The following is the beginning of something I wrote in a discussion about the rudimentary doctrines of Christianity; I thought it may be a blessing both for Christians, and for people who are interested in finding out what Christianity is all about (this is the first part of a little series I hope will be a blessing (& informative)):
The basis of Christianity begins well prior to the rudimentary doctrines of it. The basis of the faith is covenant with God, the Creator. You may have heard the, now popular expression: ‘Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.’ That is true, but to lots of people the phrase doesn’t really make sense; hopefully I can bring some illumination to what that means. (A covenant is a relational agreement between two parties – a marriage is, perhaps, the best example of a covenant to modern readers. As in a marriage, God wants to enter into a permanent, intimate, relationship with us.)
The bible is one long story about God trying to be in relationship with mankind. It starts at the beginning of the world, and details how man’s relationship with God was broken by our willful disobedience to Him.
The God’s covenant with Abraham was a step in the process of history at redeeming man from the full reprobation of sin (man had been separated from relationship with God because of sin, but God wanted to reconcile us to Himself). As such, it was NOT the fulfillment of salvation in covenant form, but commenced a reconciliatory relationship between God and man, wherein the fulness of man’s depravity, and the working of God in our behalf begin to be revealed.
As a covenant (relational agreement) with God, Christianity is based upon 1) the initial condition of reprobation (our separation from God), and 2) the relational condition of the first covenant (that God had selected the ‘seed’ of Abraham to bring forth His final solution to the reprobation). It is, therefore, necessary to understand foundations of the first covenant in order to fully comprehend the work of God in the second covenant which superseded it – the covenant by which we are fully reconciled to God.
The First Covenant
The first covenant with its promises and clauses are laid out in Genesis 17. As you have free reign to study the passage, I will not comment on it fully, but simply extract the particulars of the agreement.
- Abraham would have a multitude of offspring (this denoted in part by his name being changed from Abram to Abraham (v.4-6))
- God’s covenant with Abraham was not for Abraham alone, but was to be permanently binding upon ALL of his offspring FOREVER (Eternal)(v.7)
- God – as Creator – would eternally give a portion of His creation (the land of Canaan) to Abraham, and his offspreing (which are already bound eternally to this covenant with God). (v. 8)
- The sign of this covenant was to be circumcision in the physical bodies of all males among the covenant people (Abraham’s offspring) (v. 10)
As mentioned, the nature of a covenant is an agreement between two parties (similar to a contract), so I will futher define the above four points into the responsibilities or promises of each party in the covenant. According to the covenant agreement, God promised to:
- Perpetually increase the covenant people. (v. 6)
- Give an inheritance (the land of Canaan) to the covenant people. (Establish for them an eternal hoe.) (v.7)
- Eternally be their God. (v. 7 & 8)
Abraham & his offspring were to follow these three terms:
- HAVE FAITH – the covenant people were to always BE THE PEOPLE OF GOD; a very simple requirement which only requires believing, and obeying God. (v.7 & 8)
- Circumcise their flesh – as a sign, or a seal of the covenant which the Creator was making with natural man, there had to be a physical sign, or seal. The sign of the covenant was the pain of denying the flesh – it has great signifigance, but for the moment it is enough as a sign of the agreement between God and man. (v. 10-14)
- Eternally be God’s people (v. 7-14)
Truly, the burden of the Covenant rested on God, who made it not only easy, but nearly automatic for Abraham’s offspring to be people of the covenant. All they had to do was believe that the covenant existed, and be circumcised. As the parents circumcised the children, their entry int the covenant was automatic for all the Jews – their society, itself (if it as a whole was serving the Lord) was their salvation. Only by refusing circumcision, and faith could they break the covenant. (v.14)
From the Jewish Covenant, to the Jewish RELIGION
The law, the covenant, and the priesthood are all distinctly separate things (though often Christians lump them all together as a singular) which are intimately interwoven. The covenant was the basis for Jewish society as God’s chosen people – it is also the basis for the law, and for the priesthood. Prior to Moses, there was no law, and no priesthood – there was only the covenant; by that covenant Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and all off Abraham’s children had no need of the law, or of priests, they lived by the faith of the covenant.
From the time of Adam and Eve, God desired to have a personal relationship with man; man rejected that in the beginning by disobeying Him. Then from the time of Abraham, God desired to have a personal relationship with each of His covenant people, but the Jews rejected a personal revelation of God at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:18 & 19), therefore the Law was added (Gal. 3:19) to micro-manage the covenant people into their proper clause of the covenant regarding faith: that they would make God their God as they were already covenanted to do. When the law was added, a priesthood was added also as the intercessors and mediaries between God and the people.
I, here, point out again, that prior to this event (the Jewish nation rejecting the voice of God at mount Sinai), all that the people of God needed was the Abrahamic covenant. The rest of the Jewish religion was added to MAKE them comply with the agreement they had already made in the fist covenant, but when push came to shove they rejected. The law was added because of transgression (Gal. 3:19) – that is: the transgression of the first covenant.
This brings us to the study of the fundamentals of Christianity – the new, better covenant which came via Christ to supersede the old. It should be noted first, however, that though the responsibility of the covenant rested on God completely, God never broke that covenant. God gave Abraham’s descendants the land, as He promised through the ministry of Joshua. Even when the people sinned, He continued to return them to their land when they cried out to Him – this went on for centuries. Finally, Christ came – while the Jews were in the land that God had covenanted to give them – and in His coming superseded the Old Covenant with a new one which was better in every way, and offers not the shadow of a coming salvation, but the fulfillment of perfect, eternal salvation from reprobation.
To summarize, the Old Testament shows three requirements for Jewish culture, which comprised their ‘Gospel, or their reconciliatory relationship with God. Those requirements were:
- The Covenant
- The Law
- The Priesthood
Of these three, the foundation was the covenant, what came next was the law, and finally to teach and enact the law, the priesthood was established. So these three are not only ordered according to their degree of import, but also according to their degree of chronology.
That I use as an introduction to this study and the premise of the study prior to even the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, is the tenants and ramifications of the New Covenant. (See also: Does the Old Covenant Come Back?)