Biblically: Is “covenant” a noun or a verb; a process or a document …or is a choice? It is most certainly a root theme of scripture. It occurs in many places and times, but never in precisely the same shape. Who initiates covenant -human beings or God? Can covenant be refused?
Historically: In congregational (Congregational) tradition, “covenant” has strong historical meaning. The framers of the American Constitution were steeped in this tradition and shaped our government by their understanding of covenant. They understood that a covenant:
- defines a people
- creates a body politic (the “incarnational statement”
- describes common goals and values
- outlines the institutions through which the people will act collectively
Biblical covenants do the same thing. The major difference is that Biblical covenants are instituted by God; historical covenants are instituted by people. The quintessential covenant statement is: I will be your God, and you will be my people.
What does it mean to be in covenant as a people, not as individuals? As pervasive as covenant language is in the United Church of Christ, those who come from E&R backgrounds rather than the Congregational tradition are not steeped in that concept. Also, many people have come to the UCC from other, more hierarchical denominations, or from a position of being unchurched. Therefore, we cannot assume that the concept of covenant is equally understood
In discussing the difference between a covenant and a contract, it was suggested that
- A contract is based on law, and built on fear; a covenant is based on grace, and built on love.
- A covenant “has a gratuitous, growing edge which nourishes rather than limits.”
- Each addresses accountability differently. In a covenant, accountability must remain mutual
- Covenants require public affirmation and re-affirmation.
- Based on law, built on fear Based on grace; built on love
- Limits Nourishes
- Accountability may be one-sided Accountability is always mutual
- Requires no other attention in order Requires (re-)affirmation in order to remain enforceable live
[Source: Northern California Nevada Conf. UCC Committee on Ministry http://www.ncncucc.org/]