That’s not to say that we Dispensationalists don’t recognize the convenants. You know, the covenant with Abraham, the one with Moses, and of course the new covenant. Read our theologies, from Scofield to Chafer to Ryrie and so forth. The convenants are there. They are documented and understood in the greatest of detail. They are integral to our theology. Dispensationalism would not exist without these covenants. They are the relational foundation on which God’s outlined plan for the ages takes place.
Yet at times it seems we forget that we are living in a functioning covenant relationship. We are more than a collection of individuals. The revivalism that rose side-by-side with dispensationalism (in the 1800s) brought with it a virulent individualism. Salvation became something about the individual getting saved and going to heaven. It is not (or at least is seldom) about being born into an body, a fellowship of believes committed to the advancement of the kingdom and to service.
Covenants are a functional solution to problem: Relationships are established to resolve issues. The Lord used and uses covenants to manage the human race. We might think of them as one part of God’s pre-evangelism. He prompts people both internally and externally. Of course not all come but still He commands. The Mosaic Law was God’s schoolmaster for the Hebrew nation to help it identify sin and come to repentance. The Abrahamic covenant was God’s commitment and proposal to both the descendants of Abraham and to the whole world. We live under the new covenant. We live under the new covenant not as individuals but as the bride of Christ.
It has been a long time since I’ve been in a church where the terms “brother” and “sister” were used. And this is not to be cynical, but when I hear it today it sounds forced or unnatural. Few know the language and even fewer have a place in their heart for it. It has been reduced to habit and custom. I suspect that the reason is that we’ve not been driven together. We’ve simply come together. The thing that binds us — that covenant with the Lord — has been reduced to something for the individual.
It has been almost two centuries since the last protestant was put to death by way of the Inquisition. That was in the 1830s. The U.S., and indeed the western world, has had such a strong evangelical influence that persecution has become relatively trivial. We are free. Even with the challenges to our faith that we see growing we remain free. We speak on these matters with little if any fear of reprisal. Few ever bleed for their faith. A few do, but only a few. The rest of us live in relative comfort, at least compared to what happened to believers in Syria and Iraq in recent years. Losing a job for your faith is rough but it doesn’t compare to being beheaded or burned alive.
The issue is this: There is little or nothing driving us together. Well, there is, but we seem to be living oblivious to it. The covenants must have a functional importance to our lives as believers lest they become meaningless. This is exactly how we defend our *individual rights* to leftists. We say that the First Amendment must have a functional place else it is meaningless. We want, and even demand, our individual rights. I do wish we argued for a functioning covenant body with as much fervor.
If the New Covenant is how and where we live then what do we do next? How do we resolve this issue? We could become defensive and challenge individualism and liberalism. That always sounds good. It fills the pews and gets people excited. We could also say that Jesus *might come back tomorrow* but then end up with a pessimism that allows us to forget the responsibilities of living as a covenant people. We are already doing that quite well.
Covenants are about relationships. That’s the essence of a covenant. The solution is eminently simple: Practice this relationship. Live as a body. Have people over regularly and frequently for meals, for prayer, Bible study, for conversation. If this sounds familiar it is. It was the subject of a large number of books in the 70s and 80s. It’s about fellowship around the things we have in common — koinonia is the function of the covenant.
But the New Covenant shares a feature with the Abrahamic Covenant in that it is global in its proposal. Don’t just limit your relationships to people in your local church — those with whom you share your fellowship’s theological distinctives. Have unbelievers over for a meal. Yes, you can be friends with them. Enjoy a hamburger on the grill.
Find the outcast. Who are the ones that *your church* looks down upon? The illegal immigrant? Have them over for dinner. I mean it. Begin that gospel-sharing relationship. Does not the advancement of the Kingdom of God transcend national law? Can it be any other way?
The theological point is this: As it sits, dispensationalism lacks something when it comes to the life of the local church. It’s fixable and this fix does not affect the theology. The fix gives legs to the theology.
The short of it is this: The New Covenant is driven by the Great Commission. That commission means a lot of work. The commission drives the covenant.