Celebrating 30 Years of Godís
by Don Schwager
I will sing of your steadfast
love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness
to all generations
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?
- Psalm 89:1
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.
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