The Covenant church comes from Sweden originally. In the beginning, it was a group of different churches that worked together and called themselves “Mission Friends”. Learning the history of the Covenant was impactful because we can learn that at its origins, it was not hierarchical, it was based on small groups, it was very inclusive in the sense that it welcomed people of different backgrounds, it was bilingual (Swedish and English), an immigrant church, based in the Pietist tradition, justice-oriented, and on and on. I like to visit this history from time to time because it seems so inline with who I see Jesus to be. Here’s an excerpt from a newsletter at one of our partner churches in northern Minnesota. I’m grateful for the reminder to remember our history and to live into it because it reflects so much of who Jesus is/was and what he came to do on earth. (Quoted with permission).
“This last one is another “C” word: a Covenant church. I know, I know… we already are a Covenant church. Let me tell you what I mean though. There is a phrase in the Covenant denomination taken from Psalm 119 that captures this well.
‘I am a friend to all who fear Thee’ – Psalm 119.63a
A Covenant church occupies a unique space in the community. It is neither mainline nor fundamentalist, neither conservative nor liberal, but instead defines itself by our identity in Christ. Put another way, a Covenant church plays well with other churches. As my friend Father Ben says, “Let’s keep it about Jesus.” When Jesus returns He isn’t going to care about what denomination we were in, but whether we are in Him. We are not competing with other churches but want them to do well because we are on the same team. We aren’t competing to reach churched people. We are trying to reach unchurched people.
We do this by keeping the main the main thing. The main thing is Jesus Christ. Because of this we have people in our church from many different faith backgrounds; Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Charismatic, and even those with no faith background at all. Jesus said himself that our love for each other (that includes the believers in other churches) is our greatest witness (John 13.35). When we work with other churches, when we keep the main thing the main thing, and when we seek to reach the unchurched, that’s what a Covenant church looks like.””
I would also add that “reaching unchurched people” means being the Church everywhere we go, inside and outside of church walls. It means accepting people as they are, not trying to change them or make them “conform to our religion”. It means unconditional love, the kind that encourages the person to see that they are made in the image of God, a valuable human who deserves to be treated with dignity and freedom. I love the phrase, “Live and let live” from 12 step groups. What if the Church really loved people who consider themselves “unchurched”? What if we accepted that people don’t think like us, believe like us, live like us, etc? What if, instead of trying to put other people into our ideology, we allowed Jesus in us to break through the barriers of language, culture, background, belief and found common ground around humanitarian values? What if we tried to listen and understand those who do not believe like we do? Try to find the thing we have in common, or the way in which the other person might be living OUR OWN values better than we do? This is the way of humility. I’m not always very good at it… sometimes I can’t even see my own blind spots and the way my language or posture puts up walls around me, isolating me and making me seem like a know-it-all or someone who has all the answers. I’m grateful for our community here in France – so many internationals and French nationals speaking into our lives and showing us different ways of seeing things. I see God in new ways as people around me care for the environment, talk about topics of justice and freedom and equality for all, see the magnificence of nature and science in daily life, and use skills in marketing, language learning, agriculture, engineering, nursing, psychiatry, IT, computer science, teaching and other aspects of education, computer hardware repair, mechanics and so much more.
In an increasingly divided world, what is my role in bringing people together, finding ways to work together, seeing Jesus in unexpected places, learning from those who are different from me?
Live and let live and we will see the image of God bursting all around us in literally everyone we meet. Let it change us and make us more whole.