Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Decline of Covenants in Christianity

The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is replete with teachings grounded in a covenant framework, and even has passages (e.g., King Benjamin's speech) that reflect the findings of modern scholarship about ancient covenant formulas used in the Middle East. My reading of the scriptures has always left me a little puzzled about why covenants have become rather downplayed in modern Christianity, and why the idea of Latter-day Saints making covenants to obey God and keep His commandments would be viewed with such revulsion, as if that were to deny the grace that God offers us (through a covenant relationships). The word "covenant" is thrown around, but the substance is often lacking, in my opinion.

Such views will be immediately rejected by those not familiar with our faith and our understanding of covenants, but there's a resource that I think will be helpful both to Latter-day Saints and others in understanding this intriguing issue. Noel Reynolds, one of my favorite writers, has a carefully documented chapter, "The Decline of Covenant in Early Christian Thought from the book, Early Christians in Disarray (in the list of online books at the Maxwell Institute - click on the link to see a list of links to individual chapters). One of the interesting insights, for example, is that the term "covenant" in Roman law referred to illegal secret societies, and thus there was heavy pressure in the very early days of Christianity to tone down references to covenants and covenant making. That, coupled with the Hellenization of Christianity and other factors, brought us to the state where one-way sacraments rather than two-way covenants are the norm. Let me know what you think.

5 comments:

Bookslinger said...

Just to throw a bone to non-LDS Christians, the idea of covenants is not entirely lost.

There is a modern Presbyterian branch descended from a Scottish group knows as Covenanters. www.covenanter.org

A quick google search reveals many churches using the word "covenant" in their name. But as you say, the word is thrown around, but often lacks substance.

Then there is the group Promise Keepers, www.promisekeepers.org, which has this: "Promise Keepers’ mission is to ignite and unite men to become passionate followers of Jesus Christ through the effective communication of seven promises to God, their fellow men, family, church and the world."

If I remember correctly, there was an evangelical group started in the 1970's or 1980's that also took the name "The Covenanters", but I haven't been able to find them on the web. It's possible they morphed into the Promise Keepers.

Anonymous said...

Didn't most of the O.T. and BofM Covenants involve the people making a covenant with the king and the king making a covenant with God?

I, for one, am not comfortable making a covenant with an "arm of flesh", neither do I care to make a covenant as part of a group (if most of the group is bad, God punishes the group, if most of the group is good God rewards the group).

We seem to make covenants as individuals (okay couples also) today. I wonder why the evolution of covenant making?

Anonymous said...

Um, we do make covenants with a King who in turn has covenanted to fulfill all righteousness and the demands of justice to God, His Father.

The principles haven't really changed.

Bookslinger said...

anon at 9:09,
I'm not as familiar with the OT, can you give some examples of Israelites making covenants with their king but not God?

I'm trying to think of examples of a believer's covenants with God in the NT, and can't come up with any off the top of my head without looking.

But in the BoM, I think the specific mention of baptismal covenants start with Alma Sr, at the Waters of Mormon. And maybe with King Benjamin's speech too, but I don't remember without looking.

Andrew Miller said...

If you search the Bible for Baptism, the Sacrament, and so forth, you will find no mention of the covenant aspect of those ordinances. That information is only found in the Book of Mormon. "Many of the covenants have they taken away."