Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Abi and Covenant

I frequently feel, well, a little AbiNormal ;^) when it comes to using the term "covenant" in connection with a particular group of Christ-followers. Most folks I'm reading or hearing use this term to describe the commitment they are making to each other and the group's purpose. I know why they do this -- because there is such a thing as a "covenant" in our society as well as our Bible.

But when I speak of CovenantClusters, let me be clear: we are not making a covenant in this manner. We are acknowledging and living out the binding covenant to which we are already committed -- signed with the blood of Jesus Christ.

When it comes to missional orders, some see them as "covenant clusters" -- like my friend Len. But the way he uses it (in the "Mutuality, Triads, Spiritual Directors, and Authority" section of that post) is not the way I use it. Of course, he is free to use those words in that way. I just don't want you to be confused about how I use them.

What The Abbess is looking for as part of the whole missional order discussion is a "rule of life" and a "rhythm of life" that provides a group of Christ followers with a focus, a framework, for the working out of our cHesed -- our already-existing sacred duty to love God and love each other -- in the context of apprenticing disciples.

[Note: Just before I started this post, I ordered Neil Cole's new book, Search and Rescue: An Urgent Call to Make and Multiply Disciples (I know, I said no more books -- but it is part of the Neil Cole "set" that is already important to CovenantClusters. :^) ). I am looking forward to getting it and will probably have to blog about it sometime soon....]

That makes this whole "covenant" thing in the context of "missional orders" about "forms" for cHesed -- the how do we do this LIFE with each other in a meaningful, incarnational and missional way. And I am content to both formulate and take solemn missional order vows, as part of the "bounded set" without risking the compromise of the foundational concept of covenant. Because regardless of what "vows" I may or may not take, I remain already firmly bound to cHesed in the New Covenant. And I believe that gives a stronger foundation to any "form" another "vow" might take, while allowing them to be simpler. And simple is key.

So ... I've gone over to the Scriptorium and copied some of my key terms to review here, in hopes of clarifying what I mean:


Our primary context for understanding God and his purposes is through the concept of covenant. God has chosen to structure his relationships with humanity by making covenants, as can clearly be seen in the Old Testament. These covenants bind (cluster) all parties together with the terms and conditions God designed for relationship. These terms and conditions include both blessings for obedience and consequences for disobedience. Each party is responsible (accountable) to all other parties for faithfully abiding by the terms and conditions as well as providing whatever is needed to help each other remain faithful.

God, as documented in the New Testament, has made a final New Covenant through the sending of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be both our covenant-making and our covenant-breaking sacrifice. His death, burial and resurrection have conquered death and given us access to Eternal Life, if we will accept God’s offer of covenant. Acceptance makes us adopted children of God -- joint heirs with Jesus. No. Small. Deal.


The concept of faithful covenant-keeping is communicated through this deep and meaningful Hebrew word. The gist has to do with looking after the best interest of the other, according to the covenant. It is most frequently translated in connection with the motivating attitudes of love, grace and mercy. These attitudes of cHesed manifest themselves in the corresponding responses of submission, service and leadership.

When persons fully understand cHesed as the attitudes and responses that show faithful obedience to the command to love God and love others, it transforms their ability to understand what God has revealed in his Word as well as their ability to understand what God wants them to do about it. We believe it is well worth the investment in time and effort to gain this foundational understanding. (Thanks to Mont Smith for sharing these two concepts in his book, What The Bible Says About Covenant, which is currently out of print.)

I have spent quite a lot of time processing this concept and working on ways to help communicate it's complexity and nuanced presence in the New Testament. This chart (which is a Word Document you may open or download) is the latest attempt I have made, using the concepts from The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. You will see that these concepts are very important to The Abbess because you will find evidence of them in all my thinking about covenant relationships.

cHesed Glasses

I use this term as a way to encourage people to check their context when they're reading scripture. Just as 3D glasses are required to get the most out of a 3D format, we need the lenses of cHesed to make God's point jump out of scripture into our understanding. If the whole of the requirement of God is summed up in loving God and loving others (so Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed, quotes Jesus as saying), and if this is the work of faithful covenant keeping, then we must have tools that help us focus properly.

Putting on cHesed glasses means that we are remembering that the left lens represents the fact that God is a covenant making God, while the right lens represents the fact that God is a faithful covenant keeper — and expects the same of us (possible only with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course). This will help us ask these questions when we look at God's Word:

  1. What covenant is the context for this situation?
  2. Is this situation one of covenant making, covenant keeping and blessings for faithfulness or covenant breaking and consequences for unfaithfulness?
  3. What reminder can we take from this situation to help us keep the primary question before us: How will what I am thinking or saying or doing (or not) help me be a faithful covenant partner to God and to others (or not)? How does this help me love God and love others (or not)?

Christian Hasidim

Most people associate the term Hasidim with ultra-orthodox Jews, as in Hasidic Judaism. This comes from the word Chaciyd, from which come words like faithful and saint…and, of course, it is linked to the word cHesed because it is referring to those who are faithful covenant-keepers: saints.

The Christian Hasidim are basically the "everyday" saints, those who make up the priesthood of the believers, those who faithfully keep covenant with God through Jesus Christ. I have been thinking about coining this term (I haven't heard anyone else use it, but that doesn't mean somebody hasn't!) for CovenantClusters folks, especially since the corruption of the term "Christian" in this post-modern, post-Christendom era. Don't want to be weird about it, but I do so like using words that actually mean what they're supposed to mean….

One last thing: please take a look at the top of my sidebar. There you will find both "Abi's Rule" (and if you have studied my cHesed chart, it will make perfect sense to you) and "CovenantClusters' Rule" (which was documented in this post -- be sure to read the clarifications in the comments) -- both of which may help you summarize my thinking.

Okay ... so it's back to sleep here at 2 a.m. ...

Be blessed!


Len Hjalmarson said...

You would love the discussion of Hesed in the first chapter of "Inhabiting the Church" - the chapter on vows. Pub. Wipf and Stock I have now ordred three copies..

AbiSomeone said...

I'm still bummed that I didn't get to attend the seminar with the authors here in March :^( ...I was down with the 3 week flu bug!

I guess I'll have to order another book... I'm always interested in how Hesed is interpreted and applied.

I'm reading through Neil Cole's new book: Search and Rescue -- since his Life Transformation Groups are the model for the WordClusters at CovenantClusters.

Thanks for stopping by...