|C o v e n a n t
A f f i r m a t i o n s
Common Christian Affirmations
Central Covenant Affirmations
F o r e w o r dTop
WHAT DOES THE COVENANT CHURCH BELIEVE?
On one level, the answer is quite simple. When new members join a
Covenant church, they are asked two questions about belief: “Do you confess
Jesus Christ as your Savior and promise to follow him as Lord?” and “Do
you accept the Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, as the word
of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct?” They are
then asked if they intend to live as faithful followers of Christ and members
of the church and denomination.
That’s all. That is enough.
But on another level, of course, the answer is a good deal more complex.
While the Covenant Church does not require adherence to any written
creed, we take our theology very seriously, and our history as well. We are a
Reformation church, a part of the Church universal, and an evangelical church.
In that heritage, we share certain central beliefs, which draw us together in
faith and fellowship and make possible a freedom among us on more widely
We describe those central beliefs as “affirmations,” and they are outlined
in this booklet.
We hope that as you read these affirmations you will find yourself
identifying with them in your own faith experience. If they raise questions
for you or you would like to read further, we would encourage you to ask your
pastor (if you are already in contact with a Covenant church) or any Covenant
pastor for more suggestions.
May God bless you as you seek to learn more about him through his
Glenn R. Palmberg, President
The Evangelical Covenant Church
A c k n o w l e d g m e n t sTop
THIS BOOKLET was first published in 1976. It was written by the Committee
on Covenant Doctrine, which at that time included James R. Hawkinson
(chair), Donald C. Frisk, Paul E. Larsen, Edward Larson, A. Eldon Palmquist,
Richard O. Sandquist, and Milton B. Engebretson (ex-officio). This revised
version of Covenant Affirmations was adopted by the 2005 Annual Meeting
after a revision was commissioned by the Covenant Executive Board. The
current writing team includes: Philip Anderson, David Nystrom, Doreen
Olson, John Phelan Jr., Mark Novak (superintendent advisor), and Donn
Engebretson (facilitator). We are grateful to both writing teams for their
significant contribution to our understanding and expression of the faith we
share. They demonstrated clearly that the faith that unites us is much greater
than issues that might divide us.
I n t r o d u c t i o nTop
THE EVANGELICAL COVENANT CHURCH seeks to form and nurture
communities that are deeply committed to Jesus Christ and passionately engaged
in Christ’s mission in the world. The purpose of Covenant Affirmations is to
make clear the values and principles that have guided the Evangelical Covenant
Church since its founding in 1885.
The spirit of the Evangelical Covenant Church is emphasized in the
Preamble to the Constitution and Bylaws:
The Evangelical Covenant Church is a communion of congregations
gathered by God, united in Christ, and empowered by the Holy
Spirit to obey the great commandment and the great commission.
It affirms its companionship in faith with other church bodies and
all those who fear God and keep God’s commandments.
The Evangelical Covenant Church adheres to the affirmations
of the Protestant Reformation regarding the Bible. It confesses
that the Holy Scripture, the Old and the New Testament, is
the Word of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine,
and conduct. It affirms the historic confessions of the Christian
Church, particularly the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed,
while emphasizing the sovereignty of the Word of God over all
In continuity with the renewal movements of historic
Pietism, the Evangelical Covenant Church especially cherishes the
dual emphasis on new birth and new life in Christ, believing that
personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the foundation
for our mission of evangelism and Christian nurture. Our common
experience of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ continues to
sustain the Evangelical Covenant Church as an interdependent
body of believers that recognizes but transcends our theological
The Evangelical Covenant Church celebrates two divinely
ordained sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Recognizing
the reality of freedom in Christ, and in conscious dependence
on the work of the Holy Spirit, we practice both the baptism of
infants and believer baptism. The Evangelical Covenant Church
embraces this freedom in Christ as a gift that preserves personal
conviction, yet guards against an individualism that disregards the
centrality of the Word of God and the mutual responsibilities and
disciplines of the spiritual community.
The Evangelical Covenant Church has its roots in historical
Christianity, the Protestant Reformation, the biblical instruction
of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and the great spiritual
awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These
influences, together with more recent North American renewal
movements, continue to shape its development and distinctive
spirit. The Evangelical Covenant Church is committed to reaching
across boundaries of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, age, and status
in the cultivation of communities of life and service.
C o m m o n C h r i s t i a n A f f i m a t i o n sTop
IT IS THE PURPOSE of this booklet to provide a context for the affirmation
of our living faith for people both within and outside of our fellowship. Such
a statement is not to be construed as a creed or a formal doctrinal statement.
Covenanters affirm that sound doctrine, subject to the authority of the word of
God alone, is a necessary though not sufficient condition for vital and growing
faith. With this as background, we make four basic affirmations concerning
our faith in common with the whole Christian Church.
• We are an apostolic church.
We are an apostolic church (back) because we confess Jesus Christ and the
faith of the apostles as recorded in the Holy Scriptures. Covenanters have
always affirmed the Bible to be “the Word of God and the only perfect rule
for faith, doctrine, and conduct.”
[From the Preamble to the Constitution and Bylaws of the Evangelical Covenant Church.]
The Apostle Paul writes that “all scripture
is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and
for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Covenant Church has
not chosen to be more precise than this in stating its view of inspiration. The
authority of the Bible is supreme in all matters of faith, doctrine, and conduct,
and is to be trusted. “Where is it written?” was and is the Covenant Church’s
touchstone of discussion with regard to faith and practice. In this sense, we
are an apostolic church.
• We are a catholic church.
• We are a Reformation church.
• We are an evangelical church.
We are a catholic church. (back) The word catholic literally means universal. We
are part of the universal Church that has existed from the days of the apostles
until now. This includes all who confess faith in Christ. In the first several
centuries of the Christian era, the Church developed a series of affirmations
concerning the faith that has been accepted by Christians throughout history.
The Covenant Church considers itself a part of that catholic tradition and
recognizes its indebtedness to the early creeds and confessions of the Church
as concise statements of biblical faith. We refer especially to the Apostles’ Creed
and the Nicene Creed, though the same could be said for the Chalcedonian
and Athanasian creeds.
The Apostles’ Creed
We are a Reformation Church. (back) in that we see ourselves as standing
in the mainstream of the Protestant Reformation, particularly with reference
to the doctrine that justification is by faith alone. While affirming with the
reformers the sovereignty of the word of God over all creeds, and the priesthood
of all believers, the Covenant Church has placed particular importance on the
Reformation emphasis on salvation by grace alone through faith alone—apart
from the works of the law. This is well stated in the following excerpt from
the Augsburg Confession of 1530, a Lutheran confession with which other
Reformation churches would generally have agreed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived
by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius
Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hades;
the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from
thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church; the
communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of
the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of
heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with
the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our
salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy
Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake
he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was
buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the
Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand
of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and
the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father
and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through
the prophets. We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic
Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world
to come. Amen.
It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of
sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or
satisfaction, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become
righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith,
when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake
our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to
us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as
Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5.
The Covenant Church continues to be shaped by Pietism, a renewal
movement that originated in seventeenth-century Europe and emphasized
the need for a personal life in Jesus Christ, sanctification through the Holy
Spirit, and call to service in the world. Pietism, in seeking a balance between
the head and the heart, affirmed that correct doctrine is a necessary though
not sufficient condition for vital and growing faith.
A leading spirit in this movement was Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-
1705), who through his widely influential writings challenged the Church to
deeper spirituality. Particularly important was his call for widespread reading
and study of the Bible; greater participation by lay people in the work of the
Church; simple, clear, and direct preaching geared to the needs of the people;
and the abandonment of theological hair-splitting in favor of practical concern
for living the Christian life. The influence of Pietism extended throughout
northern Europe and enriched the lives of many through its emphasis on the
new life in Christ.
We are an evangelical church. (back) Five centuries have passed since the
Reformation. New issues have arisen upon which Scripture has shed light.
The Covenant Church, consistent with its background in Pietism, sees in the
emergence of evangelicalism a movement that gives expression to several of
its basic emphases.
Many have defined evangelicalism as Protestantism. It is more accurate,
however, to view it as a religious awakening that flowered in Europe and
America during the nineteenth century. Waves of spiritual revival have swept
the Protestant West for more than two centuries. The Covenant Church has
grown out of these awakenings, and Covenanters have enjoyed cooperating
in mission at home and abroad with all who follow Christ. In this they are
true to the spirit of the text expounded at the birth of the Covenant in 1885:
“I am a companion of all who fear you” (Psalm 119:63).
Evangelicals historically have been characterized by a number of
significant emphases: a strong insistence on biblical authority; the absolute
necessity of new birth; Christ’s mandate to evangelize the world; the continuing
need for education and formation in a Christian context; and responsibility
for benevolence and the advancement of social justice.
C e n t r a l C o v e n a n t A f f i m a t i o n sTop
Consistent with its aff irmation of classical Christianity and
its own historical experience, the Covenant Church affirms as central to its
life and thought a number of evangelical emphases. Foremost among these
are the following:
• the centrality of the word of God,
The centrality of the word of God. (back) The Covenant Church states
its view of Scripture as follows: “the Holy Scripture, the Old and the New
Testament, is the Word of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and
conduct.” [From the Preamble to the Constitution and Bylaws of the Evangelical Covenant Church.] When Philipp Jakob Spener presented his proposals for the renewal
of the Church in 1675, his first concern was with the centrality of the word of
God in the life of the congregation and of individual believers. He wrote:
• the necessity of the new birth,
• a commitment to the whole mission of the Church,
• the Church as a fellowship of believers,
• a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit, and
• the reality of freedom in Christ.
Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the word of
God among us. We know that by nature we have no good in us.
If there is to be any good in us, it must be brought about by God.
To this end the word of God is the powerful means, since faith
must be enkindled through the gospel.. . .The more at home the
word of God is among us, the more we shall bring about faith
and its fruits. [Philipp Jakob Spener, Pia Desideria, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1964) 87.]
What was new in Spener’s proposal was not another doctrine of
inspiration (there was general agreement on the divine inspiration of Scripture
in his day), or a new recognition of the authority of Scripture. What was new
was his recovery of the living nature of the word of God. The word is the
“powerful means” to the creation of new life through the Holy Spirit. For
many in Spener’s day the word of God was simply information, or law, or
rules; for Spener the word was power—power to effect change in the life of
the hearer through the Holy Spirit.
The dynamic life-shaping power of the word of God has been at the
heart of the Covenant Church since its founding. That life-changing word
gave birth to the conventicles—the small groups that met for Bible study in
confidence that the word would shape the life of the believer and the believing
community. It provided the motive for private devotional reading of the Bible, a
practice for which our forebears received the nickname “readers.” It prompted
the concern for faithful preaching, not of human opinion, but of the word of
God, which has power to convict of sin and unrighteousness and kindle the
desire for new life. This dynamic life-shaping power of the word leads us to
affirm that both women and men are called to serve as ordained ministers. It is
the reason we intentionally pursue ethnic diversity. It is the motivation behind
every act of compassion and justice through the life of our shared ministry.
The Covenant Church believes that the effective power of the scriptural
word is inseparably associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit
never works independently of the word, and the word is made effective through
the Holy Spirit.
The union of word and Spirit is a central theme in evangelical faith. It
was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the written word came into being
(2 Timothy 3:16). Through the Spirit the word of God does not return empty
but accomplishes that for which it was sent (Isaiah 55:11). It is through the
inner testimony of the Holy Spirit that the sinner who responds to the word
is assured of being a child of God (Romans 8:16-17).
It is essential, then, to the life of the Church that it be a company of
people who desire their lives to be shaped by the powerful and living word
of God. The alternative is clear. Not to be shaped by the word is to be shaped
by the world.
On every side attractive and persuasive voices urge us toward conformity
to the spirit of this age. There is no escaping from these pervasive influences.
Only the church that hears and responds to the word will be able to be a
prophetic voice in this wilderness and bring healing to a confused and troubled
The necessity of the new birth. (back) When the Covenant Church affirms
that it is evangelical, it proclaims that the new birth in Jesus Christ is essential.
We teach that “by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God conquered
sin, death, and the devil, offering forgiveness for sin and assuring eternal life
for those who follow Christ.”
From The Journey: A Leader’s Guide for Discipleship/Confirmation (Chicago; Covenant Publications, 2001) New birth is more than the experience of
forgiveness and acceptance. It is regeneration and the gift of eternal life. This
life has the qualities of love and righteousness as well as joy and peace.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without
being born from above” (John 3:3). To enter the kingdom is not only to have
a right relationship with God but to be enlisted in Christ’s service. God’s
purposes entail the transformation of persons, as well as the transformation
of God’s world into a place of truth, justice, and peace.
As an evangelical church we believe that conversion results in eternal life.
Conversion can be defined as the act by which a person turns with repentance
and faith from sin to God. Conversion involves a conscious rejection of the
life of sin and involves a commitment of faith. Eternal life is not given through
assent to creeds alone, but through a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
Such a high doctrine of conversion does not mean that all believers have
dramatic conversion experiences. While no one remembers the moment of
physical birth, one’s present life is evidence of its occurrence. So a person
may be truly converted even though he or she has no memory of the moment
of new birth. The vitality of life is the proof of birth, not its memory or
It is the will of God that all should be redeemed: “The Lord is not slow
about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not
wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Yet it is
only through the grace of Christ that we can be saved. Our Savior declared,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except
through me” (John 14:6). The apostles concurred: “There is salvation in no one
else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which
we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Covenant Church shares God’s concern
for the salvation of all, but accepts God’s word that only those converted to
Jesus Christ shall be saved.
The new birth, however, is only the beginning of life. Growing to
maturity in Christ is a lifelong process called sanctification. Being formed
in Christ is the goal, for both individuals and communities of believers. The
Apostle Paul agonized as a woman in labor, that believers might express Christ’s
character and goodness in their whole being (Galatians 4:19).
On this journey of being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s
likeness, God’s people experience and express love for God and others. Healthy
and effective spiritual growth takes place in the context of relationships, both
within and beyond peer groups. The desired outcome of this formational
process is described by the Apostle Paul: “until we all reach unity in the faith
and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the
whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)
Being a disciple of Jesus implies costly obedience to all of his teachings.
Such obedience, together with the Spirit’s work in us, equips us to do the
work of the kingdom, giving witness to the good news and serving others in
Though there is no state of final perfection in this life, there is a process
of growth from beginning to end. This growth is as much a gift of God as the
gift of life itself (Galatians 3:3). Together with the gifts of life and growth, the
child of God receives the gifts of assurance of salvation and confidence in the
faith. The Apostle Paul declares: “I am confident of this, that the one who
began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus
Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
As there is no new birth without repentance and faith, so there is no
healthy spiritual growth without a life of discipline. Discipline is the cultivation
and nurture of the spiritual life in both its personal and corporate dimensions.
Public worship, participation in the sacraments, prayer, Bible study, service to
others, stewardship, fellowship, and other spiritual disciplines all enhance the
Christian’s growth. A life of discipline prepares us individually and communally
for passionate engagement in the work of Christ in our world. It is through
transformed people that God transforms our world. It is for this reason we
are called into new life. A life of discipline seeks to avoid moral and spiritual
indifference on the one hand and oppressive legalism on the other.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul declares: “You were taught
to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its
lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves
with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness
and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
While the pursuit of holy living does not earn God’s favor, it pleases
God. It allows the Spirit to fill the Christian with joy and makes the Christian
an effective agent of reconciliation.
A commitment to the whole mission of the Church. (back) The Covenant
Church has always been characterized by its involvement in mission. The
earliest name attributed to Covenanters was “Mission Friends,” people
who covenanted together for the purpose of common mission both far and
near. They understood the work of mission to be evangelism and Christian
formation, as well as the benevolent ministries of compassion and justice in
the face of suffering and oppression. This is the legacy of Pietism, which was
instrumental in pioneering the Protestant missionary movement. An early
Pietist, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), described this when he said
that the Christian lives for God’s glory and the good of one’s neighbor. At Halle
in Germany, Francke was instrumental in developing a Pietist university that
educated pastors, teachers, and missionaries. Pietists there founded orphanages,
a hospital, a pharmacy, a printing press, and a great library devoted to a global
vision of Christian service. We remain a community of friends committed to
this whole mission of the Church.
Jesus made it clear that if his followers were to love him, they must keep
his commandments. He said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and
first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as
yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”
(Matthew 22:37-40). This is the great commandment.
The Covenant Church is also committed to the great commission of
Jesus Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching
them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Established by the gospel and grace of Jesus Christ, the Church exists
by doing mission—the great commission and the great commandment—as
fire exists by burning. The church’s mission is faith active in love, and the two
cannot be separated without diminishing the gospel. As Christ’s representative
in the world, the Church is to be an agent of grace, entrusted with the message
of reconciliation, hope, justice, and peace. At the end of his life, Jesus declared
his disciples his friends, meaning they shared with him a common passion for
his mission in the world (John 15:13-15). Covenanters, as Mission Friends,
have broadly understood mission to be the befriending of others, and all that
God has created, in the name of the One who first befriended us.
Covenanters, like all Christians, are called to proclaim this good news
with their lives and words, and by the love and integrity of their communities.
In faithful witness, the lost are found in Christ. In acts of generosity and
compassion, people are ministered to and justice is proclaimed. In the work of
evangelism and mission, we seek to embody the presence of Jesus Christ with
head, hands, voice, and heart. Jesus called on his disciples to carry their own
crosses, and in this joyful way of suffering and service we embody his ministry
of reconciliation and proclaim the reality of the kingdom, which extends to
every person in every land and to the whole of creation. The Covenant Church,
therefore, is “committed to reaching across boundaries of race, ethnicity,
culture, gender, age, and status in the cultivation of communities of life and
[From the Preamble to the Constitution and Bylaws of the Evangelical Covenant Church.]
This mission belongs to the whole Church, the spiritual priesthood
of all believers—women and men, young and old, laity and clergy.
The Covenant Church seeks to hold together proclamation and
compassion, personal witness and social justice, service and stewardship in
all areas of life. God makes all things new and calls God’s followers to share
this mission. Those who neither know nor love the Lord Jesus as well as those
enduring poverty, suffering, inequality, and injustice cannot be ignored. In
the incarnation of Jesus Christ, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all
things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of
his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). This bears witness to God’s boundless passion
for both the souls and earthly lives of all people, and for all that God has made.
When we address not only the consequences but also the causes of suffering,
we live out what it means to be the body of Christ in the world.
The Church as a fellowship of believers. (back) Martin Luther, in the
midst of the Reformation era, made a daring suggestion for the organization
of the Church:
[Christians] should sign their names and meet alone in a house
somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament,
and do other Christian works. According to this order, those who
do not lead Christian lives could be known, reproved, corrected,
cast out, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ
(Matthew 18:15-17). Here one could also solicit benevolent gifts
to be willingly given and distributed to the poor, according to
St. Paul’s example (2 Corinthians 9). Here would be no need of
much and elaborate singing. Here one could set out a brief and
neat order for baptism and the sacrament and center everything
on the Word, prayer, and love.
[Ulrich S. Leopold, ed., Liturgy and Hymns (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965) p. 53.]
Luther saw the ideal church as a gathering of those who confess faith
in Jesus Christ, commit themselves to each other, and submit to no authority
other than Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church. The Covenant Church seeks
to realize the value of this ideal.
The roots of this view of the Church are found in two basic New
• The Church is a communion or fellowship of believers,
characterized by mutual participation in and sharing of the new
life in Christ. Paul calls the Christian community the body of
Christ, a community composed of many members, each different
and mutually interdependent (1 Corinthians 12:12-30). It is when
we are in community with one another, when all of God’s people
are interacting with one another in worship and service, that God’s
will is most clearly revealed and discerned.
• The New Testament also teaches that within Christian
community there is to be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free,
male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
These three areas—race, class, and gender—are to be of no
advantage or disadvantage within the body of Christ. This is a
multiethnic, classless, gender-equal vision. We recognize our need
for ethnic diversity, for fellowship and mutual ministry across
artificially constructed socio-economic boundaries, and for the
gifts and leadership of women and men. It is the desire of the
Covenant Church to pursue this biblical vision.
The Church is a gathered community set apart for involvement in
Christ’s mission to the world. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty
acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter
2:9). The “priesthood of all believers” means that every believer is called to be
part of a fellowship of believers and to participate in evangelism, formation,
worship, and service.
The believers’ Church is not simply a human institution or organization,
but a people whom God has called. Emphasis does not fall on buildings
or hierarchical structures, but upon a grace-filled fellowship and active
participation, through the Holy Spirit, in the life and mission of Christ.
Membership in the Covenant Church is by confession of personal faith
in Jesus Christ. It is open to all believers. We do not expect that all believers
will agree on every detail of Christian belief. What is required is that one be
born anew “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from
the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). But if membership is open to all believers, it is also
open only to believers. “The doors of the church are wide enough to admit
all who believe and narrow enough to exclude those who do not,” said our
This is not to claim that members of the believers’ Church are perfect.
The Church knows itself to be always a company of sinners, but sinners who
have experienced forgiveness and are seeking wholeness in a new relationship
to God. At the same time we affirm that all people at all stages of belief and
unbelief are welcome to participate in the life of the church.
The Covenant Church believes the Holy Scriptures to be the source of
the Church’s life, its preaching and teaching, and the means for its renewal.
Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will
know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31b-32). Included in
the ministry of the word is the observance of baptism and Holy Communion as
sacraments of the church expressly commanded by our Lord. They are visible
signs of the invisible grace of Jesus Christ. The Covenant Church is open to
all believers and recognizes infant and believer baptism as biblical forms of
that sacrament and includes the practice of both in its ministry.
The local congregation is of crucial importance in God’s redemptive
work in the world. While God is at work elsewhere, it is particularly in the
close personal relationships of the fellowship that people are opened to the
healing, convicting, and life-giving ministry of the Holy Spirit. Here, biblical
nurture and discipline occur in the context of love and concern.
The Covenant Church is a communion of interdependent member
congregations. Each local congregation seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit
in matters of common life and mission. In accordance with congregational
polity, every congregation is free to govern its own affairs. At the same time,
every Covenant congregation has committed itself to participate responsibly
in the fellowship, decisions, and shared ministries of the regional conferences
The Covenant Church holds that there is only one indispensable
ministry—that of Jesus Christ. All members of the body are called to this
ministry. It is a ministry of proclamation and evangelism, Christian formation
and nurture, stewardship and servanthood. Both concern for personal salvation
and for social justice are involved in the ministry. At the same time, we recognize
that God calls certain men and women to be set apart as servants of the word,
sacraments, and service. This does not give credentialed ministers superior
status. It does recognize their call from God and gives them a special function
in the Church, enabling the Church to fulfill its mission.
A conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. (back) The Covenant Church,
rooted in historic Christianity, affirms one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit continues the creative work of the Father and the redeeming
work of the Son within the life of the church. It is for this reason the Covenant
Church has emphasized the continuing work of the Spirit.
According to the Gospel of John, the earthly Jesus promised that the
same Spirit of God that “remained on him” (1:32) would one day live in his
disciples as a result of his crucifixion and resurrection. The Spirit “abides with
you,” he said, “and will be in you” (14:17). It was this Holy Spirit that came to
abide in Paul, filling him with the presence of God and directing him, just as
it had Jesus. For this reason Paul could claim, “it is no longer I who live, but
it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). It is the spirit in us that enables
us to continue Christ’s mission in the world (Acts 1:8).
The New Testament affirms that the Holy Spirit works both within and
among individuals. It is the Holy Spirit that draws together those who are far
off and estranged, causing them to be made one in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-
22). It is the Holy Spirit that stirs within each of us a deep sense of familial
affection for one another, so that we are beloved to one another (1 Corinthians
15:58). It is because Christ has become our brother (Romans 8:29) that we are
together members of the family of God (Ephesians 3:14-16). It is the Spirit of
God within us that cries “Abba,” as we have been adopted into the family of
God, sisters and brothers one with another (Galatians 4:4-7). It is the Holy
Spirit, Paul asserted, that affords a sense of unity and common purpose among
Christians (Philippians 1:27; 2:1-2).
The Covenant understanding of the Holy Spirit, rooted in the New
Testament, is further informed by the Reformation idea that word and Spirit
are inseparable. It is the Spirit of God that enlivens the preaching of the gospel
within the community of faith and grants efficacy to the sacraments participated
in by the community of faith. The Covenant also draws upon its Pietist heritage
for understanding the Holy Spirit. We believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit
to instill in the human heart a desire to turn to Christ. We believe it is the
work of the Holy Spirit to assure believers that Christ dwells within them.
We believe that the Holy Spirit, in concert with our obedience, conforms us
to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).
The early Covenanters in Sweden were linked by a common awareness of
the grace of God in their lives. They spoke of the Holy Spirit communicating
this warm sense of God’s grace to each one individually and directing them
to a common devotion to God in Christ through the reading of the Bible and
frequent meetings for the purpose of mutual encouragement and edification.
They perceived the Holy Spirit leading them corporately to common mission
The early Covenanters in North America were conscious of the presence
and purpose of God through the activity of the Holy Spirit among them. They
were certain the Holy Spirit was at work in their churches and particularly in
leading them to form the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant denomination.
At the organizational meeting of the Covenant, C.A. Björk spoke to the effect
that an organizational meeting can never produce unity; God’s people become
one, he said, through the leading of the Holy Spirit. The early Covenanters
believed that each Christian needs to await the voice of God as revealed not
only to the individual, but also through the witness of other believers. They
believed the Holy Spirit is alive and active, working through preaching, the
sacraments, the Scriptures, and in the witness of one another.
The Covenant Church believes that the Spirit of God is active and “blows
where it chooses” (John 3:8). The Spirit is the prevenient actor in the drama
of salvation, the creator of hunger for Christ’s life, and the fulfiller of that
hunger. We are often surprised at the unfolding of God’s purpose, suggesting
that our ways and thoughts are not always the ways and thoughts of God. For
this reason Covenanters desire to cultivate a healthy humility before God
open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When God is about doing a new thing
(Isaiah 43:9), we wish to perceive God at work rather than be found dull to
the divine purpose. We wish to see with the eyes of the Spirit, and not merely
with our own. The Covenant Church believes with Paul that the Holy Spirit
endows believers with spiritual gifts, the purpose of which is to serve the
Christian community that is the very body of Christ. As a believer’s church
the Covenant has valued the Reformation concept of the priesthood of all
believers, and sees it rooted in the idea of mutual interdependence expressed
in Paul’s notion of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). The Spirit bestows
gifts on individual Christians for the benefit of others, not the benefit of the
one who has received the gift. It is the plan of God through the work of the
Spirit that within the body of Christ we need one another. Accordingly, while
recognizing the legitimacy of all the spiritual gifts, the Covenant Church has
historically been unmarked by an emphasis on any one or one type of spiritual
gift. This deep trust in the gentle leading of the Spirit has remained true of
the Covenant Church through the years.
The reality of freedom in Christ. (back) The Covenant Church seeks to
focus on what unites followers of Jesus Christ rather than what separates
them. The center of our commitment is a clear faith in Jesus Christ. The
centrality of the word of God, the necessity of the new birth, a commitment
to the whole mission of the church, the church as a fellowship of believers,
and a conscious dependence of the Holy Spirit form the parameters in which
freedom is experienced. Here followers of Christ find the security to offer
freedom to one another on issues that might otherwise divide.
Freedom is a frequently misunderstood concept. In western culture
freedom is often understood as autonomy and independence. No one, however,
can truly be autonomous and independent. Authentic freedom manifests itself
in a right relationship with God and others. It is for this reason that freedom in
Christ is so highly valued in the Covenant Church. Freedom is a gift of God
in Christ to all who are willing to receive it. “If you continue in my word,”
said Jesus, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John
Liberation is one of the Bible’s major themes. Early in their story, God’s
people were liberated as slaves from Egypt and began their long journey to the
promised land. The story continues with the liberating work of the judges,
who delivered Israel from its enemies. Israel’s greatest king, David, liberated
them from the Philistines and established a kingdom committed to Israel’s
God. But this kingdom did not stand. The Hebrew Scriptures end with Israel
once again in bondage to their enemies, but living with the promise of God’s
deliverance. Throughout this story the freedom of God’s people is not just
freedom from, but freedom to. They are set free from Egypt to worship and
serve their God. In their law they are called not only to serve one another,
but the stranger, the alien, the widow, and the orphan—all who suffer and are
marginalized by the bitter circumstances of life.
Jesus came as God’s anointed one to continue God’s program of liberation.
He sets us free, according to Paul, from the power of sin to condemn, control,
and destroy. God’s people are not without sin, but find in Jesus’s death and
resurrection the glorious liberty of the children of God. But, as in the Hebrew
Scriptures, this freedom is never simply personal and individualistic. By the
power of his life-giving Spirit, Christ moves us into a new realm—a new
kingdom where light and life and joy prevail. “For freedom Christ has set
us free” (Galatians 5:1a). Thus empowered, the believer not only seeks to
obey and follow God, but to effect the liberation of others from the sins and
oppressions of their lives. This freedom is “in Christ.” By grace God makes
a person, with Luther, “a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none” and at
the same time “a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” For Paul such
freedom means believers are set free from the binding restrictions of culture
and creed to live into a new reality: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there
is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you
are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
True freedom is found in this creative tension between the “lordly” and
servantlike spirit. God wants individuals to be who and what they were created
to be in perfect freedom. This freedom is not for self-indulgence but to serve
the community and the world out of love for God (Galatians 5:13).
The Covenant Church has sought to honor the tensions inherent in
this freedom. The Covenant Church has understood that God’s word is
sovereign over every human interpretation of it—including its own. Covenant
freedom operates within the context set by other principles the Covenant
Church regards as primary, particularly the authority of Scripture. Within
these parameters the principle of freedom applies to doctrinal issues that might
tend to divide. With a modesty born of confidence in God, Covenanters have
offered to one another theological and personal freedom where the biblical
and historical record seems to allow for a variety of interpretations of the will
and purposes of God. This has at times led to controversy over such matters
as baptism, the second coming of Christ, the precise nature of inspiration or
how the atonement may be understood, and various matters of life and practice.
Nevertheless, commitments to the Bible as the word of God and the historical
interpretative consensus of the Christian Church have remained a constant.
This commitment to freedom has kept the Covenant Church together when it
would have been easier to break fellowship and further divide Christ’s body.
To some such freedom is no freedom at all. They would rather have the
marching orders clear and an unimpeachable source of authority to bear the
whole burden of responsibility. It is not easy to be free. But such limitations
of freedom show not wisdom, but immaturity. They show a people who have
not come into their majority as heirs of God’s good gifts (Galatians 3:23-29).
Nevertheless, to seek freedom for its own sake is to lose it. Freedom is not for
self-indulgence or self-aggrandizement but to serve and love God, in whom
alone is found true freedom.
The Covenant Church cherishes this freedom in Christ and recognizes,
as one of our forebears put it, that freedom is a gift and the last of all gifts to
mature. In the meantime there will be questions and conflicts. Full maturity
and full understanding await the day when “the kingdoms of this world become
the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, when he shall reign forever and
ever” (Revelation 11:15). In the meantime we offer freedom to one another,
since for Covenant people freedom is not something we claim for ourselves,
but offer to the other. In this we are simply sharing the gift of freedom God
has given us in Jesus Christ.
C o n c l u s i o n sTop
From all that has been said in this booklet, it should be clear that
the Evangelical Covenant Church is a pilgrim church. We believe with the
writer to the Hebrews that this world is not our home, and we look forward
with eager anticipation to “the city that has foundations, whose architect and
builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
Until Christ comes, we will continue to worship, work, and witness
to the end that the whole earth may hear his voice and know of his love.
Like our forebears, we leave the door to the future open, preferring life by
God’s promise to life by human guarantees. With the Apostle Paul, we have
renounced “the shameful things that one hides,” but “by the open statement
of truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of
God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
Covenanters believe the time is always right to proclaim the good news
of Jesus Christ. For in every changing scene that awaits us, “if anyone is in
Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything
has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through
Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation....So we are ambassadors
for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf
of Christ. . .be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
An early Covenant hymn expresses both the joy of new life in Christ and
the invitation that Covenant people love to give to all who are seeking him:
O let your soul now be filled with gladness,
your heart redeemed, rejoice indeed!
O may the thought banish all your sadness
that in his blood you have been freed,
that God’s unfailing love is yours,
that you the only Son were given,
that by his death he has opened heaven,
that you are ransomed as you are.
If you seem empty of any feeling,
rejoice—you are his ransomed bride!
If those you cherish seem not to love you,
and dark assails from ev’ry side,
still yours the promise, come what may,
in loss and triumph, in laughter, crying,
in want and riches, in living, dying,
that you are purchased as you are.
It is a good ev’ry good transcending
that Christ has died for you and me!
It is a gladness that has no ending
therein God’s wondrous love to see!
Praise be to you, O spotless Lamb,
who through the desert my soul are leading
to that fair city of joy exceeding,
for which you bought me as I am.
[Peter Jonsson Aschan (1726-1813), trans. Karl A. Olsson (1913-1996), The Covenant Hymnal: A
Worshipbook (Chicago: Covenant Publications, 1996) No. 494.]