Covenant theology

treaty

It has been a strange and bizarre few weeks in the deep south of Tasmania. People have been hurt. Relationships torn and the right hand of fellowship withdrawn from some. At a time such as this, we must remember Christ and His covenant. This is an overview of covenant theology to encourage people in their time of need.

Fingertips

An old acquaintance is fond of saying, “your theology flows out of your fingertips.” All of life is religious as the Psalmist says, “you become what you worship” (Psalm 115:8). The idea of relationship is a strange beast in our modern world. Our society is attempting to redefine many things. Relationship is one of them. Sinful man desires his relationships to be free of rules and regulations. He thinks freedom (and therefore happiness) is found in lawlessness. This is impossible. Interactions between image bearers cannot be conducted in an ethical vacuum. Love is bound by law (1 John 5:1-5). The ethical/moral neutrality myth is a hook of secular humanism that many within the church have unfortunately swallowed. No matter how much man desires to void life of law and an ethical framework, it is impossible. It is not “no law” but “whose law?” Life is not a zero-ethics game. Rather, the question is, “whose ethical framework.” Life is religious. All of life is ethical (1 Cor 10:31). We either honour the King or are imposters (Matt 6:24-34, 2 Cor 10:5, Isa 14:13-14).

The King is the king

Before we climb our mighty wooden pedestal, let us remember that God cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2, Is. 14:27). His will prevails. No one hoodwinks the King. All do His bidding, in whatever capacity He has ordained. Man is responsible for his actions and God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. God writes the story. He controls the plot. The King is the author and we are not, period. Further, than this, God governs His world via His covenant. The enthroned Christ rules heaven and earth. God’s will is to be done on earth as it is done in heaven. King Jesus wears the crown and rules the whole world, His world, via His covenant. The two go hand-in-hand. No covenantal rule equals an empty crown; no crown means an inability to rule. Our universe is not random. The world doesn’t simply move forward in a meaningless, blind evolutionary manner. There is ethical structure and order to life. This ethical structure is rooted in the covenant. It is judicial by nature. But the covenant is not simply pietistic hot air. It is deeply practical. God works in history via covenant.

The King's covenant

So, what exactly is the covenant? Reformed theology has always assumed the covenant to greater or lesser degree. But no reformed theologian took the bull by the horns and wrote extensively on the subject. [1] That is before Ray Sutton wrote That You May Prosper, Dominion By Covenant in 1991. He systematically worked through Deuteronomy, showing how this book (and many others) follows a 5-point covenantal structure. If you read his book you will see how this structure has not been imposed on the text, but flows out of it.

Remember THEOS

Dr Gary North notes the helpful acronym created for remembering Sutton’s 5-point covenant structure: THEOS [2].

T – transcendence
Deuteronomy 1:1-5 gives the preamble to the covenant, wherein we read about the transcendent Lord who makes covenant with a lesser vassal. In short, T asks and answers, “who’s the boss here?” The text reveals that the Creator God is distinct from His creation but He is not distant and uninvolved. He is distinct and eminent. This combination of Creator/creation distinction and the eminency of God in history is unique to the Christian worldview. All other systems either blur the Creator/creature distinction or advocate for a distant, irrelevant lord.

H – hierarchy
Deuteronomy 1:6-4:49 outlines the historical prologue. The author gives a historical sketch of the relationship between the sovereign God and His people in history. It outlines the authority structure of a representative government that the Lord has instituted. Those who God elects as representatives were to “mediate judgment to the nation. And the nation was to mediate judgment to the world.” [3]

E – ethics
Deuteronomy 5-26 is the longest section of the covenant. It is where the Lord lays out His stipulations. God gives His Ten Words (or Commandments) and then He restates them and applied in case laws. “These stipulations are the way God’s people defeat the enemy. By relating to God in terms of ethical obedience the enemies fall before His children. The principle is that law is at the heart of God’s covenant. The primary idea is that God wants His people to see an ethical relationship between cause and effect: be faithful and prosper.” [4]

O – oath
In Deuteronomy 27-30 we read the list of blessings and curses, which is the process of covenantal or treaty ratification via self-maledictory oath. Sutton notes that “to cut a covenant, three elements are necessary: sanctions, oath, and witnesses.” [5] Each of these elements are present in this section of Deuteronomy. At Mt. Gerizim (blessing) and Mt. Ebal (cursing) Israel accepted the sanction terms of the covenant by saying the holy oath, ‘Amen’ to all the covenantal curses. The witnesses, heaven and earth verified the legitimacy of the covenant. Essentially the big idea is that there are blessings and cursings associated with the covenant.

S – succession
The final point of the covenant determines the true heirs (Deuteronomy 31-34), and this is established by “ordination and faithfulness.” The covenant is not static. It does not remain with a single generation. Rather, it is handed from generation to generation. This is accomplished through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Inheritance is by grace through faith.

The Great Commission

Many Christians don’t understand that the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20) is structured in a covenantal manner. The Lord recommissioned His people with the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:28-30) and thus Christians are to take dominion by covenant. Our chief end is not simply to evangelise. Rather, in the Great Commission, the church has been given all the nations of the world to disciple. The church’s commission is to bring the nations to Jesus, immerse them in the Word and teach them to obey His commands. This is a reapplication of the covenant with Israel. She was to bring all the nations to God (1 Kings 1:43-48).

Sutton identifies the 5-points of the covenant in the Great Commission

1. True Transcendence – Matthew 28:16
2. Hierarchy – Matthew 28:17-18
3. Ethics – Matthew 28:19a
4. Sanctions – Matthew 28:19b
5. Continuity – Matthew 28:20 [5]

The 5-point covenant model is everywhere in the Bible. It is not simply an Old Testament thing. It is the structure whereupon the Bible’s tapestry is woven. The church's Great Commission is a restating of the covenant.

This means that the recent hurt down here in Tasmania can be understood through the lens of the covenant. This is comforting and reassuring. God is good. He never sins. His will prevails and those who sin against Him will be covenantally judged in history.

End notes

[1] Sutton, R. (1992). That You May Prosper – Dominion by Covenant, pp. XIV-XV.

[2] Op cit. pp. XV & 16-17.

[3] Op cit. p. 17.

[4] Op cit. p. 17.

[5] Op cit. p. 78.

Editors note

I apologise for mentioning the name of my church in the previous edition of this article and indicating that I would address recent issues that resulted in a number of families being told to leave. This was not wise. I encourage anyone who has heard things on the grapevine to contact me or any of the other families. Gossip is a sinful thing (Ephesians 4:29, Psalm 101:5, Titus 3:10, Proverbs 26:20). It has been spread in the past. So, if you think your brother has sinned, go to him (Matthew 18). Don't believe every "official" position and what you may have heard first - Proverbs 18:17.

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus

Receive our eNews

Our store accepts

Rebuilding Australia

Partner with us to rebuild Australia under the Lorship of Christ, one family at a time.

Need to get hold of us

Email: info{at}reformedresources.com.au

GET IN CONTACT

Back to top