But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one. – Matthew 5: 34-37 (NLT) The seeker friendly church growth models result in so many different strains of heresy that we sometimes miss them. Perhaps the term seeker friendly might even seem oppositional to what we will examine today – which is spiritual abuse by the church in the form of covenant agreements. We have to realize the term “seeker friendly” refers only to the recruitment process. It is a theory of church growth, not church management. The object is to get as many bodies into the pews as possible but once they are there and willing to commit to the church, the treatment often times because demonstrably less friendly. One tool used by a growing number of leaders is the church covenant agreement. This has the appearance of a legally binding document between the member and the individual church they attend. They are usually rife with problems, completely unbiblical, and generally used as weapons against the very people the leadership is supposed to serve. Wait a minute preacher; shouldn’t there be some agreement upon entering into a church fellowship? Absolutely. Those agreements should be centered of course on our relationship with God and be supported biblically. Churches should already have a statement of fundamental beliefs, which constitute their doctrine. Additionally, most churches already have a Constitution and Bylaws regarding how the church is governed. Lastly, churches routinely have a membership agreement when people are looking to officially join their church. Members should agree with the statement of beliefs and church organization and structure. The Constitution and Bylaws protect the church legally. So why the need for an extra onerous layer of a covenant agreement? Control. It is all about control. Case in point is Steven Furtick; seeker friendly mega church pastor from Elevation Church in North Carolina. Elevation meets in seven different locations seeing over 12,000 attendees per week. Furtick is young, brash, hip and most importantly randomly heretical. This month alone he tweeted that any “interpretation of God’s sovereignty that diminishes human initiative is dangerous and distorted.” Really? Excuse us for sticking to the Bible but who exactly are you to place anything carnal above the sovereignty of Almighty God? Oh that’s right, he is the pastor that makes any church volunteer sign a covenant agreement threatening legal action if they ever discuss the church. Furtick's church volunteers must agree not to disclose any information about the church pertaining to finances, member contact information, and "church research and development activities" - or the church will seek a restraining order, which you agree to, issued by a judge to prevent you from talking about the church. Beloved do you understand what this means legally? It means that Furtick preemptively silences any critics, regardless of whether you are right or wrong. If you caught him spending vast sums of church funds on personal expenses for example, you have already agreed that if you dare to speak about it publicly a judge can issue a restraining order to silence you and if you break that you are held in contempt of court. I guess when you spend time figuring out how to gain all-encompassing power you forget to read the Bible: When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! – 1Corinthians 6: 1 (NLT) Further more the agreement commands you to disclose to the church first, if law enforcement is asking you to talk about the church for any matters! The arrogance is staggering but it is par for the course for Furtick who posted a video of himself “rapping” to all the “haters” who dare question him about what he preaches. But the agreement highlights the problems with such practices. A covenant agreement should be about God – not the church. The actual church is you and I, not these Towers of Babel being constructed by men who need to rap less and study Scripture more. It is not surprising that the people complaining about heresy hunters the most are the ones committing the greatest heresies. Furtick is not alone. Last year, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle was caught in an uproar when he used a covenant agreement to “discipline” a member who had cheated on his fiancée (who happened to be the daughter of an elder). When Driscoll wanted the man to sign a new agreement which would require him to reveal all of his sexual sins to the pastor, the man chose to leave the church. The story gets more bizarre then as Driscoll posted online to Mars Church members how they should ostracize the departed member, including what contact with him was and was not permissible. Hmm, that doesn’t sound like the Jesus I read about in the Gospel. Once again the church exercising control over the congregation. I was speaking a friend the other day who was defending use of covenant agreements at his church by saying, “membership has rules.” At issue was the punishment of members for not tithing adequately according to the pastor. No discussion was had with any of them prior to their expulsion from the membership. Just the heavy hammer of church justice devoid of any grace and mercy of Christ. The problem with the rationale my loyally tithing friend was using is that who gets to decide what the parameters are? Pastors should not have that much control. Many will answer that the board is elected but the reality is that most boards simply rubber stamp the pastor. Here is what is missing in all of this. They are supposed to represent the members, not abuse them. In the parable of the 99 and 1 we do not see Jesus leaving the pen door open and kicking out sheep that disagree with Him. This is one of the end results of the seeker friendly, purpose driven church models. The primacy of God is superseded by the primacy of the church building. The key verses today state clearly that anything above our word is from the enemy. This imperative is repeated in the Book of James. I have no problem with churches adhering to Biblical standards and expecting the same from their members. There is no issue with appropriate church discipline as well because the Bible supports that. I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother.You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship. – 1Corinthians 5: 1-2 (NLT) Do you notice the difference though? Paul is outraged at the SIN of someone in the fellowship. This would be akin to someone today bringing their girlfriend to church every Sunday even though everyone knows he is still married! In the following letter to this church, Paul reinstates this brother. It is about correcting the sin and seeing repentance. Driscoll would have been ok if he had not sought to publicly embarrass someone who has already decided to leave the church! Furtick is not even close to being right as his covenant agreement is designed to protect himself and the building he calls home. It has nothing to do with the things of God and he can call me a hater all he likes. It is a badge of honor to be called a hater for daring to support the Bible and the living God. The example of the covenant agreement from my friend is wrong because it was wielded as a weapon against the very people leadership should be supporting; without cause, mercy, or grace. This may come as a shock to some mega-pastors but it is not about you. It is not about the individual church building you are trying to expand using carnal and secular logic and following the advice of unsaved leadership experts. God gives the increase and if it doesn’t come from God then YOU will have to manage it. As leaders we will have to answer for EVERY sheep entrusted to us; not just the ones who agreed with us. Not just the ones who sang kumbya. Not just the ones who were willing to sign our covenant agreements. It is things like this that make people leave organized religion altogether. They wander away from the faith and we are still responsible for them. Do you think for one minute that when we stand before Jesus Christ that He is going to accept the answer that they refused to sign a covenant agreement? Or had a complaint about our church? Dear Lord, forgive us. Rev. Anthony.