Author: 
Jon Grano
Date Given: 
October 25, 2009

Introduced by written motion at the Fall Quarterly Strategy Meeting October 25, 2009
To be voted on at the Annual Meeting December 20, 2009

The following written motion is being recommended by the elders to the congregation for action at our December 20, 2009 Annual Meeting. It recommends several updates to Bethlehem’s Relational Commitments document. The changes fall into two general categories: 1) editorial changes; 2) changes of substance.

Motion:

The elders are introducing a written motion at tonight’s Fall Quarterly Strategy Meeting (October 25, 2009), to be acted on at Bethlehem’s 2009 Annual Meeting (December 20, 2009), that recommends the congregation amend our Bethlehem Relational Commitments document to “include changes as specified in the proposed update to Bethlehem’s Relational Commitments document dated October 6, 2009.”

Background:

  • July 24, 2008: Elders introduced several constitutional and by-laws changes at Summer Quarterly Strategy Meeting, which included a recommendation to adopt Bethlehem Relational Commitments (a “Bethlehemized” version of Peacemaker’s standard Relational Commitments for churches) “by reference” into our by-laws.
  • December 14, 2008: Congregation approved constitutional and by-laws changes, including adoption of Bethlehem Relational Commitments
  • First quarter 2009: Elders received suggestions for improvements from various members of Bethlehem April 18, 2009: Several elders, staff members, and members met with Ken Sande (president of Peacemakers) when he preached at Bethlehem, to discuss the Relational Commitments as adopted and suggested changes
  • May 26, 2009: Elders appointed sub-committee for "Constitutional Issues, including Relational Commitments", consisting of Jon Grano and David Mathis). Jeff Sprinkel and others provide valuable input.
  • September 2009: Bethlehem received initial feedback from Ken Sande on possible improvements to Relational Commitments document, and had several additional teleconference meetings with Ken as we considered ways to improve the document for both Bethlehem and other churches.
  • October 6, 2009: Elder sub-committee presented updated version of Bethlehem Relational Commitments document to elders (dated 10/6/2009). Update is approved, and recommended for presentation to congregation (to be introduced at Fall Quarterly Strategy Meeting, and voted on at Annual Meeting)
  • October 25, 2009: Written motion from elders introduced, to be voted on December 20, 2009 (Annual Meeting). The associated changes are detailed in a "track changes" document available via Bethlehem’s website.

Most of the changes are editorial in nature (consistent capitalization, standardized use of ESV for all Scripture references, correcting punctuation, etc.). These changes occurred after careful review by David Mathis, Amanda Knoke, Linda Lafrombois, and others. Other editorial changes try to improve, clarify, and simplify language, while still others remove words or even sections thought to be less important or too wordy.

Several of the changes are more substantial. These include rewording of several bullet items within various Commitments, as well as inclusion of three new clarifying footnotes. One of these footnote changes removes the "Tale of Two Families" from the body of the document (and thus from the By-Laws), and instead references the illustrative story via footnote as a separate document available on our website.

These changes are not perfect - additional improvements may be considered in future updates - but we have an increasingly strong sense that they are better than the version approved last December, and on that basis we recommend that Bethlehem go forward with these changes in 2009.

Details:

  1. Introduction section (pp. 2-1 and 2-2)
    1. Editorial:
      • Standardized use of ESV translation (James 4:1-2)
      • Improve, clarify, and simplify wording. For example, the 1st sentence in the 1st
        paragraph was updated to read:
        1. Old: The following Commitments and Church Covenant are designed to help the people who are members of our church relate to one another in a way that honors God and promotes authentic relationships. …
        2. New: The following Relational Commitments are designed to help the members of Bethlehem relate to one another in a way that honors God and promotes authentic relationships. …
    2. Substantial:
      • Clarify wording in last bullet item:
        1. Old: Finally, they reduce our church’s exposure to legal liability by clearly establishing our relational practices and by affirming our mutual commitment to resolve conflict biblically.
        2. New: Finally, they reduce our church’s exposure to legal liability by clearly describing our relational practices and by giving all who attend our church the opportunity to be informed of and give their consent to these biblical practices.
      • Added footnote #4: “Conscience clause”
        4. Embracing these Relational Commitments does not imply that you affirm each and every explanatory comment, biblical interpretation, or resource mentioned in this document, but rather that you agree to support and follow the specific action steps set forth in sections entitled “Commitment to ….” If your conscience prevents you from affirming a particular concept or commitment in this document, you may request a special waiver of that provision.
  2. A Tale of Two Families section (old pp. 2-3 and 2-4)
    1. Editorial:
      • Removed this section from body of document, and replaced with footnote reference
  3. Commitment to Peacemaking and Reconciliation section (new pp. 2-3 and 2-4):
    1. Editorial:
      • Standardized use of ESV translation (James 4:1-2)
      • Improve, clarify, and simplify wording. For example, the 4th bullet in the “Personal Peacemaking” section was updated to use “intentional” language so that it now reads:
        1. Old: We will refrain from all gossip, backbiting, and slander (Eph. 4:29-32). If we have a problem with others, we will talk to them, not about them.
        2. New: We will seek to refrain from all gossip, backbiting, and slander (Eph. 4:29-32). If we have a problem with others, we intend to talk to them, not about them.
    2. Substantial:
      1. Clarify wording in “Assisted Peacemaking” section (first and last bulleted points):
        1. First bullet:
          a. Old: When two of us cannot resolve a conflict privately, we will seek the mediation of wise people in our church and listen humbly to their counsel (Matt. 18:16; Phil. 4:2-3). If our dispute is with a church leader, we will look to other leaders for assistance.
          b. New: When two or more of us cannot resolve a conflict privately - whether it’s personal or has church, business, or even legal implications - we will obey God’s command to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) by looking to our church for assistance and cooperating with our leaders or wise people they recommend to resolve the matter through biblical mediation or arbitration (Matt. 18:16; 1 Cor. 6:1-8)
        2. Last bullet:
          a. Old: If we have a legal dispute with or within our church and cannot resolve it internally through the steps given above, we will obey God’s command not to go into the civil court (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Instead, we will submit the matter to mediation and, if necessary, legally binding arbitration, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Institute for Christian Conciliation, a division of Peacemaker Ministries (www.Peacemaker.net).
          b. New: If we have a dispute with or within our church as a corporate body and cannot resolve it internally through the steps given above, we will make every effort to resolve our  differences through biblical mediation or arbitration before we resort to other processes
        3. Added footnote: Nothing in this section (Commitment to Peacemaking and Reconciliation) requires individuals to relinquish any legal rights. It simply affirms that each of us is committed to obeying God’s teaching in passages like Matthew 18:16, Ephesians 4:1-3, Rom. 12:18, and 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 and will make every biblically appropriate effort to resolve our differences within the body of Christ before resorting to any other processes, including civil litigation.
  4. Commitment to Preserving Marriages section (pp. 2-5 through 2-8):
    1. Editorial:
      • Standardized use of ESV translation (Matt. 19:6, Luke 17:3-4)
      • Improve, clarify, and simplify wording. For example, the last sentence of the second
        paragraph was changed to read:
        1. Old: We want all of you to know that you are welcome in our church
        2. New: Whatever the circumstances, we welcome everyone to Bethlehem – single, married, and divorced.
    2. Substantial:
      i. None
  5. Commitment to Protecting our Children section (p. 2-9):
    1. Editorial:
      1. Standardized use of ESV translation (Prov. 27:12)
      2. Improve, clarify, and simplify wording. For example, the last sentence of the last paragraph (below) was removed, because it relates more to an FDD staff “best practices” issue, and less a commitment that all members make
        1. Deleted: We will also regularly review our policies, practices and procedures, to consider changes that might reduce the likelihood of such harm to children in the future
    2. Substantial:
      1. None
  6. Commitment to Biblical Counseling and Confidentiality section (pp. 2-10 and 2-11):
    1. Editorial:
      • Standardized use of ESV translation (Rom. 15:14, 1 Tim. 4:12)
      • Improve, clarify, and simplify wording. For example, in the last sentence of clarification point #1, the “voice” was corrected to be consistent with the rest of the document:
        1. Old: Thus, if a doctor provides “spiritual counsel” through the church, you need to understand that this is separate from his providing “medical counsel” at his clinic.
        2. New: Thus, if a doctor provides “spiritual counsel” through the church, we understand that this is separate from his providing “medical counsel” at his clinic.
    2. Substantial:
      • None
  7. Commitment to Accountability and Church Discipline section (pp. 2-12 through 2-15):
    1. Editorial:
      • Standardized use of ESV translation (Heb. 10:24, Rom. 5:8, Heb. 12:6, Rev. 3:19, Matt. 18:12-13, 2 Tim. 1:7, Gal. 6:1, Matt. 18:16, Heb. 12:10-11)
      • Improve, clarify, and simplify wording. For example, the last three paragraphs of section A (“Accountability and Discipline Are Signs of God’s Love”), were removed, the first two because they were deemed unnecessarily wordy, and the third because it relates to elders and leaders of Bethlehem, which is better defined in the constitutional and by-laws list of qualifications of elders and deacons.
    2. Substantial:
      • None
  8. We invite you to become a member of our church section (p. 16):
    1. Editorial:
      • Standardized use of ESV translation (Matt. 19:6)
      • Improve, clarify, and simplify wording. Two examples:
        1. First two paragraphs were combined, after moving references to two books on the importance of church membership to new footnote #13:
        1. For more on the importance of church membership, see Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Body of Christ; the third chapter of Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ; and John’s Piper sermon “How Important Is Church Membership?” available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2008/2989_How_Important_Is_Church_Membership/
        2. Third paragraph was removed, as an informal description of the nature of a membership class was not seen as appropriate for a by-laws document: a. We invite you to attend our membership class. During that class you can learn more about our church’s doctrines and vision for ministry, and about the privileges and responsibilities of formal membership. Attending the class will not obligate you to become a member.
    2. Substantial:
      • None

See below for relevant description of Bethlehem By-Laws which pertain to amending the Relational Commitments:

ARTICLE VIII Relational Commitments

Relationships in the church will be guided and governed by the biblical principles set forth in a document entitled "Relational Commitments,” which is incorporated into these Bylaws by reference. This document establishes our commitments related to peacemaking and reconciliation, accountability and church discipline, preserving marriages, biblical counseling and confidentiality, and the protection of our children. These Commitments shall apply to members of our church, and may be amended from time to time in the same way that these Bylaws may be amended.

ARTICLE IX Amendments

GENERAL.

Amendments to these By-Laws may be introduced through written motion at any quarterly meeting, with the exception of Article II(4)(b) regarding amending the Elder Affirmation of Faith which as previously stated may only be amended by a recommendation of the Council of Elders to the church. Amendments shall not be acted on until the following quarterly or annual meeting, at which time an affirmative vote of the majority of the membership of the Church, or a two-thirds majority of those members present at the meeting and voting shall be required for acceptance; provided, however, that at least ten percent (10%) of the membership of the Church be present at such meeting, and that notice of the proposed change or amendment be given from the pulpit on at least two Sundays and in writing to the resident membership in the interim period between the meetings.

For further details, and to read all these changes in context, see the “track changes” version of Bethlehem’s Constitution and By-Laws document, as well as the newly proposed “Bethlehem Relational Commitments” document dated 10/6/2009, available on our website.

© 2014 Bethlehem Baptist Church