Friday, February 17, 2012

Covenantal Theology and Society

You might remember my post a while back on Rules and Relationships, or you might have seen my post on Centralization on my food website. Both of them were dealing with the idea of covenant. The two very interwoven aspects of covenant can be called rules and relationships, and objective and subjective. In the marriage covenant there is an objective vow, structure, and rings that connect the man and women and a married couple, but there is also the relationship and love between the them which is essential for them to be one. Without the structure and objective connection there is an undefined basis (i.e. no basis) for love, and it is not what we would call a marriage. But without the love and subjective relationship, the structure and objective reality is legalistic and artificial. My pastor, Kevin Swanson, has described our covenant with God with the example of a branch being grafted into a tree. There is both an objective connection by binding the the branch to the tree by the physical band, but there is also the actual interchange of nutrients, water, sap, which makes the branch a living part of the tree. Louis Berkhof explains this idea in his Manuel of Christian Doctrine, that in the Bible the covenant has both a legal and objective aspect, as well as a communion of life (i.e. faith, love) that the legal aspect is a means to. Using Old Testament terminology, there is an objective circumcision of the flesh, and a circumcision of the heart. In the New Testament there is the baptism by water, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are very important, and they work together.

We can see how we have drifted away from covenantal community and the disastrous consequences of doing so. In the civil sphere the state has grown more and more objective and legalistic, centralizing power away from the local and relational community. This has resulted in public schools, state-funded impersonal welfare, vast amounts of rules regulating every minute part of life, and many other tyrannies. In the ecclesiastical sphere the church has gone the other way, becoming more and more subjective and individualistic, focusing on saving your little soul and your emotional affection towards Jesus. The Bible is losing objective authority and often can mean whatever you want it to mean for you. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are often regarded as mere memorials, which are nice things that should make you feel better (and, of course, should only be done after your personal emotional experience). The invisible church (the truly elect Christians, not necessarily those part of the institutional church) is really all that matters to the the average evangelical, and sometimes the institutional church is even seen as a negative thing that gets in the way of true spirituality. In the familial sphere, families have gone both ways. Often conservatives have had a tendency to be more objective and legalistic, while liberals have a tendency to be more subjective and carefree with regards to rules and discipline, but families can fall into either trap fairly easily.

Now I am not against rules or relationships. I want them both, and both of them will help form the other one when done properly in covenant. I love the truth and I love people (at least I aim to do both). I believe that covenantal thinking is vitally important to living and working properly in life. Without it, our relationships to people and to God will be messed up. That is a very serious matter.

2 comments:

  1. Great thoughts, Peter.

    "In the New Testament there is the baptism by water, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are very important, and they work together."

    Hence paedobaptism.

    At any rate, I it's really self-evident that relationships cannot exist without rules. That's why we have the last six commandments of the ten...Kinda hard to have relationships if you're breaking the sixth commandment left and right, isn't it?

    This reminds me of the whole legalism-vs.-antinomianism antithesis. Legalism is a loveless, self-worshiping obedience to God's laws, and the latter is a loveless, self-worshiping disobedience of God's laws. The right place isn't somewhere in the middle; It's in a different direction altogether, loving obedience to God's laws.

    Stand Fast,

    Andrew R.

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