Queensland Synod Mission Engagement Manager Steve Drinkall reflects on the theme of covenanting and what it means for today’s Uniting Church.
These days we seem to have contracts for everything. We have a contract if we want to build a house, we have an employment contract at work, and we have contracts with the gym, the school, the bank and even Netflix.
A contract basically lays out the conditions under which we will do business with others. We haggle together and agree to terms around what each of us will do, or not do in order to get the things we desire.
“I will build that house by this time, if you will pay me this much money in this way”, we say. It’s a common and unavoidable part of modern life which helps us work together to get things done fairly and efficiently.
Recently though, I’ve been wondering what all this contract making means when it comes to God. Are we able to make a deal with God, or agree to terms, or get him to enter into a contract with us?
Certainly, we have all tried to bargain with God at some time, in our own ways, but alas it never seems to quite work out.
It seems to me that Yahweh is essentially a relational God, who has always gone beyond mere contracts, inviting people into a richer covenant with himself. Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Jewish people come to mind.
A covenant was a deeper connection, where what was being offered was a relationship that sprang from the very nature of God and his vast resources, and people were given the opportunity to either accept or reject this offer.
The people that entered into covenants with God certainly weren’t in a position to bargain, or haggle over terms, or perhaps try to seek a better deal. What would anyone have, that they might give to God in exchange for his presence? It would seem that God is just not interested in making contracts with us. Instead, he has engaged us in something much deeper. Something based in relationship, loyalty, trust and family. A covenant!
The Uniting Church in Australia was created out of a deep desire to see unity among the churches that bore the name Christ. We understood that God had indeed entered into a new covenant with people, and that many of these people who had accepted his advances were to be found in any number of Christian groups.
As a starting point we agreed that there were people of the new covenant at least among the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. So we sought to unite these people, not to gain efficiencies or economies of scale, but because we realised that in fact we belonged together, we were actually family who should commit to the ongoing journey of uniting the other tribes. In this we learned our lesson from the Jews, who were always a series of different tribes, but they struggled to stay together because they fundamentally believed that they belonged together under God. They didn’t have a contract with each other, they were joined by a deep covenant with Yahweh.
As pressure seems to mount on the church, on families and on society in general, I can’t help but wonder if we would be wise to loosen up a little on the contracts we use to try and control and manipulate each other, and to focus instead on living together under this new covenant we have with God—a covenant which binds us together despite our many differences and through which all of the resources of heaven can be unleashed. Not because we cut a great deal, but simply because God decided in his grace to make us an offer we couldn’t refuse.