GOD'S COVENANT LOVE: celebrating 30 years of God's Faithfulness in Covenant Community [Go to Table of Contents]

Celebrating 30 Years of Godís Faithfulness
by Don Schwager
I will sing of your steadfast  love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations
                   - Psalm  89:1
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of covenant Christian communities. How did covenant community come about? And what is its significance for today? And why should we be thankful for what God has done in and through covenant Christian community? 

I canít write as an historian or a theologian, but I can offer an eye-witness account of God's action in establishing covenant community and in his faithfulness to us over the years. 

The beginnings 

In early 1969 the Lord began to speak to a charismatic group of predominantly university students in Ann Arbor about his intention to do a new work among them. He said, "I want to make a covenant with you, but you must first smash all your idols." He then enumerated what seemed like an endless list of things which stood as idols in our lives in place of the Lord himself. Both conviction and wonder seized our hearts that night as we prayed and pondered what God has said. "What idols do I need to smash?" and " WHAT is a COVENANT?" 

In the following months the Lord led us in repentance and in deeper conversion of heart. He began to give us a burning desire to "give our all for Him," to "throw our lot in with one another," and to serve the Lord together in whatever way He chose to lead us. While our 60's idealism and youthful enthusiasm made us open to new forms of lifestyles and communal living, we weren't really prepared for committed relationships of covenant love. We studied the scriptures to see what we could learn about "covenant" and "community" and we prayed and discussed together how we could respond to the Lord's leading. We came to a renewed understanding and appreciation for Godís covenant love for his people.   His love is marked by ďhesedĒ, the Hebrew word which expresses committed love, fidelity, covenant faithfulness, mercy, and loving-kindness. Since Christians share in the New Covenant, we have a distinctive relationship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We knew that God was calling us to live in a particular way a shared life of committed love as brothers and sisters in Christ in community.

At the end of the summer of 1970 we took a retreat together at a camp in the hills of southeastern Michigan. After prayer and deliberation we agreed to make a covenant together as a community and we adopted a pattern of community life and order. A community covenant statement was written and we took a few weeks to pray in preparation for making our commitments. Our "Covenant Statement" summarized what we believe we heard from the Lord. 

"In order to respond to what God is doing among us and in order to be that people he is calling us to be, we desire to give our whole lives to him, to follow his Son, Jesus, and to live more and more in the Holy Spirit. We desire to love and serve him in lives of daily prayer and service; to praise and worship him always; to ever seek his face; to know and serve the truth of his Word in joy, peace, and love of the Holy Spirit; to believe what he speaks to us and to be obedient to the truth of his Word and the guidance of his Spirit; to offer hospitality to those whom he sends to us; to widen our hearts to those he adds to our number; and to carry out the mission that he is entrusting to us. Above all, we desire to be a people who always grow, by his great mercy, in the fervor of that first love he has given to us -- he who is our all. We desire to consecrate our lives to him, not simply as individuals, but as members of a people -- members of The Word of God."
In the fall of 1970 we gathered to offer our lives corporately to the Lord. Some 50 brothers and sisters each stood in turn and publicly made their commitments to the Lord and to one another: "I want to give my life fully to God and to live as a member of The Word of God." A prophetic word was spoken after we had made our covenant commitments: "This is a night of importance for my church..tonight I am restoring much that has been lost..." That night we knew that God had changed us and knit us together as a people, as brothers and sisters in the Lord. And we knew that he had called us together, not just for our sakes, but for the sake of his work of renewal and restoration throughout the body of Christ. 

A sign of restoration 

Today there are many hundreds, perhaps thousands of covenant communities around the world. What is the significance of covenant community for today? First, it is a signpost of what God is bringing about through the gift of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is a visible public sign of the Lord's work of renewal in bringing people into a revitalized relationship with God and a sign of the unity he desires for all his people. The unity we already have as brothers and sisters in Christ stems from baptism and the gift and working of the Holy Spirit. This gift enables Christians of different traditions to recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and to live together in real shared life. This unifying grace is a hallmark of God's work today. 

Second, covenant community is a servant of the renewal. It is meant to be a sign to the rest of the charismatic renewal, and to the churches, and to the world. It's a message to everybody, but not everybody is called to it. People should be able to come to "covenant communities" and see that "this is what the Holy Spirit is about", "this is what the Lord is trying to produce". It is part of the nature of a sign that you cannot be everything. Covenant communities cannot do everything and cannot solve all problems. They are only a part, but, nonetheless an important part of God's work of renewal and restoration. 

We are privileged to live in community 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, speaks of the privilege Christians have to live in visible community with other Christians.It is something we should not take for granted. 

 ďIt is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.  There is his comission, his work. ..So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians."
We believe that the Lord has called The Sword of the Spirit for this age, a time of significant change and upheaval in the world and a time of difficulty and spiritual conflict for Christians. But it is also a time for great spiritual awakening and evangelism, and for building Christian communities throughout the world to stem the tide of evil and to strengthen God's people. As we celebrate 30 years of God's steadfast love and faithfulness to us, let's give thanks to God for the many blessings, graces, and gifts he has given to us individually and corporately. And let's thanks him as well for the times of testing, difficulties, and challenges we have faced in serving him together in covenant community. When the Lord gives, he expects much in return. Let's return double thanks and a renewed commitment to follow the Lord together wherever he may lead us. 

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Don Schwager is the author of  Daily Scripture Readings & Meditations and coordinator for Detroit Community Outreach.

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