“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” -Matthew 5:33–37
When I was a kid, my friends and I used to profess something to be true, and then have to swear some sort of oath in order to be believed. We would say something like “I swear to God,” or “I swear by my mother’s grave.” Why would we say such things? Because as young boys, we lied all of the time. We needed to take some sort of oath in order for another to believe us. Also, if we really wanted to cover up some lie we would take an oath upon the highest authority we could think of in order to appear trustworthy.
Taking oaths was never meant to be a means of covering up lies. This practice disgusted Jesus so much he decides to abolish all oath taking whatsoever. The followers of Jesus are to be known as truthful and trustworthy people. After all, we claim to serve the one who calls himself “the way, the truth, and the life.”
I have struggled in the past to see a church membership vow as being something biblical. Years ago, a friend cited Jesus’ words to me in Matthew 5 as an argument against church membership and it seemed good to me at the time. I do not believe this any longer. Jesus does away with the practice of swearing by an authority higher than one’s self in order to be seen as trustworthy. This coming Sunday, my Beloved and I are becoming members at Bethlehem Baptist Church. An elder will read a number of paragraphs for us to affirm in the presence of the congregation. When he reads each paragraph, my wife and I are simply to say yes or no. This agrees with Jesus words in Matthew 5. We are not going to stand up and swear to God that we will affirm the church covenant. We are not going to call upon a higher authority to ensure our words will be true and followed out. Jesus tells us that any such oath would be evil. We simply will, by God’s grace, say yes. Below is BBC’s church covenant.
- Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive Jesus Christ as the Lord, Savior, and, supreme Treasure of our lives, and, on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, angels and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.
- We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love, to strive for the advancement of this church in knowledge, holiness and peace; to promote its spirituality and fruitfulness; to sustain its worship, ordinances, and discipline; to welcome, and test biblically, instruction from the Scriptures by the elders of the church which accords with the Elder Affirmation of Faith, seeking to grow toward biblical unity in the truth; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations.
- We also engage to maintain family and personal devotions; to educate our children in the Christian faith; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment, to avoid all tattling, backbiting and excessive anger; to seek God’s help in abstaining from all drugs, food, drink, and practices which bring unwarranted harm to the body or jeopardize our own or another’s faith.
- We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay.
- We moreover engage that when we remove from this place, we will, if possible, unite with a likeminded church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant.
- We acknowledge that implicit within this covenant is the consent to be governed by the Relational Commitments that have been officially adopted by the church and that address peacemaking and reconciliation, accountability and church discipline, marriage and divorce, counseling and confidentiality, and the protection of our children.