John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service (for today)

In 1775, John Wesley introduced a covenant service as an important part of spiritual life in the Methodist Societies. This renewal service was a time for the Methodists to gather annually in a time of self-examination, reflection, and dedication, wholly giving up themselves and renewing covenant with God. Repentance through confession and commitment was a key focus of the service, demanding humility from those willing to submit themselves to the dynamic words stated within the liturgy.

According to Wesley’s journal, though the covenant renewal service was held on various occasions throughout the year, by the end of his life, the service was observed typically on or the Sunday nearest January 1st. The covenant renewal service is a practice that continues in churches and Christian communities today, often near the beginning of the new year. It has undergone many revisions and adaptations, but its purpose as an evocative ceremony of commitment to ongoing discipleship and Christ-like character has always remained intact.

Presented here is a modern liturgical adaptation of the covenant service. The vocabulary and syntax have been updated to what would be more familiar in the world today. At the end of the service there are some notes on how to plan for the service. Our prayer is for this resource to be a means of grace for the church, bringing renewal in the hearts and lives of God’s children, freely giving everything to God’s pleasure and disposal.

The Service

The Greeting

Leader:     Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations

People:     You are the one true God who reigns forever.

Opening prayer

Leader:     Almighty God, You search our hearts and you see every part of us. All our desires are known to You, and from you no secrets are hidden. By the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, cleanse our hearts so we may perfectly love you and glorify Your holy name. We pray this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Leader:     Now as God’s dearly loved children, let us pray together:

People:    Our Father in heaven, holy is Your Name
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven
Give us today Your daily bread
And forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For the Kingdom, the power, and glory are Yours, both now and forever. Amen.

Scripture Lesson(s)

2 Kings 23:1-3
Psalm 50
1 Peter 1
John 15:1-8

The Proclamation

Leader:     Dearly loved brothers and sisters, the Christian life is a life found in Christ, redeemed from sin, and consecrated to God. We are those who have entered into this life and have been admitted into the new covenant of Jesus Christ. He is the Mediator of this covenant. He sealed it with His own blood so it would last forever.

On one side of this covenant stands God, who promises to give us new life in Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Every day God proves His goodness and grace to us, showing us that His promise still stands firm.

On the other side, we stand as those who promise to no longer live life for ourselves but instead to only live for Jesus Christ because He has loved us and given His life for us.

There are times in our lives when it is important for us to remember and reaffirm our promises and vows. In this same way, we come today to renew our covenant with God. Many generations have done this before us. Today we make the covenant our own, renewing with both joy and sincerity the covenant that binds us all to God.

The Confession

Leader:    We are those who seek to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we fall short. Let us now examine ourselves before God, humbly confessing our sins and submitting our hearts so that we do not deceive ourselves and cut ourselves away from God. Let us pray:

People:    Father God, You have set forth the way of life through Your Son Jesus Christ, whom You love dearly. We shamefully confess that we have been slow to learn of Him and have been reluctant to follow Him. You have spoken and called to us but we have not listened. You have revealed Your beauty to us, but we have been blind. You have stretched out Your hands to us through our friends, but we have passed by them. We have accepted Your gifts and offered little thanks. We are unworthy of Your unchanging love.

Leader:    We now confess to you our sins.
Please forgive us for the poverty of our worship…
for the selfishness of our prayers…
for our inconsistency and unbelief…
for the ways we neglect fellowship and Your grace…
for our hesitation to tell others about Christ….
for the ways we deceive others…

People:     Forgive us for when we waste time and when we misuse the gifts you have given us. Forgive us for when we have made excuses for the wrong things we have done and when we have purposefully avoided responsibility.

Leader:    Forgive us that we have been unwilling to overcome evil with good and that we have not been ready to carry our cross. Forgive us that we have not allowed Your love to work through us to help others and that we have not made their suffering our own. Forgive us for those times when instead of working for unity we made it hard for others to live with us because of our lack of forgiveness, inconsiderate judgment, and quick criticism.

People:    Forgive us for when we have not tried to reconcile with others and when we have been slow to seek redemption.

Leader:     Forgive us also for these sins that we silently confess to you now.

Words of Assurance and Pardon

Leader:     God, the Father of all mercies, is faithful to cleanse us from our sins and restore us to Christ’s image. Praise and glory be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

The Invitation

Leader:     Let us gathered here before the Lord now in covenant commit ourselves to Christ as his servants. Let us give ourselves to Him so that we may fully belong to Him. Jesus Christ has left us with many services to be done. Some of these services are easy and honorable, but some are difficult and disgraceful. Some line up with our desires and interests, others are contrary to both. In some we please both Christ and ourselves, but then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.

Jesus Christ, we offer You this prayer:

People:    Let me be Your servant. Let me follow your commands. I will no longer follow my own desires. I give myself completely to your will.

Leader:     The power and strength to live as true servants is given to us in Christ. We accept the place and work that He gives us, acknowledging that He alone will be our reward.

People:     I am not my own. I am Yours alone. Make me into what You will. Rank me with those You will. Put me to use for You. Put me to suffering for You. Let me be employed for You. Let me be laid aside for You. Let me be lifted high for You. Let me be brought low for You. Let me be full or let me be empty. Let me have all things or let me have nothing. With a willing heart, I freely give everything to Your pleasure and disposal.

Leader:     Christ is Savior to those who are His true servants. He is the source of all salvation to those who obey. To be His servant is to consent fully to His will. Christ accepts nothing less. Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.

Now confirm this truth in holy covenant. Make it a reality in your life in these five ways:

First, set apart time in your day, more than once, to be spent alone with the Lord. Seek to perceive God’s special care for you and gracious acceptance of you. Carefully think through the words of this covenant and its conditions. Examine your heart, even if you have freely given your life to Christ. Name the sins in your life. Reflect on whether you are willing to choose Christ’s holy laws and strict commands. Be sure you are clear in all of these so you do not lie to God!

Second, uphold a serious spirit of holy awe and reverence.

Third, claim God’s covenant. Do not trust in your own strength and power but rely upon God’s promise of giving grace and strength. In this way, He will empower you to keep your promise.

Fourth, be determined to be faithful. You have given your heart and life to God. You have opened your mouth to dedicate yourself to the Lord. With God’s power, never go back to your former way of living.

And last, be prepared to renew your covenant with God. Fall on your knees. Lift your hands. Open your hearts.

The Covenant Prayer

Leader:     Let us pray together:

People:    My righteous God, for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, see me now as I fall down before You. Forgive my unfaithfulness when I have not done your will. You promise mercy if I turn to You with my whole heart.

Leader:     God requires that you rid yourself of every idol in your life.

People:     From the bottom of my heart, I here and now renounce every idol in my life, covenanting with You that I will not commit any known sin. By turning against Your will I have turned my love toward the world. In Your power I will watch for any temptation that will lead me away from You.

Leader:     Through Jesus Christ, God offers to be your God again, if you allow Him to be.

People:     Before all heaven and earth, I here and now acknowledge You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as my Lord and God. I vow to give all of myself, body and soul, to be Your servant and to serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life.

Leader:     Jesus Christ is the only way and means to God. God has given us Jesus as the way and means to salvation.

People:     Jesus, I here and now accept You and the only new and living Way. I join myself in covenant with You. I come to You hungry, sinful, miserable, bilnd, and naked, unworthy even to wash the feet of Your servants. With all my power, I accept You as my Lord and Head. I renounce my own unworthiness, and vow that You are the Lord, my righteousness. I renounce my own wisdom and take You for my only guide. I renounce my own will and take Your will as my law.

Leader:     Christ has told you that you must suffer with him.

People:     Jesus, I here and now make this covenant with You and accept whatever comes in life. Through Your grace I promise that neither life nor death will separate me from You.

Leader:     God has given holy laws as the rule of your life.

People:     I here and now willingly take on Your yoke and burden. All Your laws are holy, just, and good. I accept them as the rule for my words, thoughts, and actions, promising I will strive to order my whole life around your direction. I will not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty.

Leader:     The Almighty God searches and knows you, even the thoughts of your heart.

People:     O God, You know that we have made this covenant today in sincerity, without deceit or reluctance. If You find anything false in us, guide us and help us to set it right. And now, glory be to You, God the Father. From this day forward, I shall look upon You as my God and Father. Glory be to You, God the Son. You have loved me and washed me from my sins in Your own blood. From this day forward, I shall look upon You as my Savior and Redeemer. Glory be to You, O God the Holy Spirit. By Your almighty power, You have turned my heart from sin to God. From this day forward I shall look upon You as my Comforter and Guide. O mighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have now become my Covenant Friend. And I, through Your infinite grace, have become Your covenant servant. You are mine and I am Yours. So be it. May this covenant that I have made here on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Dismissal with Blessing

Leader:     May our God, who establishes covenant relationship with those who seek to enter the Kingdom, be with you always. May Jesus Christ, who seals the new covenant with his blood on the cross, bring you peace. May the Holy Spirit guide your life both now and for ever. Go in peace to serve the Lord!

People:    Amen.

Notes for Service Planning

Notes on liturgical items:

If your congregation is used to saying the Lord’s Prayer together in worship, it is better to use your standard version rather than the updated version included here.
Though it is not included in the above liturgy, it is very appropriate for the service to end with the celebration of Holy Communion. Likewise, a remembrance of baptism is a fitting ceremony to be included as part of the service.

The scripture readings in the service often vary. The scriptures listed above are some of the readings most commonly done in the service. Here is a list of other possible scripture readings:

Psalm 8
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
Matthew 25:31-46
Revelation 21:1-6a
Depending on the setting, a sermon or homily may be included as part of the service.
This service provides many opportunities for multiple people to be involved in worship leadership. You may choose a lay person or two to lead the liturgy, though it would be best to keep to only one or two standard liturgists for the service (excluding the scripture readings). Since the service does contain many elements and transitions, it is highly recommended to practice the service at least once with all who will be involved.

Notes on music:

Hymn suggestions (with name of lyricist)
“A charge to keep I have” (Charles Wesley)
“Come let us use the grace divine” (Charles Wesley)
“Jesus we look to Thee” (Charles Wesley)
“O for a thousand tongues to sing” (Charles Wesley)
“O God our help in ages past” (Isaac Watts)
“My hope is built on nothing less (The Solid Rock)” (Edward Mote)
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (Isaac Watts)

Contemporary song suggestions (with name of recording artist)
“Beneath the Waters (I Will Rise)” (Hillsong)
“Christ is Risen” (Matt Maher)
“Cornerstone” (Hillsong)
“Lord I Need You” (Matt Maher)
“Love Divine” (Jenn Johnson)
“Seas of Crimson” (Bethel Music)
“The Wonderful Cross” (Chris Tomlin)

Notes on service structure:

There are many possible ways of structuring the covenant service. You may choose to follow the service exactly as written in this given liturgy. However, if you wish to include other elements such as a sermon, music, or Holy Communion, a few suggestions of service order are given below for your consideration. Each order may be adapted as is best fitting to the worship context.

Structure One
The Greeting
Opening Prayer
Song(s)
The Lord’s Prayer
Scripture Lesson(s)
The Proclamation
The Confession
Words of Assurance and Pardon
Song
The Invitation
The Covenant Prayer
Holy Communion
Song
Dismissal with Blessing

Structure Two
The Greeting
Opening Prayer
Song(s)
Scripture Lesson (John 15:1-8)
The Proclamation
The Confession
Song
Words of Assurance and Pardon
Scripture Lesson (2 Kings 23:1-3)
The Invitation
The Covenant Prayer
Remembrance of Baptism with Holy Communion
The Lord’s Prayer
Song
Dismissal with Blessing

Structure Three
The Greeting
Song
Opening Prayer
Silent Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer
Scripture Lesson (Ecclesiastes 3:1-13)
Song
Scripture Lesson (Psalm 8)
Scripture Lesson (Revelation 21:1-6a)
Song
Scripture Lesson (Matthew 25:31-46)
Sermon
Song
Offering
The Proclamation
The Confession
Words of Assurance and Pardon
The Invitation
The Covenant Prayer
Song
Dismissal with Blessing

Structure Four
The Gathering
Song
Opening Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer
Song(s)
Scripture Lesson(s)
Sermon
The Proclamation
The Confession
Words of Assurance and Pardon
The Invitation
The Covenant Prayer
Song(s)
Dismissal with Blessing

SHARE

Jonathan serves with his wife, Faith, and daughter, Audrey, as the director of student ministries for World Gospel Mission at Asbury University. Jonathan is also an adjunct professor of worship at both Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary, and assists with musical leadership and worship design in the Offerings Community of First United Methodist Church, Lexington, KY. In 2013, he received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL. Jonathan is the author of 12 Days of Christmas Sermons, and co-author with Jason Jackson and Teddy Ray of Echo: A Catechism for Discipleship in the Ancient Tradition, both published by Seedbed.

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY