About Jesus Steve Sweetman
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
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
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
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.