Hebrews 6:13–20 (NET)
6:13 Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, 6:14 saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” 6:15 And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. 6:16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. 6:17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 6:18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 6:20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.
It’s interesting in this passage that God has described for us his purpose in covenant. Notice that God used covenant to demonstrate his unchangeable purpose and the impossiblility of his own dishonesty. All of this was done for us to have hope in his ultimate covenant, a permanent High Priest, Jesus Christ.
We used to be a nation of covenants. People were married, instead of shacking up. Companies kept their promise of a pension. The Constitution was protected, not re-interpreted. Families joined church, they didn’t merely attend. A handshake meant something. That was true for all of the USA, not just the traditional South or the Midwest. It’s just not that way anymore.
There were some things that were true because of our adherence to covenants. For a starter, the divorce rate was much lower, not only because of the milk and a cow illustration. When marriage or matrimony was more than a promise, it was a covenant, a legal contract between a man and a woman and God. In fact, it was understood that if one divorced, it ought to be for a particular reason such as infidelity. It was also understood that if a divorce was for an insufficient reason, remarriage was not an option. Don’t you think that might make someone consider twice divorce for irreconcilable reasons?
One of the biggest problems churches have these days is the fact that the 20-30 year olds do not join the church. It’s a phenomenon that is fairly recent and is likely spurred on by a mistrust of authority by that generation. The same skepticism is true for the government, schools, and other sources of authority like corporations. It seems that people just don’t trust people anymore.
It looks like we’ve put the cart before the horse. In our efforts to diminish our accountability to covenants, we’ve reduced our trust in people. Let me explain.
A covenant is an agreement between two or more people that depends upon the reliability of the parties to keep their word. A covenant is binding in that if the covenant is broken, the offended party is released from the agreement and there may be consequences for the offender. In the case of a marriage, divorce may be appropriate and the offender may pay alimony, etc. If a document like the US Constitution is broken, the offender may spend time in prison. If a company did not fulfill its agreement to pay a pension, there could be monetary or penal punishment. A church reserved the right to discipline its members or its leadership in a Biblical manner that includes either public repentance or excommunication. (Mat 18;15-17; 1 Tim 5:19-22; 1 Cor 5:11-13)
Those days are over. We, as a culture, did not like the accountability and responsibility of covenants. No fault divorces were approved so that minimal harm would come to offending parties. Pensions have disappeared so that large corporations can concentrate on the bottom line. The Constitution is now an evolving document so that we may legislate ourselves into guiltless crimes against humanity. Churches have all but lost the idea of church discipline. It is considered unchristian to pass judgment on another believer, regardless of our Biblical mandate to do so. We have placed freedom over accountability. We have replaced human responsibility with tolerance. We have made ourselves to be a culture of the offended when it’s clearly the other way around.
The question is really this though. Can we really trust anyone? Even if a man gives his word, looks you in the eye, and shakes your hand, does that really mean anything? So what if two people agree that they don’t love each other anymore, should some words spoken before witnesses and God hold them in a life of misery? The US Constitution is an old document from an ancient culture. Should we be confined to their old ideas in our modern context? We are more progressive, aren’t we? Church discipline? Doesn’t the Bible say not to judge? Aren’t we to forgive people? We’re all sinners, right? We have found multiple excuses to do away with covenant because we know that people can’t be trusted.
But, don’t you see? That’s what covenants are for. It is for that very purpose that covenants exist. Covenants are to bind people to their word. The very idea that humans cannot be trusted is why we should covenant with each other. Covenants do two things for a culture. They build confidence in people by proving their trustworthiness and keeping our purpose of the covenant pure. In other words, when people covenant with each other and they keep those covenants, they begin to trust each other and they accomplish their goal because it’s purpose cannot change. If a government agrees to be covenanted to its people by a constitution and it strives to keep that constitution, the governed trust its leaders and the constitution stays pure. Whether it means that the people are protected from outside threats, or the government will not infringe upon the rights of the people, the people trust that the government will keep that covenant. Today, the people in our country do not trust the government, no matter what ideological bent they have. This is because the elected officials have not kept their covenant to the people by lying and over-governing, and they have tampered with the purity of the constitution by reinterpreting it as an evolving document. i.e. the 14th amendment is used to take the right of marriage away from the states and redefine it as if it were a racial violation.
This may be a little left for some of you, but union contracts are covenants. Do you know why Christians don’t like union contracts? I don’t. I know why corporations don’t. They don’t want to be accountable to anyone but Wall Street. Let me ask you, do you have a pension? How about a company funded health care plan? Does your boss? Or his boss? I bet that somewhere up that corporate ladder the wallets get a whole lot fatter. I work for one of the most lucrative companies on the planet. My employer may own your employer. There’s at least a chance that they do. This mega-corporation has entered into covenant with their employees for over half a century. Trust erodes and builds based solely upon how the parties keep their covenant.
The most forgiving environment is the church. Contrary to many peoples instinct, it is a place of discipline. That discipline is based upon an initial covenant agreed upon by both parties. It is a process that is both Biblical and practical, yet most people have a strong aversion to its application. Although God has outlined a process for both the governed and the government of the church, our knee jerk reaction is to ignore the covenant. I use the word ignore on purpose. By saying that we forgive Biblically punishable sin as a church, sin that remains unrepentant, we are actually ignoring the sin. We do this many times for seemingly right motives. We believe that God has acted this way toward us, forgiving us when we did not deserve it. Although it is true that God forgave us when we did not deserve it, God did require payment for the sin and in his forgiveness of his children, he remained faithful to the covenant by pouring his wrath upon his son, who did not deserve it. We have a tendency to forget that part. God forgives sin. He never ignores it. We are to seek his forgiveness. We have no authority to pretend sin isn’t there. Whether in our personal life when we should confess and repent daily, or publically where public sin should produce public repentance, we must pursue God’s forgiveness by his appropriated process (covenant). The church is not immune to this process. It should emulate it as it emulates Christ. Each church should recognize this authority inside of itself and in other bodies of believers. To keep our covenant is to keep our integrity, provide clarity to the Gospel, and rightly represent our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – in the cross.
D.A. Carson; The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 2000, p. 70.
The post-modern spamming of covenant has already left us in a precarious position. Families are broken. Our government is stuck in neutral. Big business gets bigger and the workingman gets left behind. Churches are full of people committed to leaving, at the drop of a hat. What else should we expect in a culture without covenant?