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Thinking some more about covenant community

I’m in the midst of writing a series of columns that correspond to scripture used in an international Sunday school lesson plan for NCCC member denominations, of which the current quarter is focusing on covenantal community. I’m really enjoying this writing assignment, in no small part because of its focus on the history and nature of God’s people (his “covenant community”)—a subject for which I have a great passion. And while I’ve touched on some of this in the columns already, there are a couple of things that are beginning to stand out to me.

Just before I started the columns, I’d started reading Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible in which he has a great chapter on approaching the Bible as Story—in particular a Story in which a large portion of it reveals God working his redemption in the context of community: “The story of the Bible is creation, fall and then covenant community—page after page of community—as the context in which our wonderful redemption takes place.” (You can read more from this section here.) I think McKnight’s articulation is important, both in terms of how we approach Scripture as a whole as well as how we approach the stories we find there. Far too often, we reduce the gospel to an individual relationship with God, but when we delve into Scripture we find it is much more in the context of community. I think this understanding is crucial if we are to be the people he calls and enables us to be today.

This context deepens my own appreciation for and understanding of some of those “pages and pages” in between the creation and the gospels. As I work through the columns, I keep realizing that we can’t really approach any part of the Story without going back to or keeping in mind earlier chapters in the Story, particularly God’s development (or could we say re-development?) of his people. He begins with Abraham, and the foundation of God’s promises and covenant with him isn’t a set of conditions but in a kind of synergy with Abraham’s trust—which is a rugged thread through and deeply echoed in the stories about God’s covenant people that follow. As I sat with the texts for the columns, I couldn’t help but see how foundational that is as I read God’s address to Joshua and his patient work with Gideon as well as the prayers and actions of Ezra and Nehemiah. Again and again, God longs for the faithfulness and trust of his people—individually and as a whole. It was how we were created to exist. The Story began good and right, with we humans walking openly in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory. And as that is a foundational part of our original and good creation, it is also foundational in this part of the Story, too.

A natural effect of that trust lived out in a covenant community is that others benefit and notice. God tells Abraham this in the beginning, that through this one man’s descendents he’ll bless the families of the whole earth. I love how Dallas Willard puts it in The Divine Conspiracy: God’s covenant people are those “in which he is tangibly manifest to everyone on earth who wants to find him.” These parts of the Story only underscore for me how deeply God wants to be known. And being reminded that God begins this all the way back there with Abraham only deepens my understanding of the crucial role and context of community in God’s redeeming work on this side of Jesus.

As I sit with the Scripture each week, I feel these truths sinking deeper into my heart. And I’m starting to better grasp how our Story is both a return to and recreation of the way we were created to live as a people. God’s creativeness and ability to turn darkness and failure into abundant life of I AM is breathtaking.
(Image: mine)