Holy Asides
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July 28, 2014, 1:00 PM

Covenant: Traits or Doctrine?

We are a covenant people. This is who we are and who God invited us to become. God has created covenants throughout the scriptures: with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and all of Israel. All of these covenants culminated in the coming of Jesus Christ as the "New Covenant," which we enter through his death, resurrection, ascension and promise to remain always with us until the end of the age. Covenant is a promise of relationship.

  • "I will be with you."
  • "You will be my people."
  • "I will never again destroy the earth."
  • "This land I give to you." 
  • "I will bless those who bless you."

Moreover, with God these have nearly always been unconditional promises. Even when we fail, God has pledged to keep his promise. He has still never again destroyed the earth. He made Abraham's descendants like the "stars in the sky." The "King of Israel" did descend from David. God has been and continues to be Holy and Righteous for his Namesake.

All of which has made me wonder, when I first began thinking about covenant (specifically a covenant for St. Joseph's), that I began with all of the things we "believe." Part of this stems from always wanting to distinguish ourselves from other churches, both outside and inside of our own denomination. But, a bigger part of this came from investigating other church's covenants on their web sites. And the more I investigated, the more burdensome it appeared. Many of these were multi-page, small font, tons of bullet-point doctrinal documents. I had no idea how we would undertake such a huge task of figuring out a covenant that all could embrace.

Then I realized three things. First, God is brief. One sentence. Two sentences. This is what will happen; this is what I will/will not do. The end.

Second, in our own Baptismal Covenant, we affirm the Apostle's Creed. We then commit to being part of the Church and what it means to live in community with each other and the world through five pledges.

Third was the revelation that these pledges are not so much "doctrinal beliefs" as they are traits. This thought was reinforced from re-reading "Becoming a Healthy Church." What makes a church healthy is not the belief about every theological nugget, but the traits of being caring, forgiving, and loving. Healthy churches are committed to prayer and worship. Healthy churches look outside of themselves. Healthy churches are good stewards and exercise their gifts in ministry.

The Vestry is going to be investigating our Covenant traits as a parish over the next month or so (a trio have already been hard at work on this), and putting together a brief document that I pray we as a parish can embrace and live into. I believe that this will be good not only for determining our life and vision as a parish, but create a mechanism for welcoming in our new members on a regular basis that will be separate from Confirmation. But most importantly, it will serve to remind us that being the Church, the Body of Christ, is more about relationship with one another than the doctrines we believe.  


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