Fulfill what you vow


When you make a vow to God, don’t delay fulfilling it, because he does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth bring guilt on you, and do not say in the presence of the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry with your words and destroy the work of your hands?

Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 (CSB)

God takes vows seriously and there are consequences for vow breaking.

This Scripture passage is good to remember because our culture wants to tell us that it is OK to walk away from something that was vowed. In our society, we are no longer astonished by how often marriage vows are broken, even among church leaders. We have too much evidence that a pattern of seeing vows as non-binding has crept into the church.

In the denomination to which I currently belong, all ordained leaders, whether ruling elders (lay leaders) or teaching elders (pastors), take a vow to act in accordance with the constitution of the church.

But there are some in the church who feel that they are not bound by that constitution and can ignore the parts that they don’t like or don’t want to follow. They feel free to assume that the rules were written for a different kind of church or don’t apply to them for some other reason.

And, to my amazement, they ignore those vows seemingly without remorse or pangs of conscience. They cite “reasons” as to why they have the freedom to operate outside the boundaries they vowed to uphold. They claim to be justified in their behavior.

I have one church in mind as I write this.

Large numbers of people have left that church, including over one-third of the elder board because of their inability to bring correction to the problem. It is likely that the general membership does not know that the remaining leaders have such a cavalier attitude toward the standards they claim to uphold. Yet, many members have expressed a sense that “something is not quite right.”

The leaders that remain are trying to hold it together, but how can such a weak foundation support the structure they are trying to build upon it? How can we expect God to bless and grow a ministry that does not hold to its vows? One cannot build something healthy on a foundation of deception.

It seems to me that there are two legitimate options for that church. One option is that the leaders can admit that they do not intend to follow the constitution and bring it to a vote of the membership to withdraw from the denomination. There is no dishonor in acknowledging that they have had a change of heart in these matters.

The second option is to repent and begin to fulfill what they have vowed no matter the difficulty entailed in doing so. This would involve active participation in, and submission to, the local presbytery.

To pay lip service to denominational standards while not complying with them is not a legitimate option, but I fear is the path that will be chosen because it is the path they have been on. Nothing that has been said by the leaders indicates of a change in heart.

I hope I am wrong.

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