Have you read the covenant?

March 19, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Opinion | Michael Urch

Remember that agreement we all signed before we came to Bethel? When’s the last time you read it? What is that thing about, anyway?

Too often the covenant is abused in mockery; too often its intentions are misunderstood. Do not think of it as the terms and conditions of an online contract where you scroll to the bottom, click “accept” and forget about it.

Students, staff and faculty, I urge you: consider the promise that you made in signing our covenant. For the years that you are at Bethel, you have made a commitment to uphold certain expectations to the best of your ability.

The title “covenant” refers to the covenants of the Bible—promise-driven commitments binding God, creation and people together in a beautiful relationship. In the Garden of Eden, this trifold bond was glorious, and the glory was for the Lord (Psalm 19:1; Habakkuk 2:14; Romans 1:20). Imagine the joy and celebration of that God-centered relationship.

To our shame, the fall of humankind broke this covenant relationship, and ever since the Edenic covenant was damaged, all of humankind has desired its return. Consider your own life: do you have a longing for something more, the need to fill a void?

Throughout the rest of the Bible, God’s promise-plan is advanced by successive covenants, all of which can be studied in detail in the J-course Covenant, Promise and Fulfillment.

God’s successive covenant promises are fulfilled with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through his substitutionary atoning death, we can be reconciled to the beautiful covenant relationship. Jesus fills the void.

And that’s just it. The gospel that Bethel’s mission statement desires to advance is so essential. The promises of peace, love, patience, kindness and joy received by faith in Jesus Christ—the riches of God at Christ’s expense—are irremovable aspects to the new covenant outlined in scripture. That is the truth about covenants.

I fear that this campus is missing it. The covenant can so easily be boiled down to a list of rules to rebel against. Don’t fall into this trap. Do not miss the opportunity for greater things.

Yet, I also fear that among those who misunderstand the purpose of the covenant are those who have written it. At what point in the document is there a concrete explanation of our motivation to follow the covenant? Where is the place that says, “because we are being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, received through our faith in Christ, we desire to commit to being whole and holy persons?”

Furthermore, despite attempts by the Our Covenant Community webpage to clarify that the covenant “is not a set of rules,” the covenant refers to itself as “a statement of expectations.” Forgive me if this makes it sound like a list of rules. The author of this webpage also calls the covenant a promise to honor a specific set of values, which are not even mentioned within the covenant.

Our seven core values—Christ-followers, character-builders, learners, truth-seekers, world-changers, reconcilers, salt and light—can be found with a Google search, on rubber bracelets given out at Bethel’s booth at the Minnesota State Fair and in Power Ranger-based Welcome Week videos. I believe the essence of these values is implicitly present in the covenant, but why do they lack a more explicit presence?

Bethel’s affirmation of faith outlines beliefs concerning the members of the Trinity, the importance of the local church, the depth of our sinful state and the truth of our regeneration. Why is it that the only aspect of our affirmation of faith clearly integrated into our covenant is Christian conduct?

Board of trustees [1], do not misunderstand me. I do not think that we should lessen the criteria of our commitment and minimize the importance of Christian conduct. I fully support the avoidance of plagiarism, sexism, discrimination, gossip, drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling and vandalism. Regardless, if I avoided all of these things yet lacked Christ, my life would still be rubbish.

I ask if there is a more constructive way that the covenant can be written. Shall we erroneously focus too much on what we wish to avoid that we forget what we desire to be?

When you pull up the covenant online, watch the video. Listen to what Justin Feeland has to say about the covenant. “I promise I’ll try to be more like Christ so I can serve you and build you up.” Why can’t that message be more prevalent in our covenant?

[1] According to the covenant, the board of trustees is the only entity allowed to make changes.

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