Covenants, Creeds, and the Church

Covenants, Creeds, and the Church

Jun 23, 2016

Rev. Nicholas J. Kersten

Director of Education and History

One of the hallmarks of Seventh Day Baptist life is our belief that the Bible is the only guide to our faith and practice. In this, we share something important with all Baptists, and more generally, with all Protestants. Along with Martin Luther, Seventh Day Baptists can affirm it is “only the Scriptures” which undergird our beliefs. All of our distinctive beliefs — salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, believer’s baptism by immersion, regenerate church membership, and the Sabbath — come to us as a result of our shared convictions corporately as we study the Scriptures individually. We are Seventh Day Baptists because our reading of the Scriptures leads us to the same convictions and we join together in covenant relationships in local churches in response to that belief.


holy bible

I recently took a trip to Zambia to teach SDB history to pastors and leaders in our Conference there. I was amazed as I heard from our pastors and leaders there how much their stories of conviction match the stories of Seventh Day Baptists throughout our history. While some groups can claim a founder or preeminent leader, there is no such figure for us — just a group of people throughout our history who came to the convictions we still hold today. The classic Seventh Day Baptist story is one of personal conviction, led by the Holy Spirit through study in the Scriptures, followed by connection to a community of the same convictions.

For that reason, our relationship with our Statement of Belief is very different than other groups. In some denominational traditions, it is agreement with doctrinal positions (or creeds) which triggers identification and membership with the group. Such groups are rightly called “creedal.” But SDBs do not work that way, not because we do not have strong beliefs and doctrinal convictions, but because those positions precede membership. Membership for us is more than just mental assent to a series of doctrinal statements: it is the covenant relationship with the local congregation of people who are convicted the same way. We often describe this relationship as “covenantal” rather than “creedal.”

But while agreement with our Statement of Belief is not what makes a person Seventh Day Baptist, it would be wrong to deduce from that fact that our shared beliefs are unimportant. I have sometimes heard the preamble to our Statement, which includes an affirmation of our belief in “freedom of conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” used as justification for allowance of beliefs which are not only inconsistent with historic Seventh Day Baptist beliefs, but Christian beliefs more generally. This certainly is not what is meant by our being “covenantal” or by proclaiming “freedom of conscience.”

Far from allowing any belief someone might espouse under the guise of permitting Christian freedom or maintaining relationship, our convictions about the importance of covenant relationships and the nature of our shared beliefs set an even higher bar: mutual accountability to one another and our shared beliefs while also allowing the freedom to explore the Scriptures on items beyond those beliefs which are shared. We live as Seventh Day Baptists in community because of shared belief. If either the community or the shared belief is degraded, our churches cannot function as they ought. The level of responsibility to one another in covenant requires us to be diligent about both relationship AND doctrine! The purpose of this diligence is really part of our covenant responsibilities to “grow in grace” and to “watch out for each other for good.”

How are the relationships inside your church? Are they robust, loving, encouraging and challenging relationships which fully embody our convictions, or are they flimsy, permissive, toothless relationships which disengage whenever there is difficulty or disagreement? Consistency with our beliefs demands investment by us to explore our shared convictions with our brothers and sisters for the sake of the Gospel. Such investment can be costly, but can yield enormous fruit for the Kingdom.

Clip to Evernote