Friday, 9 February 2018

One of the Great Mistakes of the Age

Atomising God's Kingdom

The word and concept of covenant has virtually disappeared from the Anglo-saxon nations.  It remains a living and powerful concept amongst orthodox Presbyterians and, to a lesser extent, evangelical Anglicans, but these strands of the Kingdom of God have lost prominence over the past 150 years.

Yet, it is inevitable that generations will eventually arise which will rediscover this fundamentally biblical construct.  One cannot approach what the Church calls the Old Testament and the New Testament without being confronted directly with the concept and significance of covenant.  "Testament" is one translation of the Greek and Hebrew words for covenant, diatheke and berith.  And the more one reads and studies the Scriptures, the more it becomes evident that the construction and significance of the Covenant and of covenants is everywhere in Scripture.

Christians in our day lament how divided and isolated God's people are amidst modern secularism.  And they are right.  But amidst the lamentation there is little to no understanding of the cause of our isolation and the reasons for the weakness of Christian social institutions, such as family, or school, or welfare agencies.  We believe there is a direct causal connection between the ebbing of covenantal faith, on the one hand, and Christian institutions, on the other.

Leland Ryken, in his book on the Puritans, explains why this may have come about.
  He points out that the Puritans understood the fundamental significance and power of covenants, not just in the divine working of salvation, but in the building and structuring of a Christian civilisation.  These are things which have now been substantially lost, as Christianity has become atomised in the West.
The concept of covenant provided a basis for virtually all the relationships that were important to the Puritans.  Covenant denoted a relationship of mutual trust and obligation.  It explained God's dealings with the individual person and was the philosophic basis for such Puritan institutions as family, church, and state.  The foundation of everything was God's covenant of salvation extended to every believer, in return for which He demanded human obedience and faithfulness.  In turn, people covenanted among themselves to form a church, a family, or a state, with God as the third party of guarantor of the contract.  This emphasis made Puritanism a strongly relational religion.  [Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were  (Grand Rapids: Academic Books/Zondervan, 1986),  p. 15.]
If we were to consider the proportion of believing Christians today in the West who happen to believe that they are members of a particular church by covenant, by means of covenantal vows we would reasonably conclude that it is a small cluster.  When we continue, going on to remember that these members-by-covenant therefore rightly consider themselves bound in covenant with all the members of that church (men, women, and children), we would probably conclude that the concept is so foreign, it has little or no meaning in Christendom these days.  And we would be right.

The Second Christendom, when it comes, will have needed to put this right.  Otherwise, a Second Christendom would never come to pass. 

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