so¬â??cial – /’sO-sh&l/ con¬â??tract – ‘kâ??§n-”trakt … local church membership …

Rather, the behavior of Beirutis suggested that man’s natural state is as a social animal who will do everything he can to seek out and create community and structures when the larger government or society disappears. Beirut was divided into a mosaic of neighborhoods, each tied together by interlocking bonds of family, friendship, and religion. When the larger, macro Beirut society and government splintered, people’s first instinct was to draw together into micro-societies based on neighborhood, apartment,
religious, or family loyalties. These micro-societies provided some of the services, structure, and comfort that were normally offered by the government. They also helped to keep people alive, upright, and honest, sometimes even in spite of themselves. (Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, p.42-42)

In the paragraph prior to the one quoted above, Thomas Friedman makes the following statement,

… when Beirut society seemed to have disentegrated and when all formal law and order virtually disappeared, the first instinct of most Beirutis was not to go it alone, to rape their neighbor’s wife or take the opportunity to rob the corner grocery store. … (From Beirut to Jerusalem,p.42)

The observation cuts several ways. Somewhere those who faced the crisis of civil war or Israeli invasion some moral fabric instilled from either family or religious background overrode the tendency of most to give into anarchy. The roots of such action must have lain in an unwritten understanding of a “social contract.” We could suggest this social contract and its benefits is what drove the majority of Beirutis to ” … draw together in micro-societies based on neighborhood, apartment, religious, or
family loyalties.”

Sometimes common language and its nuances must be defined in order to subvert tendencies toward agreement that is really no agreement once the terms are more clearly defined. Rather than create my own definitions I use Merriam-Webster online to set out the definitions for social and contract.

Main Entry: 1so‰??cial

Pronunciation: 'sO-sh&l

Function: adjective

Etymology: Middle English, from Latin socialis, from socius companion, ally, associate; akin to Old English secg man, companion, Latin sequi to follow — more at SUE

1 : involving allies or confederates <the Social War between the Athenians and their allies>
2 a : marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with one’s friends or associates <leads a very full social life> b : SOCIABLE c : of, relating to, or designed for sociability <a social club>
3 : of or relating to human society , the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society <social institutions>
4 a : tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others of one’s kind : GREGARIOUS b : living and breeding in more or less organized communities <social insects> c of a plant : tending to grow in groups or masses so as to form a pure stand
5 a : of, relating to, or based on rank or status in a particular society <a member of our social set> b : of, relating to, or characteristic of the upper classes c : FORMAL

6 : being such in social situations <a social drinker>

and,

Main Entry: 1con‰??tract

Pronunciation: 'kâ??§n-"trakt

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin contractus, from contrahere to draw together, make a contract, reduce in size, from com- + trahere to draw
1 a : a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties; especially : one legally enforceable b : a business arrangement for the supply of goods or services at a fixed price <make parts on contract> c : the act of marriage or an agreement to marry
2 : a document describing the terms of a contract
3 : the final bid to win a specified number of tricks in bridge
4 : an order or arrangement for a hired assassin to kill someone <his enemies put out a contract on him>

Most would prefer “covenant relationship.” However, today the use of the word covenant is somewhat foreign excepting its use in housing developments where homeowners desiring to build a home in certain developments must abide by certain covenants. For example, in the development northeast of our church there are certain covenants regarding how many “out buildings” one may construct and of what type of construction it may be. At that, Merriam-Webster Online nearly makes contract and covenant synonyms in modern
parlance. And, after all our problem is often trying to bring old parlance forward and spending more time developing the import of the preferred use of the “chosen” word. Here, for the sake of common language, social contract under the definitions offered suffices. [This paragraph is an illustration of just what it would take to work through the selection of an old word when a more familiar word may be used to make the point thereby making the point rather than the definition of the word the point.]

The recent issues raised by Henderson Hills Baptist Church’s “non-vote” prompted many to consider “church membership”; particularly “local church membership.” Their attempts to talk in terms of “raising the bar” for membership often got lost in misunderstanding, that bordered on an egregious lack of reading their offered material. Several times in the quake left by the debate, yes the discussion was often of seismic proportions. We Baptists know that when we are not as certain as we think, the louder we
get the more convinced we become and maybe even those who listen to us will be impacted. But, I digress.

The baby Jesus was taken to the Temple as was the custom of his day for parents to take their firstborn to be presented to the Lord, an acknowledgment of the “strong hand of the Lord.” (Ex.13:14) We know from Levitical Law an offering for ceremonial cleansing was required after the birth of any child. These actions signified an adherence to contract/covenant directing the spiritual formation of both parent and child. Today many “dedicate” their children before God and a local community of faith. Some denominations
offer something of a more formal contract wherein parents publically commit to no other Kingdom but God’s Kingdom in the raising of their child and the local church representing the Kingdom of God acknowledges its responsibility to come along side the family to assist in the spiritual formation of the child. This becomes something of a social contract. Certainly it is spiritual in nature. But, the practical expression comes in the form of social interdependence built around an agreed upon telos for the child
and family, that they be raised in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

We tend to think of local church membership in terms of the contract an individual makes. Our context stipulates the confession “Jesus Is Lord” as signifying relationship to the King and His Kingdom. Looking for a local community of faith has generally be considered from the side of the one looking. “What are you looking for in a church?” Our response tends toward programs and services. However, the commitment is to relationship and the interdependence portrayed by the metaphor of the Church as “body.” In such
a context, the social aspects come to the fore. The needs of the individual become intertwined with the needs of the group for that same individual. Thus the notion of contract. Two parties come to understand the mutuality of commitment.

Two great fears mark modern church membership. For the individual the fear by many is that they may simply be food for the “local church machine.” You could say, the things to satisfy a Matrix. Many young people want to know just what it means to be a member. When we play to anything other than relational interdependence wherein we live out the rule and reign of God so as to illustrate the Kingdom for the glory of God and blessing of the world we foster both the comodification of the Gospel and the depersonalization
thereby created.

The church fears being misunderstood as something of a department store to be picked over of the best sale or a cafeteria from which one chooses to take some and leave others. Rather than being seen as a companion for the journey of life wherein we join together for the good of the Kingdom of God and the living out of the “new creation” in all of its implications we continue down the road of obsolete institutionalization.

People experience civil war and invasion. We really know we cannot go it alone. The Church will either be that community where meaningful living occurs or the building people continue to drive past as though observing a monument to a bygone day. My mentor recently wrote a piece entitled, “The Church Is Gone! When Did She Leave.” Were we to redicover the social nature of our relationships and abandon our penchant for things my way, I may not be so absorbed by the style of worship and the structure of small
groups and opt for the interdependence of the kind of relationships expressive of a healthy body.

Boy am I glad when my eyes work right and my legs support my desire to play basketball … and when I discovered Crocs eliminated the flareups associated with my “Planter’s” something or other I was quick to respond … that fusing of those two vertebrae in my neck helped eliminate the disabling effect of a numb left arm … now if I could just figure out how to keep my hair I would sense it all working properly …at least we are all working together …

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.