Four Pillars of Covenant: Gathering, Word, Table, Sending
Understanding the four pillars of covenant is crucial to understanding the structures of life in KALEO. God calls us to live in covenant with Him and one another. This covenant consists of for four basic components: gathering, word, table, and sending. This basic structure informs our corporate worship gatherings, our missional communities, and our life as the body of Christ.
God made covenants with four men of the Old Testament. Each of these covenants follow the legal structures of ancient treaties between kings and their subjects. The components of these agreements included four basic sections.
1) The treaty ceremony began with an historical prologue in which the parties were identified, the history of the relationship was narrated, and the boundaries of the territory covered by the treaty were specified.
2) The second component of the covenant was generally longer and included stipulations such as the amount of tribute which the great king expected the client king to pay. The dominant king would also pronounce the sanctions of the covenant that included blessings for obedience and punishments (curses) for disobedience.
3) The third element of the treaty was an oath of allegiance which ratified the covenant. This was often ratified by a covenant meal.
4) The covenant structure concluded with the invocation of witnesses who would testify to the validity of the agreement. A sign of the covenant such as a scar was also given and the provisions of the covenant were written on a document that was permanently stored as a reminder of the stipulations.
These four components of covenant are found in the Biblical covenants of Noah (Genesis 9:12-17), Abraham (Genesis 17:1-14), Moses (Exodus 19-33), and David (2 Samuel 7:1-17). Of these four, God’s covenant with Moses presents the fullest picture of the covenant structure.
1) In the historical prologue of the Mosaic Covenant, God commands Moses to consecrate the people by washing their garments (Exodus 19:10). He then instructs the people not to ascend the mountain on which God is meeting with Moses. In Chapter 20, God identifies himself in verse two, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
2) The stipulations of this covenant include a record of the Ten Commandments which begin in the third verse of Chapter 20. These stipulations of covenant are followed by a long list of laws. Finally, in Exodus 23:20 we find the sanctions of the covenant. God promises to give the Israelites the land of Canaan, if they are obedient.
3) The ratification of God’s covenant with Moses is confirmed in Exodus 24. In verse three, Moses tells the people what the rules of the covenant are and the people respond, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses writes down the words of the Lord (v. 4) and makes a sacrifice of blood. In verse seven, Moses reads the Book of the Covenant and again the people agree to be obedient. He sprinkles the people with blood and says, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (v. 8) At this point, Moses and seventy elders climb the mountain, see God, and have a meal in his presence. (v. 11) After this covenant meal, Moses and Joshua climb the mountain again and are given the stone tablets on which God had written the law and the commandments. (v. 12)
4) Finally, the covenant ceremony concludes with dismissal or sending. After recording more laws concerning the tabernacle, the Lord says to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, the the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring, I will give it.’” (Exodus 33:1)
This four-fold covenantal pattern is found in all of the ancient liturgies of the church and we follow it in our corporate worship gatherings as well.
1) Worship begins with an acknowledgement of God which results in praise for who he is and his acts of salvation.
2) The stipulations of our relationship with God are recounted in the service of the word which includes scripture reading and preaching. This element of worship recalls what God expects of us and what we can expect of him.
3) We celebrate our covenant with God by eating a symbolic meal in his presence.
4) We are sent to live as witnesses of the covenant by our loving service to him and to others.
The story of the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35) provides a very natural example of this four-fold structure. It was the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the first Easter. Two believers, one name Cleopas, were walking along and discussing what had happened in recent days. As they were talking Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but they were kept from recognizing him. Consequently, they were gathered in the Lord’s presence.
Jesus asked them what they were discussing and Cleopas told him about the events of the crucifixion and the women’s account of the resurrection.
The basic components of these covenants follow a common pattern: 1) identification of parties involved; 2) stipulations of the covenant agreement including territorial boundaries as well as blessings for keeping covenant and curses for breaking covenant; 3) a ratification of the covenant often symbolized by a mark or a meal; and 4) a sending to live in covenant and remember what it means.
The letter to the Hebrews clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is a mediator of a new covenant. (Hebrews 12:24) Because the old covenant is made obsolete, Jesus initiated a new covenant. (Hebrews 8:13) Even the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah foretold, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant.” (Jeremiah 31:31) The writer of Hebrews quotes this passage from Jeremiah and ends with this wonderful promise, “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12) The Apostle Paul provides even more information about this event when he writes, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23)
Likewise, baptism is the mark of the new covenant. The Apostle Paul makes a connection between circumcision and baptism as he writes in Colossians 2:11-12, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
These signs of covenant and the very structure of covenant itself inform our relationship with God and with one another. As leaders of missional communities we have an opportunity to enact this covenantal pattern at each of our meetings. Your community will gather in the name and presence of the Lord. You will remember the stipulations of his covenant through Bible study, prayer, and testimonies. You will celebrate our relationship with him and with one another by sharing a meal. And, finally, you will depart to love and serve the Lord through missional living.
Even your physical gathering enacts a covenant rehearsal. Think of your community members entering the house and greeting one another. Perhaps you introduce new people or guests and begin to form relationships. The group may move into a living room or den to study and read the Bible. This may be a time of worship that celebrates the Lord and remembers our covenant relationship with him. Next, the community may move to what will be an even greater level of intimacy around the dinner table. There is something special about sharing a meal with others that unites people on a deeper level than most conversations. Finally, as the group dismisses and says farewell, there is a sending to live for the glory of the Lord as the church scattered throughout the community.*
*used with permission from Jonathan Nelms.