October 6, 2010: Our group of scholars waded into the theme of covenant last night. One can’t understand scripture as the story of God’s people without understanding covenant. We defined covenant as a promise based on trust between two parties, with covenant being the defining element of the relationship between the parties. We see covenant as basically synonymous with testament and promise. It is acceptable to say that the Bible is divided into the Old and New Covenant.
In trying to understand the nature of covenant we looked at the polity and structure of the UCC, which has as its basis covenant. It is how pastors, churches, and the wider church are all held together within the Body of Christ. We looked, as an example, at the difference between the covenant of marriage in which promises are made, and the agreement represented by a mortgage. The homeowner and the bank do not trust each other sufficiently to just make oral promises…it is sealed in a legally binding contract. The vows of marriage can be upheld without a legal contract, they can also be broken without legal penalty. So it is with God and God’s people…we are held together in an agreement based on trust, not law.
We traced the development from Genesis 9:9-13 and the Noachic promise in which God promises to never again destroy the earth with a flood…and then offers the rainbow as a sign of the covenant. Abraham was the instrument by which God continued the covenant in a more explicit way…with the promise of land, descendents, and that Abraham would be the father of a great nation. In Exodus, through Moses God ramps up the covenant by adding this element: The Israelites will be a chosen people favored by God. Then the arc of covenant takes a broader turn in Jeremiah 31: 31-34 when God offers a new covenant which will be written not on stone, but on the hearts of the people. Here God adds a new piece…forgiveness in which God will remember their sin no more.
From there we move to the new covenant poured out in the blood of Jesus Christ, as testified to in Mark 14:22-24 and I Corinthians 11:23-25. Part of that covenant is the promise that Christ will return. Christ is died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Ephesians 1:13-14 says that believers are promised the mark of the Holy Spirit ,and II Corinthians 6:16b refers to believers as the temple of the living God in whom God walks and lives. It echoes Jeremiah 31 with the resounding statement “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Covenant comes full circle and lays the pattern for who we are to God, and who God is to us.
Questions raised in our discussion:
1. If we live in covenant, why do pastors and churches need to make written and notarized call contracts?
2. We also briefly discussed the history of the Christian Bible canon (list of authorized books contained in the Bible); and wondered how the representatives were selected for the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D, in which the list of authorized books of the Bible was finalized. Who was not selected, and how would it have been different if they had been there?
3. Last, we briefly pondered the issues raised by all the books left out 0f the canon–what would be different if we had them? Do we want or need any more books of the Bible? What sort of revelation, in terms of unearthing a previously undiscovered book, would rock our faith? We decided that this was an intriguing line of thought, but would take us pretty far off our current path. Maybe we will look for resources to assign for self-study…or devote one evening to this discussion.