The Covenant Church has its roots in historical Christianity as it emerged in the Protestant Reformation, in the biblical instruction of the Lutheran State Church of Sweden, and in the great spiritual awakenings of the nineteenth century. These three influences have in large measure shaped its development and are to be borne in mind in seeking to understand its distinctive spirit.
The Covenant Church adheres to the affirmation of the Protestant Reformation regarding the Holy Scriptures, the Old and the New Testament, as the Word of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct. It has traditionally valued the historic confessions of the Christian church, particularly the Apostles' Creed, while at the same time it has emphasized the sovereignty of the Word over creedal interpretations. It has especially cherished the pietistic restatement of the doctrine of justification by faith as basic to the dual task of evangelism and Christian nurture, the New Testament emphasis upon personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the reality of a fellowship of believers which recognizes but transcends theological differences, and the belief in baptism and the Lord's Supper as divinely ordained sacraments of the church. While the denomination has traditionally practiced the baptism of infants, in conformity with its principle of freedom it has also recognized the practice of believer baptism. The principle of personal freedom, so highly esteemed by the Covenant, is to be distinguished from the individualism that disregards the centrality of the Word of God and the mutual responsibilities and disciplines of the spiritual community.
Historical Statement from the Preamble to Our Constitution and Bylaws
The Covenant Church in Bemidji
Established in 1933
One day in the fall of 1932 three men came to visit Bemidji. Undoubtedly it was a perfectly normal day as far as the citizens of this pioneering lumbering center were concerned. For Mrs. Jennie Anderson it was the beginning of the answer of her prayer of fifteen years, that a Covenant church be started in this city. Rev. C. Edwin Anderson, one of the three men, says this of that momentous day, "We drove up and down the streets of Bemidji looking for a suitable location or building to start a work there. After our survey we drove outside the city to a wooded area and there prayed that God would lead us to the place where He wanted a work started." He also refers to seeing the padlocked church at 523 America Avenue. The other men were Rev. A.B. Ost and Rev. Albert Lundberg. The three men were affiliated with the Northwest Conference.
The referred to church was the St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church which had been closed for some time. Although bearing the name, it was not actually a Lutheran church, but was affiliated with the Evangelical Synod of North America (now the Evangelical and Reformed Church). As near as can be learned it was built around the year 1914. The last resident minister (1922 - 1925) explains that the congregation was dissolved after some of the members followed saw mill operations to Washington and Oregon.
Rev. Ost, shortly after the first survey, arranged to rent the closed church from the Mutual Aid Workers Club which was meeting there at the time. However, when Ost returned in January (1933), he found a group had taken over the Mutual Aid Workers Club and they stubbornly resisted attempts to make them vacate the building until legal action was necessary. It was during this time that Ost negotiated with the Evangelical Synod and bought the property directly from them for $500. The money was donated by Mrs. Jennie Anderson.
This all occurred during the midst of the nation wide depression. Then bank moratorium was declared March 4, 1933. According to the Covenant yearbook only six churches were organized in the six year period, 1930 - 1935. Ost comments on these hard days, "There were more pennies in the offering than anything else, and I mean that literally."
Rev. Ost held one meeting in the Swedish Lutheran Church (directly across from St. Paul's Lutheran) and another week of services in a rented church. He was assisted by J.M. Florell, an ordained Covenant minister who remained until the hiring of Oscar E. Johnson, the first full time minister in the spring.