Friday, August 22, 2008

The heart of covenant

A few posts ago I drew attention to the respective roles of Josiah and Jeremiah. The former cleans up Israelite religion, ridding it of shrines, idols, and false priests. The latter is not satisfied and rails against the hearts of his countryfolk. The idols may have gone but idolatry has not been repented of; and thus, for lack of repentance, disaster is coming. I attempted to make the point that the Anglican Communion could have a Covenant but fail for lack of change of hearts of Anglicans.

Yet even Jeremiah envisions a future in which there is drastic difference. In many ways the climax of the book is in Jeremiah 31:31-32, "Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers ...". In this new covenant the law of the Lord will not be written on stone but "I will put my law within then, and I will write it on their hearts" (31:33). Sinc the outcome of both covenants is exactly the same, "And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (31:33), the drastic difference lies in the transformation of the people of God envisaged in terms of "their hearts".

Here two further aspects of the new covenant are relevant to our Communion considerations of an Anglican Covenant. First, the 'new Covenant' does not move on from Scripture, or involve a new law; rather the law is embedded in the life of believers in a new way. Some Anglican voices seem intent on arguing that the Holy Spirit is keen to teach us new truth beyond the bounds of Scripture. But is there a clear basis in Scripture for this? (Citing Jesus from John's Gospel re the Spirit leading us into all truth is not a clear basis ...). Secondly, in Jeremiah 32:39, the new covenant is expressed in this way, "I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever." Here is a striking critique of our Anglican lauding of "diversity". Diversity is appropriate to the people of God, but in tension with 'one heart' not in opposition to it. Some objections to an Anglican Covenant follow from fear of stifled diversity, including fear of suppressed 'local options'. But the proper starting point for consideration of an Anglican Covenant is desire to find 'one heart and one way' together!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Jeremiah has been the subject of my daily devotions recently, and he is not comfortable reading! He declared his ministry as the Lord's (rather reluctant) prophet, recalling the people to the 'ancient paths' (7.16), which were nothing less than the Mosaic covenant. Yet his claim to be a prophet were contested by many rivals ('Peace! Peace!'), and he suffered quite grievously for his witness - abuse, threats, imprisonment, beatings, loneliness. In the end his word is vindicated (that's why he's in the Bible!), but it takes a terrible invasion and exile to get the message across. As so often in the Prophets, the official representatives of religion are the ones rejected by God.
Jeremiah called his people to repentance over 40 years, but the call was largely ignored. The message of the book has been characterized as 'Judgment and Hope' - hope following and through judgment rather than instead of it, and Anglicans should keep these two elements in tension as well. Think of the baskets of figs (ch. 24) and the kind of people we are raising up - and becoming ourselves.