I’ve been in church my whole life. One of my earliest memories is showing my new shoes to somebody at church, and telling them how old I was (3 years old). I remember listening to sermons (though I cannot now remember the details), how the preacher would get excited, and maybe even pound the pulpit. I remember how exuberantly the people would sing. I remember seeing joy on the faces of the people, and it made me happy to be among them.
However, the church I grew up in didn’t really have a good explanation for why we were all together. At least, the explanation wasn’t satisfying for me. It was often described as fellowship. There was a common bond, that of the love of God, and love for God. But I never really got a sense of why we were otherwise connected. It could have been a meeting of any organization, except for the fact we were there because we all believed in Jesus.
I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I just wanted to be with God’s people. I mostly always wanted to be in church every time the doors opened. I looked forward to it. I still do.
My family and I have lived in several different places, and the same consideration was always foremost in my mind when it came to move to a different place. Where are we going to go to church? While serving in the Marines, I even made a career decision to take orders to a place because I knew of a church there.
Though I didn’t know why back then, I know now it all had to do with the Spirit’s call on my life. My being drawn towards the Bible, to preaching, to praising God, and to true fellowship, was all because the Spirit was, and still is, calling me to Himself.
Until about 12 years ago, I had this nagging question occurring frequently in my mind. Why do I want to be in church? There has to be something different about church which sets it apart from any other organization. Since I always had the impulse to be among God’s people, I needed to understand why. I grew up believing I had a personal relationship with Jesus, but there seemed to be more to it than that. The Bible seemed to be saying God has a people, not persons. I was born into a family, not simply as an individual.
My family and I even stopped going to church for a while. The thought actually went through my mind: maybe we would be okay if we didn’t go; maybe we would be okay on our own. After all, we are the church, right?
God sent me an astounding simple answer: WRONG! It was not wrong to say we are the church. However, it was wrong to say it, if we weren’t going to be an active part of the church as worshipping members. He told me I was wrong by introducing me to covenant theology (CT).
When I started looking into CT, I realized I belong to a people, whom God has chosen to save. While I do have a personal relationship to Christ, it is also familial. In other words, how do I know Him? I know Him as friend, but also as an older brother. He doesn’t live in the house next door, He lives in the same house I do, because I have been adopted into His family.
This opened up for me a whole new line of thinking. The lights didn’t simply switch on. It’s as if I had been blind, but could now see. Now, don’t get me wrong, CT is important as a system of doctrine. But it is not the “end all, be all” of theology. There are other foundational doctrines more important; like the doctrine of God, Scripture, justification by faith alone, etc. And I’m not saying those who do not espouse CT as a system are blind. However, CT lays down a grid into which all these several doctrines may be properly, and connectedly understood.
Because when I was shown the covenantal construct of God’s plan, the pieces finally were put into place.
Now, I’m not going to explain all of CT in this post, but I’d like to share some thoughts on why I believe CT is important.
CT Connects the Bible in Christ
What connects the Old and New Testaments? It is not the book binding. The word testament comes from the Greek word for covenant. There is an old covenant and a new covenant. This isn’t a term devoid of meaning, as if we think of the OT as volume one, and the NT as volume two. Rather, and more importantly, Christ is the binding; He is central in both.
If we believe in Jesus, we must see Him in the OT as concealed, but in the NT revealed. He is the same Christ, yesterday, today, and forever. This testament is His (2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 9:16-17). If He is crucial to and central in both, then CT is the only lens by which we might take in all of Him. If we don’t look at Him through this lens, then maybe He is still veiled.
CT Shows God’s People as One in Christ
If Christ is central in both, His people are also central. Christ has one bride, not many. That bride is made up of all those who believe in Him. And if Abraham is the father of all who believe, then the bride is made up of more than just NT people. Think about it. How can Abraham, who was an OT saint, be the father of the NT saints (Rom. 4:11-16), and NOT be included in Christ? Is he the only one from the OT who was saved? And was he saved by slavish obedience to the law? No, he was saved just like NT people, by faith. Moreover, he was justified by faith BEFORE he was circumcised. It was not because of his works he was saved (Rom 4:2). If Abraham is our father, how can it be that he was saved differently from us?
Moreover, God made a covenant with Abraham to be the father of many nations, in whom all the world would be blessed. CT is the only system that fully explains how this covenant has progressed through the centuries.
Therefore, if Christ saved Abraham by faith, and made a covenant with him to include a people of faith; and if we are all sons and daughters of Abraham because we have faith, then Abraham is the father of the bride, so to speak, of this covenant marriage. CT is the only construct by which this may be properly understood.
CT Informs Our Worship of Christ
In the OT, there were various covenant renewal ceremonies. These all pointed forward to Christ. In the NT, Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, in which He says, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me,” (1 Cor. 11:25b). If Christ used the term covenant to explain the sacrifice of His blood, then understanding the covenant is crucial to our worship of Him. He instituted this ordinance to Jewish men, who would have understood the term rather clearly. The NT church, largely made up of Jewish believers, participated in the ordinance quite regularly. So to them, it would have been understood as a covenant renewal ceremony. If we worship Christ today, then covenant should play a particular role in our understanding.
CT Explains the Foundation for Our Earthly Existence
The Hebrew writer gives a glorious benediction: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen,” (Heb. 13:20-21). There are a few key terms here.
The God of peace. What is peace? Remember, this was written to a Jewish audience. Even if they read the term in Greek, they would have understood it by the Hebrew word shalom. This word describes a fully reconciled life; a complete life; a real life. This reconciled, complete, real life is made possible by the death of Christ.
Christ is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Who are the sheep? Just do a word search in the OT, and you’ll quickly see the sheep are God’s people. The same people. A Jewish man reading this would have remembered passages like, Psalm 79:13, 95:7; 100:3; Isa. 53:6.
How does Christ, the Great Shepherd, save His sheep? He saved them THROUGH the blood of the everlasting covenant. This is the same covenant made to Abraham, and renewed in the cup of Christ’s blood.
How does this change our lives? Christ is working in us to accomplish His will, and to make our work pleasing in His sight. Because we see Him as our Great Shepherd, and because we do so on account of the blood of the everlasting covenant, we work all our obedience for Him, and give Him all the glory.
Give CT a look
Now that I have matured a bit, I can honestly say I really can’t stand not being a part of the church in her various expressions. I love to go to Lord’s Day worship, Presbytery, and General Assembly. At times, if I am providentially hindered from attending, I even feel guilty for not being there. Where God’s people are, I want to be. I am drawn to the saints, and the faith once for all delivered to them. I now know I am thus drawn because of the covenant God made; and the Son ratifying it, and dying as its testator; and the Spirit speaking in the Word, and changing my heart through Christ’s person and work.
If you’re like me, and have gnawing questions as to how to put the Bible all together, and how to understand the people of God, take a look at CT. I do not have all the answers, and CT is not a “magic bullet.” But it does explain a great deal, and is a wonderful rubric by which we see the full revelation of Jesus Christ.