Thursday, October 20, 2011

Christian Believer: Week Seven {Covenant Maker}

This week in our Wednesday night group our topic was "Covenant/Election" (God Makes Covenant With Us). We talked about God's covenants with his chosen people.  The readings were a little dry and Peyton and I were both nervous that the conversation would be the same.  It ended up being as good, if not better, than ever!

We, of course, started with the video.  The first thing the video said was that the story of God's covenant binds the Old and New Testaments together.  It went on to talk about how we see many covenants in the Old Testament lead up to the one great covenant in the new.

After the video, we discussed the readings.  The readings from the workbook were really interesting.  First, the book defined covenant.  It said that it is "longing put into commitment and into some sort of specific terms.  Covenant establishes the relationship between the two parties, defining their obligations and responsibilities." I really liked that definition and I shared how (even though this seems really dumb) it made me think of when I was in college and boys and girls would have a "DTR" (a define the relationship talk) after they had been to several functions (that's what we at the Baptist college call dances, only kidding!).  To me it seemed like an appropriate analogy.  Then we discussed that had we not sinned, there might be no need for a covenant.

We discussed several things the book mentioned about the covenant:  First, God initiates it.  And, although God may make a covenant with an individual (Noah, for example), it also effects the rest of humankind. The book also made mention of how most all Old Testament covenants involved, in some way, blood.  Later covenants, all the way to Holy Communion, continue this idea that blood is the conduit of life and therefore a "sacred symbol of ultimate seriousness". Again, the book touched on how a covenant can be made with individuals, but is never for the benefit of the individual only.  We discussed how the nation of Israel often mistakenly assumed that their chosenness was for their own benefit and how we as Christians also often make the same mistake, "not often by doctrinal statement, but by pattern of life and failure of mission".

The book then talked about what a covenant shows us about God:
1. Good is faithful and keeps all covenants.  Even when vacillation becomes outright rebellion, God still pursues humankind.
2. The desire for a people reveals a strong humility in God.  He is complete, by nature, nothing is necessary to His existence or fulfillment but Himself.  And if it were, He could easily compel its compliance.  However, in His humility, he chooses not to force us.

We then discussed how we respond to God's covenant invitation.  I loved this passage from the book, "Those of us who would not imagine making a graven image need to examine our souls with particular care.  The cultures that make graven images do not fool themselves; they know who their gods are.  Those whose gods have no images may never fully realizes the contours or natures of their gods.  The reading went on to define and describe the Hebrew word, hesed, which means loyalty and inner faithfulness, and was an obvious
 precursor to grace, a term not directly used in the Old Testament.

At this point, we delved into one of the scripture passages from the week, Psalm 89.  In this Psalm, the writer challenges God's faithfulness and can't understand why he has forsaken the covenant.  We discusses how, although his complaints aren't justified by being included in Scripture, it does help us to realize that we have a right to express such an opinion honestly and without fear, to God.

Finally, we moved to the new covenant.  The book explained that "we are disadvantaged in grasping the wonder of this consummating covenant, because familiarity frustrates our perception".  How very true.  It goes on to describe the covenant this way- "God, the covenant-maker, acknowledging that distance between the two parties in the covenant was too great, came to the territory of the second party in the Person of his Son.  The son then took to himself the factor- sin- that had complicated and destroyed the relationship in the previous covenants". We discussed how this new covenant affects us as individuals and in the community. 

We went on to discuss the readings from our textbook.  I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorites. I really liked these because they explained what election could mean from an Arminean point of view.  The first is some of John Wesley's thoughts; the second is sort of a history of the ideas from various thinkers.

"I believe it [election] commonly means one of these two things.  First, a divine appointment of some particular men, to do some particular work in the world. And this election I believe to be not only personal, but absolute and unconditional. This Cyrus was elected to rebuild the temple, and St Paul, with the twelve, to preach the gospel.  But I do not find this to have any necessary connexion with eternal happiness....I believe election means, Secondly, a divine appointment of some men to eternal happiness.  But I believe this election to be conditional, as well as the reprobation opposite thereto...." -John Wesley

"Election is that act of grace by which God chooses a companion with whom to live in an intimate relationship of love and responsibility.  Augustine, Luther, and Calvin devised a pastoral view of election that emphasized God's grace as free (devoid of consideration of merit) and prevenientSchleiermacher answered the first question by rejecting the classical assumption that God singles out individuals for this special relationship and argues that communities or the totality of the world were the focus of divine care.  Karl Bath answered the second question by criticizing the traditional, dualistic view that God chooses some and rejects others and by affirming the election of all persons in Jesus Christ. -Mary Potter Engel

Finally, we discussed more Scripture.  We discussed Genesis 13 and Peyton suggested that maybe God purposefully made the land Lot chose look very beautiful to him so he would choose it, thus guaranteeing Abraham the better land and protecting him. Then we moved on to other covenants and discussed how it changed from a covenant between God and an individul an his family (Noah), to one between God and an individual, family, and distant relatives (Abraham), to one between God and an individual and a nation (Moses and Israel), to finally, one between God and all peoples (through Christ).  I thought that was really cool! We also discussed Jesus's influence- how we no longer need the sacrificial system (He is the sacrifice); we no longer need the temple (our bodies are temples); and we no longer need intercessions (He is our high preist).  It was really interesting, too!

The last thing we discussed was if it was possible to be a covenant people and not know it.  I shared that I think an interesting idea is the possibility that one can know Jesus- know of a sin nature and a need for a Savior- and call out to God for that, without knowing the name Jesus Christ.  They can be in relationship with Him without knowing his proper name, in the same way a child can have a strong bond with a parent without knowing the parent's given name.

I know I say it every time, but I love the way this study stretches my mind and nourishes my soul!

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