Summary: An Anglican’s reflection on the Methodist Covenant
04-01-09 Frisby Methodist Church
The Covenant Service
A story is told of a man in the church who once made a covenant with a young vicar. They agreed that, come what may. they would each tithe ten percent of their income every year.
They were both young and neither of them had much money.
But things changed.
Whilst the vicar’s salary did not go up that much, the church member’s salary did
After ten years, he was earning £10 thousand and so tithed one thousand pounds the year.
After 12 years he earned £100 thousand and so tithed £10 thousand pounds.
However after 20 years, he earned his first million but couldn’t bring himself to write a cheque for £ 100 thousand for the church.
He telephoned the vicar, long since having moved to another church, and asked to see him.
Walking into the vicar’s office the man begged to be let out of the covenant, saying,
"This tithing business has to stop. It was fine when my tithe was one thousand pounds, but I just cannot afford a hundred thousand pounds.
You’ve got to do something, Vicar!"
The vicar knelt on the floor and prayed silently for a long time.
Eventually the man said, "What are you doing? Are you praying that God will let me out of the covenant to tithe?"
"No," said the vicar. "I am praying for God to reduce your income back to the level where one thousand pounds will be your tithe!" (My thnaks to Joel Vicente for the story)
For many people the concept of a covenant is a foreign idea.
But to the writers of the New and the Old Testament – our Bible - it was central
For it goes to the very heart of the Gospel
It is unfortunate that our Bibles are divided into the Old and New Testament and not into the Old and New Covenant.
Because the word “testament” nowadays is synonymous with a will, because it isn’t a will in Biblical thought.
A covenant doesn’t kick in when you die – it kicks in now.
A covenant between two parties is more like a contract today.
There is an obligation for both sides to keep to what was agreed
The Old Testament is full of covenants – God’s Covenant with Noah, his covenant with Abraham, his covenant with Moses. …David to name a few
And then you have David’s covenant with Jonathan – a covenant between two friends
You will also find covenants between kings on
various matters especially in the books of Genesis and 1 Kings
Kings in ancient times made covenants to fix their spheres of interest or terms of peace.
(p.366-7 -Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol 1 Colin Brown - general editor)
The relationship between the partners in a Covenant is expressed by “covenant loyalty” a term known as hesed in Hebrew.
A covenant worked by setting out both sides’ rights as well as both sides responsibilities.
And a good covenant was one where both parties were satisfied with what was agreed.
A covenant forced on the weaker party by the stronger was rarely going to work in the long run.
Example: The closest equivalent to a covenant today is the wedding covenant, where both parties go into it willingly and understanding the rights and obligations
The Marriage Covenant has been described as a “voluntary life sentence with no remission for good behaviour!”
And it is specifically referred to in the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament:
In Malachi’s time, things were not going well for the Jews because they had broken their Covenant with God.
But the prophet remonstates with them – for not only had they broken their covenant with God but also with their wives. There was a nasty habit of putting aside one’s old wife and taking on a younger “trophy” wife when their wives got older.
This is what Malachi says in Mal 2:13-14
13Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.
14 “You ask why? It is because the Lord is acting as a witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, through she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Mal 2:13,14)
God takes covenants very seriously
2. God’s Covenant with his people
The Covenant that God had with his people is best summed up in Ex 6:7
“I will make you as my own people and
I will be your God.”
Wonderful – but what does it mean?
The Covenant of God with his people is explained in more detail in Dt 4;13
13“He declared to you his Covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets (Dt 4:13)