Five Reasons to Say “No” to a Church Covenant by Wade Burleson

Note: Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Enid church in Enid, Oklahoma, a Baptist church. Wade has succinctly explained why Christians should say ‘no’ to signing Membership Covenants.

Five Reasons to Say “No” to a Church Covenantby Wade Burleson ©

“But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all … All you need to say is
simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Village Church in Dallas, Texas recently placed a member named Karen Root  under church disciplinebecause she annulled her marriage with a confessed child pornographer.  A letter Village Church elders sent to members last Saturday (May 23, 2015) gave their logic for placing Karen under church discipline. The elders believed they had no choice because Karen violated the church covenant that she signed when she joined Village Church. Specifically, Karen violated the covenant by not getting church leaders’ permission to file for an annulment. The elders wrote:

“…Karen filed for an immediate annulment of her marriage to Jordan apart from the counsel of the church… (by) signing the Membership Covenant, a member agrees … to receive our care…”

Karen had respectfully requested withdrawal of membership from Village Church, but the elders wouldn’t allow it because she had not sought their counsel. She refused to come “under their care,” so they put Karen under discipline. No Village Church member under discipline, wrote Village church authorities, can “withdraw” from membership. Therefore, Village pastors/elders “refused to accept” Karen’s request to withdraw from Village membership.

This is an ugly situation all the way around. Village Church leaders–regardless of the vocal criticism they receive–believe they are men of integrity. They are, in their minds, fulfilling their pastoral role and abiding by the church covenant they demanded everyone sign before they became members. Some who are not members of Village are blaming Karen for signing a church covenant. Nobody should blame Karen. She, like other evangelicals, probably had no idea of the ultimate consequences of signing church covenants. The guilt lies with church authorities who demanded signatures from prospective members that turned their spiritual formation and maturation over to mere men instead of the Holy Spirit.

Read Village’s Church Covenant. It’s chilling when it comes to the authority of elders and church leaders. Here are some of the phrases that the prospective member must read and then sign, vowing their allegiance to obey:

  • I understand the importance of submission to church leadership
  • I will submit to the elders and other appointed leaders of the church
  • I will agree to walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse

I’ve written several articles stating that the major problem in modern evangelical Christianity is theauthoritarianism of evangelical leaders. I have sought to explain how pastors/elders “twist the Scriptures” and demand “obedience and submission” to this alleged authority. Jesus tells us that that true ‘spiritual leaders’ are only servants, never masters. Yet, evangelical leaders seem not to be listening to Jesus.

With this in mind, I would like to give you five reasons why I would never sign a church membership covenant in order to become a member.

(1). A church covenant makes the Holy Spirit irrelevant in my life.

We are called in Scripture to be led “by the Spirit.” Though there is counsel in the wisdom of many, when I sign a church covenant I abdicate my right to hear from the Spirit myself. When Karen Root resigned her membership from Village, she stated“I have sought the Lord diligently and several godly people I trust…”That wasn’t good enough for Village elders; Karen didn’t seek them out. A church covenant fetters one’s ability to seek the Spirit’s wisdom and advice from godly people other than the elders and pastors of the church that demanded you to sign.
(2). A church covenant replaces my one true Mediator with inferior mediators.
I have only One High Priest who stands between me and God – Jesus, the Son of God – and anyone whocomes between me and Jesus as I walk by His counsel and His wisdom is a detriment to my growth. A true servant in the Kingdom will only and always point me  to Jesus Christ for my marching orders, and willnever demand that I accept their orders as from God. When I sign a church covenant I’m in essence handing over the authority of Jesus Christ in my life to mere men.
(3). A church covenant makes the institutional church equivalent to the Kingdom of God.
 A 501c-3 non-profit institutional church plays an important role in the Kingdom of God, but the local church is not the kingdom of God.  Anyone who knows history understands that institutional churches who demand spiritual authority over individual believers have wrongly placed their institution on par with God’s Kingdom. For example, the great 17th century Baptist hymn writer and theologian Benjamin Keach decided to write a book for children containing evangelical truth. Authorities of the Church of England sought to execute him for writing that infant baptism was not biblical. On what basis could the Church of England kill Benjamin Keach? Answer: The same basis Village Church can consign Karen Root to church discipline. Leaders of the 17th century Church of England and the 21st century Village Church both believe their institution is equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Their leaders falsely believe that they hold the keys of life and death and of heaven and hell. It isn’t so. Don’t sign a covenant and perpetuate this dangerous lie.
(4). A church covenant by its nature is designed to protect an authoritarian structure.
When a Christian signs a church covenant that demands submission to elders/pastors, he or she is enabling that institutional church to maintain an authoritarian structure. Rather than the weak and wounded sheep being the focus of attention within the church, most modern covenants are written with phrases that seem intent on bringing church members into “submission to church authorities.” Quickly scan any church covenant, If “submission to church elders” is anywhere found, then know the covenant is designed to keep control of members and maintain the authority of the leaders. Paul Burleson points out that any institutional church more concerned with supporting their authoritarian system of control than healing their wounded members is sending signals of weak spiritual leadership. Jesus said that the world uses titles, positions of honor, and seeks to “exercise authority over those they rule,” but “this should never be the caseamong His followers (Mark 10:35-45).
(5). A church covenant requires something more than a simple “Yes” or “No.”
Jesus said that anything you have to do that goes beyond your simple words of “Yes” and “No” is from the “evil one” (Matthew 5:37).  When I join a church, I will forever refuse to sign any document, whether it be a “tithing card,” or “a membership covenant,” or any other document that requires a vow from me regarding my future performance or activity. In fact, if I ever attend a church that requires such a thing, I will refuse to join on the basis of principle. I will live freely, speak with integrity, and rest in the simplicity of following Jesus and living by the Spirit. I will not be fettered by written vows to a church that is seeking to protect their authority over me.
I need no covenant to guarantee that God will finish the work He’s begun in me.
<a href="">Wade Burleson, President</a>

Wayne Grudem & CBMW don’t seem interested in reducing domestic abuse — A Cry For Justice

Wayne Grudem and CBMW seem to be uninterested in correcting the gaps and flaws in complementarianism which make it easy for abusive husbands to get away with abuse. Here are my experiences and observations about Wayne Grudem which make me say this. 1. Approximately three years ago, one of our guest posters informed us that […]

via Wayne Grudem & CBMW don’t seem interested in reducing domestic abuse — A Cry For Justice

Top Ten Signs of a Potentially Abusive Church © by Elizabeth Esther

This helpful excerpt is by author Elizabeth Esther whose excellent book Girl at The End of the World I bought, read, and recommend.  Elizabeth Esther’s list is important to keep in mind to avoid an abusive church. You can follow Elizabeth on social media.  – Velour

Top Ten Signs of a Potentially Abusive Church

© by Elizabeth Esther


One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is: what are some signs of a spiritually abusive church? My book, “Girl at The End of the World,” tells my story of growing up in an abusive church. But I thought it might be helpful if I shared a list of “red-flag” warning signs here on my site as well. Thank you, as always, for reading and sharing. EE.

  1. Personality Centric: a pastor whose charming, charismatic, intense, persuasive and intelligent personality holds unquestioned sway over his/her congregation. He/she is treated like a celebrity. Not held accountable. Not held to same standard of morality as the rest of the congregation.
  2. Operates Independently: no oversight, doesn’t answer to an established denomination, there is no way for grievances to be filed or addressed, even in cases of outright abuse the police or civil authorities are not called.
  3. Engulfment: “true members” of the church devote their WHOLE lives to the church, center all their activities around church activities, discouraged to have friends outside the church, family members who express concern about the church are cut off, leaving the church is the same as leaving God.
  4. Busyness: a plethora of required/mandatory-without-saying-it’s-mandatory activities that fill up the weekly schedule, giving time and energy for free to various hard labor projects (cleaning and cooking for pastor’s family, for example).
  5. Stalking: Big Brother-type monitoring is called “just keeping each other accountable.” Calling to “just check in” if a member misses church meeting. Approving clothing, daily decisions, watching online activity for “problematic” opinions and posts–all under the guise of “spiritual care” for the person’s soul.
  6. Coded Language: an ingrown church has developed a special, insider language/lingo that only those who have been there for a long time understand. Sometimes common, everyday words are given different definitions particular to that church; ie. “keep sweet” is a phrase used in some polygamist circles that means women should behave in a church-approved way.
  7. Unrealistic Promises: members of an unhealthy church are often seduced by big talk about all the wealth, blessings and riches God will give them if they just devote their lives to this church. Delivery on these promises is rare. Those who do not experience God’s blessings are told they have “weak faith.”
  8. Courting Rituals: a man must seek leadership approval (above parental approval) before seeking “to court” (or date) a woman, courting couples must follow a prescribed set of rules according to arbitrary traditions established by the church; ie. no kissing until the wedding day.
  9. Shunning: if someone leaves the church, church leadership requires all other members to ignore this person until they “repent.” New church members are told to shun family members who don’t support the church. Parents are told to shun “rebellious” teenagers. Husbands are to shun “unsubmissive” wives. The church comes first in all relationships.
  10. “The Ends Justify the Means:”  a spiritually abusive church justifies all kinds of oppressive behavior by saying they only desire to truly serve and love God. “We’re doing this for Jesus, so it’s OK!” ; ie. spanking children to “break the will” because the end result is a child who will love and serve God for his/her whole life. Be wary of a church that emphasizes “purity of doctrine” over the WAY it treats people. Methods and processes matter. The ends do NOT justify the means.

girl at the end of the world

Book Recommendation – Fraudulent Authority by Wade Burleson

Used with permission.

A wonderful book that I bought and would recommend. – Velour

“Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian leader, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. Pagans will seek offices that grant them power and authority in order to exert their leadership (lordship) over others. Jesus said that His people were not to seek to rule over others, but to serve others selflessly and love others unconditionally. When a church or home gives in to Fraudulent Authority, the people of Christ become more pagan in practice than Christian. Fraudulent Authority teaches you how to recognize this dangerous practice of Christians seeking to exert power and authority over people in evangelical churches and homes and what you can do about it.”

From the Author

“I’ve written this book for two groups of people. First, this book is for those conscientious Christians who are caught in the vicious trap of spiritual abuse perpetrated by authoritarian pastors who “rule over” their congregations, subtly suggesting that disobedience to “the church” and to those in “spiritual authority” is disobedience to God. Second, I’ve written this book for fellow Christians who love their pastor and church, but have not yet considered the consequences of signing a church covenant, handing over their spiritual formation and accountability to men rather than to Christ.  It’s my belief that authoritarianism in the church is the greatest problem facing evangelicals in the 21st century. Fraudulent Authority gives you a set of biblical principles whereby you can be aware of and stay away from churches and pastors that demand submission to their authority.”

Fraudulent Authority: Pastors Who Seek to Rule Over Others by [Burleson, Wade]


From Amazon: “Biography

Wade Burleson is a pastor, writer and historian who lives in Enid, Oklahoma. He is a native Oklahoman, born in 1961 in Oklahoma City, but he spent his early years in Texas. His wife, Rachelle, DNP, APN-CNS, serves as a Professor of Nursing at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Wade has served as Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Enid since 1992.

Wade has written over 2000 articles on theology, history and current events, many of which have been published in professional periodicals. He is an expert on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and is working on a team assisting Booth’s descendants in attempting to obtain DNA from the “body in the barn” the government identified as John Wilkes Booth. He writes on theology as part of his career, but enjoys writing narratives of history as a hobby.

Wade also gives multi-media talks to civic, genealogical, and charitable organizations. His most requested multi-media presentations include (1). White Gold: Thomas Jefferson and the Great Salt Plains; (2). A Transient Abode: Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and Boston Corbett; (3). The Greatest Game Ever Played: Carlisle and Army and the Origins of the NFL; and (4). Red Earth Courage: The First Secret Mission of the Civil War.

A student of history and genealogy, Wade has written extensively for his immediate family on the lives of their ancestors. On the maternal side of his family, Wade is the direct grandson (16x) of Geoffrey Chaucer (AD c. 1343 – 1400), the father of English literature. His maternal great-great grandfather, Charles T. Cherry (1801 – 1893), immigrated to America from London, England in 1831 as a missionary to pioneer Sunday Schools in the Mississippi Valley. Charles later worked as an agent for the American Sunday School Union and became an author of several Christian books written for children. Wade’s paternal ancestors, the Burlesons, also immigrated to America from England, settling in the Carolinas during the early 1700’s. Wade’s great-grandfather (7x), John Crawford Burleson (1729-1776) served under George Washington and died in the Battle of Trenton in December 1776. Wade is a cousin to Rufus Columbus Burleson (1823-1901), President of Baylor University and Pastor of FBC Houston, and to General Edward Burleson (1798-1851), former Vice-President of the Republic of Texas. Wade’s maternal grandfather, F.T.D. Cherry (1912-1970), was an All-Conference tight end and track star for the University of Oklahoma and became a Christian evangelist. Wade’s father, Paul Burleson, served as pastor of eight churches in Oklahoma and Texas from 1950-2007, including the influential Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas from 1976-1982. Wade’s mother, Mary Burleson, is a retired Senior Editor for Random House.

Wade’s passion for reading has led him to become an antiquarian book collector. His favorite books of other centuries include Isaac Newton’s The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms; John Gill’s God’s Everlasting Love to His Elect; and Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Wade’s favorite modern books include Laura Hildebrand’s Unbroken, Paul Young’s Crossroads, and Eric Metaxes’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Other than reading, Wade enjoys time spent with friends and family. He learned from his friend author of The Shack, Paul Young, a principle that guides his life: “There is no moment and no person more important than this moment and this person before whom I stand.”

Wade believes every person has a story, and his non-profit ministry Istoria is designed to intersect other persons’ stories with the Greatest Story ever told in order to develop a deep love and abiding love for His Story.”