The Watchdog did get his copy delivered this weekend from a reader of the blog, and I have had a chance to review it. I was a bit concerned what it might contain, given Smyrl's reformed theology and knowing what other reformed churches require their members to sign - a list of rules and regulations, and an agreement to submit to the "authority" of the church.
I am not going to provide the entire covenant here - it is two pages in length - but will give some portions and commentary of what stuck out to me, and I'm going to compare and contrast this covenant with portions of the bylaws from FBC Jax from whence Smyrl comes. The "member convenant" for FBC Jax members is found in Article V of their bylaws.
It Was Distributed to Everyone
What a concept! Smyrl actually drafted the covenant, and is letting everyone have a hard copy, and they were allowed to take it home with them!! Unlike the goons at FBC Jax, who when they made significant changes to their bylaws in December 2007, they did not distribute them, they only allowed members to read them in the church library, but could NOT take a copy with them!! Then, before voting, neither the pastor, nor the president of the trustees, nor the head deacon read or even described the nature of the changes, they just called for a vote! The changes significantly changed the church governance, added a discipline committee, and other very significant changes, as I blogged 2 1/2 years ago here, here, here, and here.
So kudos to you, Jim, you're letting the folks have a hard copy. A.C. Soud, are you reading this? When will you freely distribute and post the December 2007 bylaw changes? Why not post them on the Internet, like you did the Deacons Resolution 2009-1?(affectionately called the "Anti-Criticism Doctrine" by yours truly).
Members Must Sign It
The covenant says all LHBC members must sign it. If I wanted to join Smyrl's church I wouldn't sign it. Why does one have to sign it to become a member? Why does one have to become a "member" anyways? Why not just attend, and contribute as the Lord leads? I would drop that requirement, Jim. The covenant already says that the congregation will reaffirm their commitment to it at the beginning of every communion service.
Members Affirm They Will Live "Under the Authority of Christ"
Biggest shocker - the document doesn't require members to submit themselves to the authority of the pastor, the elders, or the deacons or any other special group of believers.
No Reference to "Pastor" or "Elder"
There is no definition of church heirarchy. It refers to "believers", "mutual submission", "working in brotherly love". It does not set up a difference between the pastor and elders, and the regular members. Throughout it assumes all believers are on equal footing with one another. I assume that there will be "bylaws" at some point that flesh out some sort of operational structure of the church, but at least the covenant recognizes the priesthood of the believer, and not the "senior pastor".
Doesn't Require Members to "Love, Honor, and Esteem" Their Pastor
One of the creepiest aspects of the FBC Jax member covenant is this requirement of members:
"It shall be the duty of each and every member of this Church to honor, esteem and love the Pastor, to pray for him constantly, and to manifest a tender regard for his reputation."
Notice, that is NOT in Smyrl's member covenant - he doesn't mention "pastor" at all. The further time slips that I have been away from First Baptist Jacksonville, the more that statement makes my skin crawl. Who on earth prays for their pastor "constantly", and why would that be a "duty" of each and every member? What on earth does it mean in the real world to "manifest a tender regard for his reputation" mean? Of course, it means shut up, don't complain, and follow your pastor without question.
So FBC Jax members: you better be meeting your duty to pray constantly for your pastor. Do not complain about your pastor, as to do so would not be to manifest a tender regard for his reputation, and could get you a visit from the discipline committee, or worse! Memo to FBC Jax Trustees: please add a section that requires the pastor to manifest a tender regard for the church's reputation, ok? Thanks.
Does Specify "Church Discipline", No Discipline Committee
Smyrl's covenant does state that they will "...lovingly seek to restore a believer in sin through the practice of biblical restoration including the removal of unrepentant members from our fellowship." I don't see the creation of a discipline committee, but that could come in future LHBC bylaws. The FBC Jax bylaws specify a discipline process which in effect excludes the pastor, since the discipline committee has to get the approval of the pastor before taking disciplanary action! (FBC Jax bylaws, Article XIV, Section 4).
Does Not Require Members to Waive Legal Rights
The covenant doesn't require members to waive their rights to file legal action against the church. Unbelievably, in the December 2007 bylaw changes at FBC Jax, the following statement was added in Article XIV:
"All members waive the right to file any legal action against the Church in a civil court or agency."
And they didn't even bother to explain to the plebe at the voting meeting that this was what they were voting on.
So all in all, not a bad covenant. As I said, Smyrl freely distributed it, and people can read it and judge it for themselves.
LHBC members, I urge you to demand that any bylaws drawn up for LHBC that further define your responsibilities, a discipline process, how elders are selected, etc. etc. be freely distributed to everyone. I am confident Smyrl will do this, as he most certainly had to see the injustice done at FBC Jax by trustees making changes to bylaws and not making every effort possible to educate the members.