Tag Archives: Covenant theology

Preparing for Mid-Winter: “Covenant Principles”

Next week I will be attending the Evangelical Covenant Church’s mid-winter conference in Chicago.  Part of my conference experience includes taking a course in the history of the Covenant church.  Our class has been assigned a number of pre-course readings and we were also required to give a brief presentation on one of the readings.

I’ve chosen to present on the essay “Covenant Principles” by Theodore T. Anderson.  Written as part of a fiftieth anniversary volume entitled Covenant Memories, 1885-1935, the essay explores the principles upon which the entire Covenant movement is founded.  I know the history and foundations of movements tend to be dry reading, but Covenant Principles is anything but.  It’s short, punch, and powerfully prophetic.  You could publish it today and it would serve as a clarion call to Christians young and old to reassess their guiding principles as disciples of Jesus.

Anderson is engaging and his theological vision is rich with insight.  His aim is to succinctly “define the Covenant biblically, theologically, and ecclesiologically.”*

He begins by stating the two truths that must be held in creative tension for all movements to establish themselves, sustain themselves, and bear ongoing fruit for the kingdom of God:

  • “Living movements are not static, but adapt themselves to new conditions.”

  • Convictions are indispensable for the survival and growth of any movement. Without them we are colorless and powerless. They are not like the shell of the turtle, which bars him from contact with others, but rather resemble the bones of the human body, which, though not directly visible, give form and strength to the entire being.”

Anderson then outlines the five Covenant principles which would serve as the bedrock for the (then) future of the Covenant church:

  1. The supremacy of the Bible

“The question constantly raised in pioneer days was, What do the Scriptures say? There may have been a tinge of ridicule in the epithet läsare, or “reader,” sometimes translated “readerists,” but the title was abundantly deserved. To our trailblazers, the Bible was the Supreme Court from which there could be no appeal. It is not by chance that the constitutions of our churches almost invariably begin with a statement that the Bible is recognized as the only adequate standard for faith and conduct, for individual Christians and for groups of believers.”

  1. The necessity of spiritual life

“Spiritual life demands more than intellectual assent to the claims of Christ. An academic orthodoxy unrelated to life is a perilous thing. To know the truth and fail to obey it is fatal both morally and spiritually. It is scarcely accurate, however, to say that it is life and not doctrine that characterizes the believer. The two are not mutually exclusive. Doctrine may exist without spiritual life, but not spiritual life without doctrine. Our faith is not a leap in the dark, but is built on incontrovertible facts. That Christ died is history. That he died for our sins is doctrine.”

“A personal and vital relationship to Christ as the Savior is the clamant need. This means to know and love and trust and obey him. That is the heart of the Christian life. It is a sunny reality that puts a new halo on every activity. The Bible describes it as a new birth, a new creation, a resurrection from the dead. It is a partaking of the divine nature.”

“Believing in a clear line of demarcation between life and death, we also believe in winning men to this life in Christ. Evangelism is our birthright. The very nature of the Christian life demands sharing it with others. The effort we make, in word and deed, to present Christ to other people is a fairly accurate index of how much he means to us. A Christ-centered message alone meets the need of the human heart. Gladstone was right when he stated that the greatest service any human being can render to another is to win him for the Lord. We have lost our vision if that ambition is dimmed.”

  1. Belief in the unity of all true Christians

“A spiritual home for all believers is the ideal of the Christian Church. In the apostolic days, the book of Acts tells us, those were added to the Church who were saved. The Bible does not recognize a divided church. Dissensions and cliques are foreign to its spirit. The letters of Paul abound in references to “all the brethren,” “all the saints.” On the basis of the Scriptures, we believe that the Church should accept all whom Christ has accepted. If we are to be together in heaven, we should be together here.”

“This means admitting into the Church all who are recognized as believers and barring from active church membership all others. Minor differences regarding issues on which true Christians disagree must not divide us. Unity and uniformity are not synonymous. The right of private interpretation is recognized. We know in part and prophesy in part. No claim to omniscience in drawing this line of demarcation is offered. Even the first Christian Church had an Ananias and a Sapphira. We do believe, however, that a spiritual experience is unfailingly manifested in a personal profession of faith and a consistent Christian life. When Christ on a visit to Tyre and Sidon entered into a house, the gospel narrative tells us, he could not be hid. Neither can the believer, who is a partaker of his nature, be concealed. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

  1. The independence of the local church

“We are congregational in organization. There is no centralized authority exercised over the churches.”

“In all fairness, it must be admitted that the autonomy of the local church entails problems that sometimes become acute. Occasionally there are crises in a church that could be relieved by definite aid from some higher authority. Serious dissensions and injustices could possibly be obviated at times if our organization were not so loose. The tragedy of having churches without pastors and pastors without churches, often resulting in irreparable loss to both, could possibly be avoided. But we believe that the merits of the congregational system outweigh the handicaps. The advantages accruing to a firmer organization can be secured in ways that do not conflict with scriptural precedents. The perils involved in an ecclesiastical bureaucracy are greater than any practical advantages inherent in it.”

  1. The urgency of the missionary task

“Mission Friends, or friends of missions, was the name applied to our fathers from the earliest days, and it was no misnomer. No narrow vision or limited perspective controlled them. They recalled that Christ declared that he was the light, not of Palestine or Sweden or America only, but of the world. That the gospel of the grace of God is a universal message was a reality to them.”

“The missionary enterprise is not optional, to be accepted or rejected at will by the believers. It is a mandate from the Lord. Our own spiritual life demands this expression, as does the hopeless condition of a Christless world. A church without a missionary vision is a dying church. An individual Christian devoid of missionary zeal is living a dwindling spiritual life.”

“He who has forgotten or evaded his God-given obligations to his fellowmen is living on a diminishing spiritual capital. His inner life inevitably becomes stunted and impoverished.”

“Fighting the good fight of faith is not merely defensive, but preeminently offensive. This was the conviction of our fathers. They were neither near-sighted nor far-sighted. They saw the whitening fields both at home and abroad. Alaska, which some denominations term “home missions” because it belongs to the United States, became our first foreign missionary field. China, with its uncounted millions and latent influence in the Far East and the world, soon claimed our hearts. In the midst of our jubilee year, despite financial distress in all our churches, we are advancing into the continent of Africa. By the grace of God and the support of his people, we are advancing and not retrenching.”

 

*All quotes taken from the essay “Covenant Principles” found in the book Covenant Roots: Sources and Affirmations.

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