Category Archives: Covenant

Commitment, Covenant, & Community

Notes from our Epiphanies lesson: Wednesday, 5-2-12

What does it mean to be committed – to faith, to relationships, to community? How we are committed in our own faith community today? Or are we?

During a packed 3 days at the [Baptist] Sexuality & Covenant conference a couple of weeks ago, the idea of commitment and covenant formed a basis for thinking about Christianity, Community, and Relationships in ways I hadn’t even imagined before. We are continuing the conversation together in Epiphanies.

If you’re interested in viewing the conference sessions (and I wholeheartedly recommend them), you may find them here:

Question 1: What is covenant in scripture? Name a few.

Answers: Biblical covenants: agreements, contracts – or more/deeper, Hebrew berith, mostly God-contracts with God’s people – God kept the covenant, people didn’t always. A vow. A self-giving promise.

Examples: God’s covenant with Noah – rainbow. God’s covenant with Abraham – descendants: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. God’s covenant with Moses – Ten Commandments. The priestly covenants – Aaron. Israel’s covenant to return to Mosaic law. God’s covenant with David – his family will be rightful kings. New covenant in Jesus – between God and all people – Jew and Gentile.

Question 2: How to commitment and covenant relate? Are we commited in our society? How/Why/Why not?

Read: Malachai 2:

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.[d] So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife, ” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,”[e] says the Lord Almighty.

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

At the conference, Dr. David Gushee gave us some ideas about what covenant is, and should be, as God designed it. We looked at his thoughts:

Covenant should be a moral norm, a standard – not just an ideal.

Here are some thoughts about what interpersonal covenant in the Christian tradition should look like:

  • A voluntarily entered sacred pact between two persons and between those persons and the God to whom both are committed. Freely entered between two persons equal in power and who are under no coercion.
  • Once entered, the freedom of its participants is henceforth constrained. It is a FREE DECISION TO MAKE ONESELF NO LONGER FREE.
  • It is an exchange of promises. These are fully binding.
  • It is a transition in status and responsibility.
  • Promising a certain quality of interpersonal relating to each other: love, cherish, comfort, honor, and care.
  • Promising to offer this even when they don’t feel like it (richer or poorer).
  • Offer such relating only to each other and not to anyone else (forsaking all others). For a lifetime as well.
  • No conditions or time limits (unlike regular contracts).
  • Each person is making a covenant as an individual moral agent.

Coventalism corresponds with our nature and highest potential, as well as taking care of our sinful nature. We need sacred promises or we might not stay together when times are hard. This is a divine provision for sin. It is the best possible arrangement for binding human lives together. Our vows keep us; we don’t keep our vows. Covenants are better for both adults and children.

The main issue is not who is eligible for covenant. The main issue is whether the church is committed to rescuing the concept and practice of covenant in accountable community before it disappears all together – not just in society, but within our own congregations and homes.

THE PROBLEM: We live in a consumer society – no commitments are permanent. We are always trading what we have for something better. We do it in every context of life, including religion. Do we remember church covenants? People stayed in churches for life – “this is my church, I’m committed.”

How do we teach younger generations to make covenants when we’re not committed to much of anything? Churches should be better covenant communities. Not casual, drive-by consumer products. Covenant communities of brothers and sisters in Christ, there in good times and bad. Only such communities are in any position to talk to emerging adults about lifetime covenants.

How do we understand and live this, then? (i.e., How now shall we live?)

“The Lost Art of Commitment: Why we’re Afraid of it, and why we shouldn’t be” (Article in Christianity Today) Notes:

  • “A Christian without commitment is an oxymoron.”
  • “In 1979…a study using extensive interviews was conducted to understand what ‘habits of the heart’ defined average Americans. Many had no sense of community or social obligation. They saw the world as a fragmented place of choice and freedom that yielded little meaning or comfort. They even seemed to have lost the language to express commitment to anything besides themselves…Since then, we’ve seen an almost uninterrupted march toward self-focus, affecting all of our institutions but especially crippling work, marriage, and family” (and church!).
  • “How can you begin as a Christian without death to self and total commitment to Jesus Christ?”
  • “When we obsess over ourselves, we lose the meaning of life, which is to know and serve God and love and serve our neighbors.”
  • “By abandoning commitment, our narcissistic culture has lost the one thing it desperately seeks: happiness. Without commitment, our individual lives will be barren and sterile. Without commitment, our lives will lack meaning and purpose. After all, if nothing is worth dying for, then nothing is worth living for.”
  • “With commitment comes the flourishing of society – of calling, of marriage, of the church-and of our hearts. It’s the paradox Jesus so often shared when he bid us to come and die that we might truly live.”

From “Preaching the Life of Covenant and Commitment in a Time of Transition” by Rodney J. hunter, Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA:

“Commitment understood broadly may be viewed as a social and psychological praxis that gives human life depth, definition, and stability of purpose over time, for both communities and individuals. It is commitment that gives us identity, creates and defines patterns of continuity and connectedness in the flux and conflict of events, and gives our lives whatever trust, security, meaning, and purpose they enjoy. So to whatever extend committing falters or fails, our lives and communities become disordered, insecure, and deprived of meaning and purpose. Theologically, commitment and covenant go to the core of our existence and reflect the very character of God and of God’s covenantal involvement with us and with the entire cosmos.”

Questions to leave you with:

  1. What is an expectation between a church member and a church? Is there a covenant community vow there?
  2. What is the expectation personally in interpersonal covenants?
  3. How does God covenant with us? Who is doing the work?
  4. How do commitment an covenant differ?