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Monday, March 30, 2009

Challenged by Covenants!

I was born to and raised by parents who were Baptists. But in my mid-twenties, as I studied the scriptures, the Lord lead us out of Baptist circles and associations and eventually lead us into association with brethren assemblies. Continual study of the Bible and comparison of my practices with the scriptures were again used of the Lord to lead us out of brethren assemblies (when I was 41). It was then that the Lord gave Judy and me a deep longing to visit a number of congregations (of different denominations) with which we had never been closely associated before.

At this point in our journey, we purposed to visit congregations where various homeschooling friends of ours were members. We purposed to visit each one for at least 6 weeks in order to get a "feel" for what each congregation believed and practiced. The majority of the congregations we visited over the next 3 years or so belonged to a variety of "Reformed" denominations.

As strange as it may seem, the greatest impression that was made on my mind as we attended services, listened to sermons, read literature and got to know people in these Reformed congregations was this......during the first 41 years of my life I could not remember hearing any teaching at all on the subject of covenants in scripture, but in Reformed circles I was hearing about covenants all the time! The covenants that were most commonly referred to by Reformed speakers and writers were "the covenant of works" and "the covenant of grace".

At that point in my life, I knew little about covenants and would have been hard pressed to even give a definition of the word! I knew that a covenant was "something like a contract" but that was the extent of my knowledge of the subject! Thus I became curious to learn more and to find out exactly what the Bible had to say about covenants.

As I began looking up and studying all the references to "covenants" in scripture, I was amazed to realize just how much the Bible had to say about them! Although I could not find either “the covenant of works” or “the covenant of grace” anywhere in the Bible, I did learn that covenants were promises, as were oaths and vows. But covenants made by God are promises (or series of promises) which are signified by visible tokens which last as long as the covenants which they signify. Do you recall the very first covenant in the Bible? It was God's covenant with Noah and all flesh after the flood (Genesis 9). It was His promise never again to destroy the earth with a flood and it was signified by the token of the rain bow. We know that that covenant was an everlasting covenant because God said so (Gen.9:16) and also because the rainbow, the covenant token, is still with us!

Covenants were unnecessary when there was no sin affecting relationships and no curse marring relationships between creatures or their relationship with their Creator. But after God began bringing judgment upon the wickedness of men in the earth, He also began instituting covenants with men. These covenants would serve to progressively reveal God’s purposes and ways to man and ultimately remove the curse entirely. (Rev.22:3)

The Old Covenant and the New Covenant

Although there are at least 8 covenants which God has made, the two major covenants in the Bible are the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Unfortunately, Bible translators have used two different English words (testament and covenant) to designate one word in the original languages. But these two words are synonymous. Another unfortunate designation (one which is not supported in the scriptures themselves) is the designation of scriptures which were given prior to the Lord Jesus` incarnation as "The Old Testament" and the scriptures which were given after as "The New Testament".

But contrary to this common notion, the Old Testament or Old Covenant is not the 39 books of the Bible from Genesis to Malachi! Rather it is the covenant which God made with the nation of Israel at Sinai. Specifically, that covenant is the Ten Commandments! (Deut.4:13 and Hebrews chapter 8) This covenant was signified by the sprinkling of the blood of animal sacrifices (Exodus 24:4-8) and was brought to an end with the death of the Lord Jesus and the rending of the veil of the temple.

Contrary to popular belief, the New Testament or New Covenant is not the 27 books of the Bible from Matthew to Revelation but rather a series of 7 divine promises prophesied by Jeremiah, recorded again in Hebrews 8, dedicated by the blood of the Lord Jesus, Himself , and signified by the cup which the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to drink in remembrance of Him. (Matt.26:27; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:19,20; I Cor.11:24-26)

So Matthew's Mark's, Luke's and John's gospel accounts up to the death of the Lord Jesus are about people who lived under the Old Covenant! New Covenant times commenced after the death of the Lord Jesus at Calvary!

While we and our ancestors have lived in New Covenant times since the Lord Jesus died at Calvary, it is a sad fact that most Christians today have memorized the Old Covenant but could not tell you what the New Covenant is! Sadder still is the awful truth that the vast majority of Christian gatherings/congregations, their “services” and “ministries”(even those which claim to be “New Testament Churches”) function NOT according to New Covenant principles but according to those of the Old Covenant!!!

I’ll go into more detail on these matters in the next post….


Joia said...

I was just talking to a friend last week about the the time that we spent visiting different churches and what a great learning experience that was for me... thank you for that opportunity! =)

love, Joia

Bruce Woodford said...

Hi Joia,

That was a great learning experience for all of us (Mom and I and you and Andrew)! I had no idea what direction the Lord was taking us at the time, but He certainly knew (and still does) where He's taking us!
May we continue to learn what it is to clearly hear His voice, obey what He says to us and encourage others to do the same.

Lots of love,