Why Be A Covenanter? | J.G. Vos

The following is a short article by J.G. Vos (1903-1983) from the Blue Banner Faith and Life, a monthly magazine Vos published from 1946 to 1979 to “expound, defend, and apply the system of doctrine set forth in the Standards” of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). For Presbyterian and Reformed readers who are not “RP,” the question “Why Be A Covenanter?” could easily be adapted to “Why Be Reformed?,” or “Why Be Presbyterian?” Dr. Vos’s edifying and incisive answers demand the attention and self-analysis of anyone who belongs to a confessional Reformed church.

J.G. Vos (1903-1983)
Why Be A Covenanter?
Blue Banner Faith and Life (Jan. 1946)

Why be a Covenanter? The Reformed Presbyterian Church is a small, unpopular denomination with “old-fashioned” beliefs and strict principles. Why should we continue as members of this Church which differs from other denominations and is regarded as “queer” by so many people?

Not because of custom or family tradition.

Some people have remained Covenanters just because of tradition. They attend services and follow the Covenanter manner of worship just because they are in the habit of doing so. They cannot give any real Bible reasons for their Covenanter faith and practice. If you ask them why they do not vote in political elections, they can only reply that voting is against the principles of the Covenanter Church. [1] They are like the little girl who was asked why we do not have organs in our churches, she replied solemnly, “We don’t because we’re Covenanters, and Covenanters don’t!” The person who is a Covenanter merely because of custom or tradition is not really a Covenanter at heart. His loyalty is not a conscientious loyalty to the truth of God; it is merely a blind loyalty to church tradition. This is a very poor reason for being a Covenanter.

Not because of cowardice or People Pleasing.

There is such a thing as being a Covenanter because of cowardice, remaining in the Covenanter Church just because we lack the moral courage to get out of it. Sometimes people remain in the denomination because they are afraid to offend parents or relatives by leaving it and joining some other church. Persons who do not believe in the principles of the Covenanter Church, and who do not hesitate to violate some of these principles in practice on occasion, may remain nominal Covenanters for years, because they do not dare to make a change. For them to be nominal Covenanters is the path of least resistance. But of course it really is not honest to hold membership in the Covenanter Church unless we really accept its principles and intend to practice them in our life.

Not because of convenience.

For some people, it may be more convenient to be a Covenanter than to join some other church. A person may happen to live next door to a Covenanter church building. For others, it may be just the other way around: to be a Covenanter may involve a great deal of inconvenience, and even real sacrifice. A person may have to drive many miles to attend services in a Covenanter congregation. In some cases, it may be possible to attend Covenanter services but seldom. But inconvenience or convenience should never be the basis of our decision concerning church membership. We should join and support the church which we believe to be most faithful in witnessing for the truth, regardless of personal convenience or inconvenience. Our forefathers in Scotland suffered imprisonment, torture, and death in order to worship God as they believed right. At the risk of their lives they attended “conventicles” in the wilds of Scotland. Shall we, their descendants and spiritual heirs decide the question of our church membership according to our own convenience? God forbid!

But because of conviction!

The person who is really a Covenanter at heart is the person who is a member of the Covenanter Church because of conviction. This means not just human opinion or preference, but conviction of truth. The person who is a Covenanter because of conviction accepts the doctrine and principles of the Church, not merely because of the tradition or authority of the Church, but because he is convinced in his heart and mind that they really are the doctrines and principles of the Word of God, the Holy Bible. His loyalty is a loyalty to the written Word of God, He realizes that to be a member of a religious denomination means giving his testimony and his support, moral and financial, to the doctrines and principles of that denomination. Because he is convinced in his heart and mind that the Covenanter Church maintains a fuller and more faithful testimony for the truth of God than any other denomination, his conscience constrains him to be a member of the Covenanter Church. This kind of Covenanter is not a reed shaken by the wind; he is established firmly in his heart. He knows both what he believes, and why he believes it. He can give real Bible reasons for his belief. As a member of the Covenanter Church he is convinced, honest, and faithful to his obligations, regardless of inconvenience, unpopularity, or reproach. He will receive the reward of a conscientious and consistent Christian.

[1] Political dissent has not been the position of the RPCNA since 1967 (William J. Edgar, History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America 1920-1980 [Crown & Covenant Publications (2022)], p. 212).


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