A covenant is generally defined as “a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)
Within the Scriptures, we find a number of examples of covenants, some between God and man (Genesis 6; Genesis 9; Genesis 15; Ezekiel 20; Hosea 2; Jeremiah 31; Matthew 26), while others are solely between men (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 5). In some covenants, one party binds his or herself to fulfill the obligations of both sides of the agreement. In others, the parties are mutually bound to adhere to the obligations. While God’s covenant with the Church universal is an example of the former, the local church covenant represents the latter.
Fast forward through some of the church history and gradually, the church became something you were born into or maybe baptized into. You were a member of the church, a part of the church, regardless of whether or not you had actually trusted in Christ for salvation. This is why the Reformation was so huge in the 15th-16th centuries because people started breaking away from the official established church and saying, “No, this is not something you’re born into. You need to trust in Christ for salvation to be part of the church. Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.” So, what you had were believers who had trusted in Christ for salvation, who gathered together in congregations of people who said, “We are Christians, and we’re the church, not because we were born into something, but because we trusted Christ, and we’re following Christ.” These congregations would experience all kinds of persecution and trials as a result of breaking off from the established state picture of the church. So in the 15th – 18th centuries you have a lot of these churches that would establish covenants. It was a picture of a group of people who were saying, “We’re going to commit to one another. We’re going to uphold one another. We’re going to strengthen one another. We’re going to stand with one another.”
For us in our day, in our location, we are not facing the same kind of persecution and trials and I think because of that it can be easy to forget the need for the local body of believers and the need to be committed to a specific local body of believers. So I hope that we will be reminded of the necessity for each one of us to be in covenant with each other as a local church. We may not be experiencing physical persecution but certainly we are all being attacked spiritually and need the support and commitment of the local church.