment to Biblical Counseling and Confidentiality
Commitment to Accountability and Church Discipline
We Invite You to Become a Member of Our Church
The following Relational Commitments are designed to help the members of Bethlehem relate to one another in a way that honors God and promotes authentic relationships. These Commitments cover important relational issues, such as peacemaking and reconciliation, marriage and divorce, protecting children from abuse, counseling and confidentiality, and mutual accountability.
These Commitments are intended to help protect and preserve our community of faith. By community, we mean a group of people who have voluntarily joined together to encourage and support one another as we worship God, grow in our under? standing of His love for us, and seek to tell others about the salvation and peace they, too, can find through faith in Jesus Christ.1
We know that true community is not easy to achieve and sustain. Each of us brings our own expectations and agendas into the church. This diversity usually leads to rich discussions and creative ministries, but sometimes it can lead to conflict. As James 4:1–2 warns, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”
That certainly describes our warring passions! At times, no matter how hard we try to build and preserve a close community of faith, our desires and expectations still clash. That’s where these Commitments come in. They aim to pull together key principles from God’s Word and serve as our relational guidelines. These Commitments are designed to accomplish several important purposes:
As you read our Relational Commitments, we encourage you to study the Bible passages that are cited next to particular provisions. We want you to be confident that these Commitments are based solidly on the Word of God. If your study does not answer all of your questions and concerns, please do not hesitate to approach our leaders, who will be happy to talk with you about these principles.4
We encourage you to expressly embrace these Commitments and formally join our church by going through our membership class, acknowledging your faith in Christ, and signing the Church Covenant. If you are not yet prepared to become a member, you and your family are welcome to attend Bethlehem and participate in its ministries while you continue to consider the wisdom and biblical faithfulness of what membership here involves. We do take membership seriously. If you, with a clear, biblically informed conscience, cannot be a member at Bethlehem, we hope in due time you will be a committed member at another Bible-believing church where you can thrive in the fullness of all that membership means.
Bethlehem Baptist Church Council of Elders
Adopted on July 22, 2008
Amended on October 6, 2009
These Relational Commitments are adapted from The Peacemaker Church.
Used by permission of Peacemaker® Ministries.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9).
Our church desires to build a “culture of peace” that reflects God’s peace and the power of the gospel of Christ in our lives. As we stand in the light of the cross, we realize that bitterness, unforgiveness, and broken relationships are not appropriate for the people whom God has reconciled to Himself through the sacrifice of His only Son (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:29-32; Col. 3:12-14).
Therefore, out of love for Christ and in reliance on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we are committed to resolving our differences according to the following principles of peacemaking and reconciliation:
Above all, we pray that our ministry of peacemaking will be a means of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy (and peace) of all peoples through Jesus Christ.8
They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (Matt. 19:6).
God designed marriage to reflect the beauty and permanence of Christ’s loving relationship with His bride, the church (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:7). Therefore, He established marriage to be a life-long, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4-6). God also designed it to provide mutual companionship through life’s joys and difficulties, to create stability for raising and nurturing children, and to give strength and cohesiveness to society in general.
In our society, marriages fail under a wide range of circumstances. Many people have gone through a divorce before having a relationship with Christ and have found repentance and forgiveness in coming to Christ and sought reconciliation where possible. Others have experienced divorce through no desire or decision of their own. Still others, even after professing faith in Christ, may have divorced because of their own wrongful choices, but have since repented and received the forgiveness offered through our Lord Jesus and sought reconciliation where possible. Whatever the circumstances, we welcome everyone to Bethlehem—single, married, and divorced.
Because our church recognizes both the divine origin of marriage and the devastating effects of divorce, we are deeply committed to preserving marriages and preventing divorce. Toward this end, we will devote a significant portion of our preaching and teaching ministry to strengthening marriages and families. We require and provide serious premarital counseling to help couples enter into marriage advisedly, and be well-prepared for its many challenges.
We also encourage couples to nurture their marriages by participating in our small group ministry where they can grow together in their love for God and for one another (Heb. 10:24-25). As relationships deepen within these groups, we expect husbands to spur each other on in loving and cherishing their wives, and wives to encourage one another in respecting and loving their husbands (Eph. 5:33).
Our leaders are committed to helping individuals and couples receive biblical counsel and support when they face marital difficulties. We will discourage couples from using divorce as a way to run away from issues that instead can be resolved through Spirit-guided counseling, repentance, forgiveness, and ongoing discipleship.
The leaders of Bethlehem are not entirely of one mind on the legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage. For example, some of us see the Scripture forbidding remarriage after divorce as long as both spouses are living, no matter what the circumstances of the divorce were. We believe Jesus calls us in this way to the radical display of the unbreakable covenant commitment between Him and His church.
Others of us believe that the Scripture permits divorce under the limited circumstances of unrepentant adultery or decisive abandonment or protracted life endangerment. In these cases we believe the marriage truly ends and the reconciliation-desiring, aggrieved spouse is free to remarry in the Lord.
In view of these differences among us, we agree to live by the following guidelines concerning the nurturing of marriages and the exercise of redemptive church discipline wherever needed.
Even though divorce is permissible under the circumstances described above, we want to emphasize that it is not required. It is not the best testimony to the covenant-keeping love of Christ and His church. God patiently bears with our sins, repeatedly calls us to repentance, and freely forgives us when we turn back to Him (Ps. 103:8-12; Isa. 55:7).
When divorce seems inevitable, an offended spouse can imitate God’s love by offering a straying spouse these same evidences of grace (Eph. 5:1-2). This may involve patiently bearing neglect or lovingly confronting serious sin (Col. 3:12-14; Gal. 6:1). In some situations, love may require asking the church to initiate formal discipline to rescue a spouse and a marriage from the devastating effects of unrepentant sin (Matt. 18:12-20).
Just as church leaders are involved in beginning a marriage, they should be involved when it is threatened with seeming dissolution. Therefore, when a member of Bethlehem is considering divorce, he or she is expected to bring the situation to our elders and cooperate with them as they determine whether biblical grounds exist for the separation, and as they endeavor to promote repentance and reconciliation, and pursue redemptive discipline, if appropriate.
Separated spouses who are moving toward divorce, but are still legally married, should refrain from dating or any other activity that is inconsistent with being married.
We are always interested in helping divorced people restore their previous marriage if that is possible and appropriate. We will support a decision to pursue a second marriage to a different person only when we have determined that it is warranted according to the guidelines mentioned above, and that every reasonable effort has been made to seek and grant forgiveness of the sins that contributed to a previous divorce.
We rejoice that divorce never diminishes God’s free offer of love, grace, and forgiveness. He cherishes and loves every person who has been unwillingly divorced, as does our church. God also graciously extends His love to those who have wrongly left their marriages. That love moves Him (and us) to call them to repentance, to encourage and aid reconciliation when possible, and to gladly restore those who have done what the Scripture requires to rebuild broken relationships.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself (Prov. 27:12).
Children are a blessing from God, and He calls the church to support parents in their responsibility to train children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Therefore, the church should be a place of safety and blessing for children, where they can grow, play, form friendships, and learn to experience and share the love of Christ.
Since sin affects every person and organization in the world, it is possible that children could be harmed even during church activities. We cannot guarantee that such things will never happen at Bethlehem, but we are committed to taking reasonable precautions to protect our children and youth from foreseeable harm.
If a child or youth is harmed in our church, we will take immediate steps to inform the parents, to accept responsibility for our role in the situation, and to hold offending workers fully responsible for their actions.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another (Rom. 15:14).
Our goal in providing biblical counseling is that we may “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col.1:28). We believe that the Bible is God-inspired guidance, instruction, and power for faith and life (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, our counseling relies on biblical teachings and principles applied with “all wisdom” through the Holy Spirit to each situation we counsel. We are committed to asking the question, “What does Scripture say regarding this matter?” and to counseling in the light of the response to this question.
We believe that Christ has equipped His body, the church, to provide wisdom, knowledge, and instruction to one another (Rom. 15:14) in order for each member to live a godly and holy life, pleasing God in all ways. Christ has also equipped His church with spiritually mature leaders who are able to shepherd, lead, teach, and counsel others (Heb. 5:11-14) in the church. Though the educational and experiential background of each leader who counsels at Bethlehem is unique, the essential training and practice for all leaders who counsel at Bethlehem centers around their ability to apply Scripture to the situation they are counseling. For this reason, those who counsel for Bethlehem do not present themselves as psychotherapists nor mental health professionals but as biblical counselors.
In order to avoid misunderstandings regarding the role of leaders in the church that provide “spiritual counsel,” the following clarifications should be kept in mind.
Providing spiritual counsel requires a relationship between the leader and the counselee. Occasionally there may arise a misunderstanding between the counselor and the counselee. We will seek to handle these misunderstandings in a biblical way. This includes being willing to submit to legally binding arbitration, rather than filing a lawsuit, and also not attempting to require a “spiritual counselor” to appear in court or to provide his notes.
Our desire is to provide wise, spiritual, godly counsel to each person in our church. By sharing these guidelines, we hope the biblical counseling offered at Bethlehem will help many become “mature in Christ.”
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).
Like all of our Relational Commitments, the principles and practices described below apply to all Covenant Members of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
God has established the church to reflect His character, wisdom, and glory in the midst of a fallen world (Eph. 3:10-11). He demonstrates His love for His church in that He sent His Son to die for her (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:25). His purpose for His church is to present her as a gift to His Son; thus Scripture refers to the church as the “bride” of Christ (Rev. 19:7). For this reason the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are continually working to purify the church and bring her to maturity (Eph. 5:25-27).
This does not mean that God expects the church to be made up of perfectly pure people. He knows that the best of churches are still companies of sinners who wrestle daily with remaining sin (1 John 1:8; Phil. 3:12). Therefore, it would be unbiblical for us to expect church members to live perfectly. What we can do, however, is confess our common struggle with sin and our mutual need for God’s mercy and grace. We also can spur one another on toward maturity by encouraging and holding each other accountable to love, seek after, and obey God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Heb. 10:24-25).
We sometimes refer to this process of mutual encouragement and accountability as “discipline.” The Bible does not present church discipline as negative, legalistic, or harsh. True discipline originates from God Himself and is always presented as a sign of genuine love. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6). “Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law” (Ps. 94:12). “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19).
God’s discipline in the church, like the discipline in a good family, is intended to be primarily positive, instructive, and encouraging. This process, which is sometimes referred to as “formative discipline,” involves preaching, teaching, prayer, personal Bible study, small group fellowship, and countless other enjoyable activities that challenge and encourage us to love and serve God more wholeheartedly. On rare occasions, God’s discipline, like the discipline in a family with growing children, also may have a corrective purpose. When we forget or disobey what God has taught us, He corrects us. One way He does this is to call the church to seek after us and lead us back onto the right track. This process, which is sometimes called “corrective” or “restorative” discipline, is likened in Scripture to a shepherd seeking after a lost sheep.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray (Matt. 18:12-13).
Thus, restorative or corrective discipline is never to be done in a harsh, vengeful, or self-righteous manner. It is always to be carried out in humility and love, with the goals of restoring someone to a close walk with Christ (Matt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1), protecting others from harm (1 Cor. 5:6), and showing respect for the honor and glory of God’s name (1 Pet. 2:12).
God gives every believer grace to be self-disciplined. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7; cf. Gal. 5:23). Thus discipline always begins as a personal matter and usually remains that way, as each of us studies God’s Word, seeks Him in prayer, and draws on His grace to identify and change sinful habits and grow in godliness.
But sometimes we are blind to our sins or so tangled in them that we cannot get free on our own. This is why the Bible says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1). In obedience to this command, we are committed to giving and receiving loving correction within our church whenever a sin (whether in word, behavior, or doctrine) seems too serious to overlook (Prov. 19:11).
If repeated private conversations do not lead another person to repentance, Jesus commands that we ask other brothers or sisters to get involved. “If he will not listen, take one or two others along” (Matt. 18:16). If informal conversations with these people fail to resolve the matter, then we may seek the involvement of more influential people, such as a small group leader, Sunday school teacher, church leader, or elder. If even these efforts fail to bring a brother or sister to repentance, and if the issue is too serious to overlook, we will move into what may be called “formal discipline.”
If a member persistently refuses to listen to personal and informal correction to turn from speech or behavior that the Bible defines as sin, Jesus commands us to “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). This first involves informing one or more church pastors/ elders about the situation. If the offense is not likely to cause imminent harm to others, our elders may approach the member privately to personally establish the facts and encourage repentance of any sin they discover. We intend to give the member every reasonable opportunity to explain and defend his or her actions. If the member recognizes his sin and repents, the matter usually ends there, unless a confession to additional people is needed.
If an offense is likely to harm others or lead them into sin, or cause division or disruption, our elders may accelerate the disciplinary process and move to protect the church (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; Titus 3:10-11).
As the disciplinary process progresses, our elders may impose a variety of sanctions to encourage repentance, including, but not limited to, private and public admonition, withholding of the Lord’s Supper, removal from office, withdrawal of normal fellowship, and, as a last resort, removal from membership (Matt. 5:23-24; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; Matt. 18:17).
If the straying member does not repent in response to private appeals from our elders, they may inform others in the church who may be able to influence that individual or be willing to pray for him or her, or people who might be harmed or affected by that person’s behavior.9 This step may include close friends, a small group, a Sunday school class, or the entire congregation if our elders deem it to be appropriate (Matt. 18:17, 1 Tim. 5:20).10
If, after a reasonable period of time, the member still refuses to change, then our elders may bring the situation before the congregation, with the recommendation that the member be removed from membership and normal fellowship. If the congregation supports that recommendation, we will treat the member as an unbeliever.
This means that we will no longer treat the member as a fellow Christian. Instead of having casual, relaxed fellowship with the member, we will look for opportunities to lovingly bring the gospel to him or her, remind him or her of God’s holiness and mercy, and call him or her to repent and put his or her faith in Christ (Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20).
We realize that our natural human response to correction often is to hide or run away from accountability (Gen. 3:8-10). To avoid falling into this age-old trap and to strengthen our church’s ability to rescue us if we are caught in sin, we agree not to run away from this church to avoid corrective discipline. Therefore, we waive our right to withdraw from membership or accountability while discipline is pending against us. Although we are free to stop attending the church at any time, we agree that a withdrawal while discipline is pending will not stop the process of discipline until the church has fulfilled its God-given responsibilities to encourage our repentance and restoration, and to bring the disciplinary process to an orderly conclusion, as described in these Commitments (Matt. 18:12-14; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 13:17).
If a member leaves the church while discipline is in effect or is being considered, and our elders learn that he or she is attending another church, they may inform that church of the situation and ask its leaders to encourage the member to repent and be reconciled to the Lord and to any people he or she has offended. This action is intended both to help the member find freedom from his or her sin and to warn the other church about the harm that he or she might do to their members11 (see Matt. 18:12-14; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 3 John 1:9-10).
Loving restoration always stands at the heart of the disciplinary process. If a member repents, and our elders confirm his or her sincerity, we will rejoice together and gladly imitate God’s forgiveness by restoring the person to fellowship within the body (see Matt. 18:13; Luke 15:3-7, 11-32; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Col. 3:12-14).
People who have been disciplined by another church will not be allowed to become members at Bethlehem until they have repented of their sins and made a reasonable effort to be reconciled, or our elders have determined that the discipline of the former church was not biblically appropriate.
As we pursue the blessings of accountability and church discipline, we intend to hold fast to the promise of Scripture: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).
We believe that God wants every Christian to become a member of a local church.12 Becoming a member of a church can be a life-changing decision. The preaching, teaching, fellowship, opportunities to use one’s gifts, and mutual accountability that we experience in a church can dramatically change our relationship with the Lord and with the people He places in our lives. Therefore, we want potential members to take time to get to know our church, learn how we are fulfilling God’s command to build His church (1 Cor. 14:26), and see how we love and relate to one another in daily life.
If attending the membership class convinces you that joining our church will help you grow in your ability to love and serve God, we would be delighted to have you become a member of our body. By joining our church, members demonstrate in a concrete way their desire to unite with us to advance Christ’s mission in the world. Membership also allows you to enjoy ministry opportunities and privileges that are not available to people who merely attend our church, including the following: