Saturday, October 07, 2006

William Einwechter: The church as covenantal

“We have to face issues among ourselves as we have sought to reform our existing churches and sought to raise up new ones. I contend much of the disagreement arises among us because of a disagreement in the definition of key terms – like 'family' and 'church'. But the goal is not to win the debate with our brothers in Christ, but rather, if you forgive me, that Christ will win His debate with us.”

The nature of the church: A covenantal institution

The New Testament word for church: ekklesia, from ek, out of or from, and klesia, for privilege or responsibilities.

The word was used for the citizens of a city who were called out to govern the affairs of their city. Note the association with government; it was not an ad hoc committee or loose association, but had structure and defined boundaries of jurisdiction and membership.

Consider the ekklesia of Jesus Christ. God did not choose the term arbitrarily. The church is a government consisting of believers called out to gather to conduct the business of the Kingdom of God. They are a government, with jurisdiction and responsibilities.

The LXX used the term to designate Israel as the assembly of God's people. As the NT was written, this word was already in use to refer to the covenant people of God. Act 7:38, Stephen refers to Israel as the ekklesia of God.

OT Israel was not a loose association or fellowship, but a people created by covenant, and an elect people called out of the world and called to govern themselves before God in a given jurisdiction. Like Israel, we are a people called together in a covenant, the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

The church and the Kingdom of God

It is a serious mistake to say that the church and the Kingdom are the same. The area covered by Christ's Lordship is much larger than that of the church. Mat 28.33 Phil 2.10 Col 1.20 It must extend over every part of Creation; if anything is outside His Lordship, He is not kyrios. (Oscar Coleman)

Ps 110, Ps 2, and see how fulfilled in the New Testament. Each family, church, and state is an appointed government in the world with a definite jurisdiction under Christ. The church is not appointed to take over the roles of the family or the state.

The church is universal and invisible, and local and visible. The universal church is all of God's elect from all ages, covering all nations and all of history; but the membership can only be known to God until the Great Day. The local church is the manifestation of the universal church in a specific congregation.

The NT ekklesia is a covenantal institution and society, meaning, it is formed by a covenant and exhibits elements of a covenantal institution – not a building but a people established by God's sovereign plan.

Covenant is a concept from God, not men. It is solemn binding agreement between persons, a mutual commitment sealed by an oath; all God's oaths are self-maledictory. It is reserved for very important relationships.

What are the structural parts of a covenant? One of the better summaries is a five point structure on the word THEOS:

Transcendence (being established by God's will)
Hierarchy (with leaders designated by God and given authority by Him)
Ethos (standards which are revealed by Scripture)
Oaths and Sanctions (definite blessings and cursings attached, done before witnesses)
Succession (a plan and program of inheritance from one generation to the next)

“There are three convenantal institutions to carry out God's plan and government on earth – family, church, and state, to exercise His authority and carry out His sanctions in a defined sphere.”

If you don't have these five aspects, then you don't have a church.

The sacramentum was the oath of a Roman soldier to die for his commander; that is why baptism and the Lord's Supper became known as sacraments, because they were renewals of our oath to follow our King Jesus even unto death.

The universal church is established through the covenant of Grace and men enter by God's sovereign call. The local church is based on a covenant established between those who have faith in Christ and have been baptized in His name. The local church covenant needs to exhibit the five aspects of the Biblical model above. Without it, it may be a fellowship but not an ekklesia.
Ekklesia points to a formal body of government established by covenant, not a haphazard gathering

It is the designation of Old Testament Israel, a congregation formed by covenant. The Old Testament visible church came into being at Mount Sinai as a covenant nation with all the features of a divine covenant. Exodus 19 and 24. In the book of Deuteronomy (see 29:1, 13) the covenant was renewed before entering the land.

The church of Jesus Christ exhibits all the features of a covenantal institution

Transcendence – the Lordship of Christ (He is the head of the body ... all things might have preeminence)
Hierarchy – Jesus as the chief shepherd 1 Pet 5.4
Ethos – (Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are my disciples) The primary word for Jesus' followers is disciples. It is not a follower of doctrine but of a person.
Oaths and Sanctions – Baptism, Lord's Supper, and church discipline. The process of discipline can only be just if ... justice is not just for the state, but also the family and church – if there is a violation of the standards of an established government in its jurisdiction and led by a authorized leaders
Succession – how the faith is passed on from one generation to the next

If the New Testament church shows all the signs of a covenantal institution, it likely is

The traditional definition of a true church calls for teaching of biblical doctrine, proper administration of the sacraments, and proper administration of discipline. Einwechter prefers a different definition -- submission to the Lord Jesus Christ; proper exercise of authority by elders and deacons in proper jurisdiction; sound doctrine and practice (including teaching and sacraments); a membership oath and proper administration of discipline; and a multi-generational vision.

How can a covenantal institution be brought into being without a covenant? A family cannot be formed without a marriage covenant. A civil government cannot be formed without a statement of fundamental principles. The Mayflower Compact shows all the signs of a covenant; the language can be easily adapted to a local church. The Separatists who drew up the Compact drew on their experience with establishing a church government to set up a civil government. An outstanding Edmond Morgan: Visible Saints: A History of the Puritan Idea. The Separatists realized there was no way to reform the Church of England into a Biblical pattern without starting over.

He quoted the Puritan William Ames' “The Marrow of Theology” discussing the visible church: point six, “a society of believers joined together in a special bond for the continual exercise of the communion of saints” point 15, “this bond is a covenant implied or explicit” ; 16, “a renewing of the covenant”, 17, “promise of obedience”, 18, “this joining together by a covenant makes a church.”

The church's government implies the church's beliefs are written down. You don't make a covenant and then change the terms. The teaching of the church must be explicit, and believers unite around a given interpretation. The Bible must be interpreted and the church covenant and confession is the agreed upon interpretation. You must have terms for revision, as well. Each church's duty “like minded, with one mind” Glorifying God is not singing praise choruses but standing fast with one mind (Phil 1.27)

Areas of liberty – we need to draw jurisdictional boundaries in our government of faith and practice. Where is there permissible liberty of conscience and where is there not.

Proper discipline

The one being disciplined must be under that church's jurisdiction; must have broken the Biblical established standards of that church; must follow Biblical procedure; and must follow Biblical sanctions. We have to specify what standards we apply, what procedure we will follow, and what sanctions we will mete.

This is true for family and state discipline as well.

Mat 18:17-19 established the ekklesia as the channel for biblical discipline.

“The covenantal bond among believers is a partial yet necessary aspect of fulfilling the command to love one another in the way that Jesus loves us.” He is our example; Jn 15, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” He entered into a covenant with us. The application of the benefits of His redemptive work are the result of a covenant. Our marital love is secure based on a covenant.

One of the leading terms for God's love for his people in the Old Testament is translated mercy or lovingkindness but in Hebrew it refers to covenantal relationship, not general kindness. It means loyalty to an oath and faithfulness. Our love for one another in the church should be convenantal and steadfast, even stubborn (also meanings of the word).

It is formed by covenant and exhibits the aspects of it. Where there is no church covenant there is no ekklesia. Ames, “Believers do not make a particular church, even though they meet in a particular place.” Some people speak of “home church” as they speak of their home school. The jurisdictions are different; you can just as logically say “home civil government”

All believers should be members of a local church and unite with it by covenant. “Therefore those who have opportunity to join the church and neglect it grievously sin against God ... they can scarcely be counted believers truly seeking the Kingdom of God.” -- Ames

If they are unwilling to unite with a church, they are in rebellion, and promoting attendance without membership is similar to advocating cohabitation without marriage.

He also recommended his address from the 2004 conference.

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