My husband and I met in college and married about six months before I graduated. We came from similar backgrounds—our parents were followers of Jesus and active in church life—but we were from slightly different spaces on the spectrum of doctrine and biblical interpretation. My husband was from the Mennonite/Brethren branch of the family tree, and I was from a mainline evangelical church.
In the earliest years of our marriage, we tried to split the difference—doing short-term missionary service in Zambia with his denomination for the first two years, then attending my home church upon our return to California. Those were the years when our three babies arrived one after the other. When our kids were about three, five, and seven, we bought our first home in the foothills above Pasadena and searched for a neighborhood church where our kids could sing in the children’s choirs and grow up in a nearby youth ministry.
That’s how we found the Evangelical Covenant Church, our joint home for the past forty years. What a good place this has been for us. We discovered that here, all kinds of people are welcome, including people who sometimes come from very different places theologically.
I think it was the brevity and clarity of our Covenant Affirmations that sealed the deal for us. The first five spell out the “majors” of our faith—the saving grace of Jesus, the centrality of the word, the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, the integrity of the whole mission of the church, the church as community. And then number six—“the reality of our freedom in Christ”—that’s the one that hooked us.
We found room to hold different opinions, different interpretations of Scripture on any issue not central to that beautifully short list. We didn’t have to be carbon copies of one another to be in community together. That strong commitment to unity amidst diversity was the piece that cemented our connection to this particular tribe.
Later I was privileged to participate in planning and writing for the denomination in the area that was dearest to my heart and most in line with my gifts and call: making and deepening disciples. In addition to writing for a couple of the prayer retreat resources (do you know about these great gifts to your congregation?), I was also invited to join the group researching and writing the first Resource Paper in 2008 entitled “The Evangelical Covenant Church and the Bible.”*
This is a paper well worth reading; it serves as a seminal marker of how highly we value the written word of God and how we continue to agree to disagree on any interpretive question that is not central to salvation.
Over the 130 years of our existence, we’ve weathered some major points of disagreement, each time agreeing to come together in humility, repentance, and obedience to read that word again—to do the good, scholarly work, to pray and listen, to talk and deliberate, and to ask forgiveness when we’ve become rigid or overly argumentative. I recently re-read that paper myself, and these words spoke to my heart:
“It should cause us to pause before we make authoritative statements about a particular interpretation of a passage—especially if it is an interpretation on which Christians authentically disagree. Simply put: we sometimes get it wrong. When reading faithfully, we will often find the Bible challenging the way we live rather than affirming it.”
This is who we are—a people living in submission to the word of God, who also acknowledge that those committed to Jesus will not always agree on every interpretive point. What a gift this freedom is, a gift that builds bridges and encourages community, a gift that calls us to ever deeper discipleship, a gift that keeps us humble, open, gracious, and committed to staying together, without judgment or fear. Blest be the tie that binds us together in love.
*The resources mentioned in this column are available online at covchurch.org/resources under the heading “Discipleship.” Click both prayer and biblical literacy.