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The Concept Of  Covenant

 

A couple of years ago my friend attended the first weekly gathering for worship leaders in our city.  The lady in charge opened the meeting by presenting a written covenant that needed to be signed by each  participant if he or she wished to return the next week.  My friend kindly suggested that making such covenants between Christians wasnít necessarily New Testament thinking.  Despite his explanation, the covenant was passed around for all to sign.  My friend who has more worship leading experience in our city than most didnít sign and therefore didnít return.

 

Two other friends of mine were scolded by a pastor when they moved from his church group to another.  According to this pastor, my friends were breaking covenant with him and those in the church. The pastor believed that once people joined his church they were entering into a covenant relationship with him and those in the group.  So when my friends left, it was clear to him that they were breaking this covenant.  

 

I canít possibly give proper attention to this subject as Iíd like in one short chapter, so Iíll just give some highlights.  I first heard of covenant teaching in the Shepherding Movement of the 1970ís, although itís not exclusive to shepherding.  You can find variations of ďcovenant makingĒ throughout the ecclesiastical maze, and throughout church history.      

 

The simplest definition of the word ďcovenantĒ  is ďa contract or an agreement between two or more peopleĒ.  Examples of covenants today would be a marriage covenant or a mortgage contract. 

 

The Old Testamentís concept of covenant, and especially so in Judaism, can be briefly summed up this way.  Two people would come together and make an agreement with each other.  The agreement would have various stipulations.  Each person was responsible to live up to these stipulations or else suffer the stated penalties.  The covenant was then confirmed by a ceremonial ritual that often included a blood sacrifice.   

 

Those who believe we should be making similar covenants today, that is, excluding the blood part, often point to David and Jonathanís covenant as an example for us to follow. (1 Samuel 20)  Yet to suggest that we should make covenants with one another because David and Jonathan chose to do so is poor Biblical interpretation. Thereís no hint in Scripture that their choice in this matter is the Biblical mandate for New Testament Christians. It was simply something that they wanted to do as individuals.  If two people feel the necessity to make such an agreement today, thatís their personal choice.  Itís not the Biblical norm for the rest of us to follow.  

 

All theologians include the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 15 in their discussion on this subject, and they should because itís important to New Testament teaching.  Yet if you look closely youíll see that God did not make a covenant with Abraham.  God set forth the stipulations of the covenant and performed the sacrificial ritual with Himself  after he put Abraham to sleep.  God agreed with Himself, not with Abraham, to bless Abraham.   Abrahamís part in the covenant was to give himself to God and believe that God would do as He stated in His covenant.  

 

The apostle Paul tells us the Abrahamic Covenant is prophetic of the New Covenant that God made in Jesus.  (Galatians chapter 3 and 4, and Romans chapter 4)  So concerning the New Covenant, like the Abrahamic Covenant, God made the New Covenant of salvation with Himself, not with us.  He agreed with Himself to bless us with salvation.  Our part in this covenant is to give ourselves to Jesus and believe what God stated in His New Covenant would be so.  We, like Abraham only have to enter into this pre-existing covenant that God confirmed with Himself through the ceremonial ritual that was confirmed in the shedding of Jesusí blood.  If we believe, we reap the benefits of the New Covenant, and if not, the penalties stipulated in the covenant would come into effect.  So in short, God covenanted with Himself and not with us.  We do not make a covenant with God.  We simply enter into His covenant that already exists. 

 

Therefore, thereís only one covenant found in the New Testament for Christians, and thatís the New Covenant. Once we enter Godís pre-existing covenant, we are joined in covenantal relationships with Him and with all Christians, past, present, and future.  I picture this covenant as a circle that we enter when we first give our lives to Jesus.  The only way to break this covenant is to relocate ourselves outside the covenantal circle.  Simply moving from one church group to another within the circle isnít breaking covenant because thereís no such covenant to break.

 

The New Testament doesnít teach that we make special pacts with any fellow believer other than the marriage covenant.  If we really understood this, we wouldnít be making personal or corporate church covenants that make us exclusive and separate from others within the circle.  Weíd also understand that as long as people are within the boundaries of Godís New Covenant circle, they belong to God and to us, no matter what church group theyíre associated with, and no matter how they think concerning secondary Biblical doctrines.  Our inability to understand this has brought much division in the church. This results in the ecclesiastical maze that presently exists, and also confuses the rest of the world.   

 

Over the years Iíve often heard the term ďcovenant loveĒ spoken by various people as if ďcovenant loveĒ was something different than plain old love.  On one occasion in the 1990ís a pastor from out of town spoke to some of us in a small gathering.  His topic was ďcovenant loveĒ.  After he was finished speaking he allowed for some discussion.  That opened the door for me to kindly suggest to him that the term ďcovenant loveĒ could not be found in the Bible.  Beyond that, you canít find the concept that suggests a special kind of exclusive love between certain people based on some kind of special covenant.  The Biblical concept of love is simple.  God loves us, and with His love we love everyone that crosses our path at any given time. This pastor didnít really know how to respond to my assertion, and Iím not sure he really wanted to anyway.  Thatís usually the way it is  when you merely accept the latest Christian fad without serious thought and study.    

 

The fact is, there is only one covenant taught in the New Testament, and thatís Godís New Covenant that all Christians have entered into.  Because of this we are to love all our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have no choice in the matter.  I understand that practically speaking one canít love all Christians with the same intensity, but we can love those who may be in our presence at any given moment, no matter who they are.  Such love isnít based on an exclusive covenantal relationship, and thereís no real need to put the word ďcovenantĒ in front of the word ďloveĒ.  Itís simply Godís love expressed by us in meaningful and selfless actions.  Thatís it.  And let me suggest one last thing, if there are no selfless actions associated with the love you claim to have, thereís no love.  The degree to which such actions are demonstrated is the degree to which you love, as seen in the book of James.       

 

 

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