2010 - Vol. 40...
Together in Covenant Community
A Prophetic Sign of Restoration
I have lived in Christian community for
over 40 years now, and I have visited over half of the 65 covenant communities
in The Sword of the Spirit worldwide. Why do we call our communities covenant
communities? And what is their significance for today? I can’t write as
an historian or a theologian, but I can offer an eyewitness account of
God's action in establishing covenant community and in his faithfulness
to us over the years.
to next page > Counter-Cultural
in a Non-Christian World, by Tom and Ellen Gryniewicz
In the summer of 1969 the Lord began to speak
to a charismatic group of predominantly university students in Ann Arbor,
Michigan, USA about his intention to do a new work among them. He said,
“I want to make a covenant with you, but you must first smash all your
idols.” He then enumerated what seemed like an endless list of things which
stood as idols in our lives in place of the Lord himself. Both conviction
and wonder seized our hearts that night as we prayed and pondered, “What
idols do I need to smash?” and “What is a covenant?”
In the following months the Lord led us in repentance
and in deeper conversion of heart. He began to give us a burning desire
to give our all for him, to throw our lot in with one another, and to serve
the Lord together in whatever way he chose to lead us. While our 1960s
idealism and youthful enthusiasm made us open to new forms of lifestyle
and communal living, we weren't really prepared for committed relationships
of covenant love. We studied the scriptures to see what we could learn
about covenant and community and we prayed and discussed together how we
could respond to the Lord’s leading. We came to a renewed understanding
of and appreciation for God’s covenant love for his people. His love is
marked by hesed, the Hebrew word which expresses committed love, faithfulness,
mercy, and loving-kindness. We realized that since Christians shared in
the New Covenant, we had a distinctive relationship with one another as
brothers and sisters in Christ. We had a firm conviction that God was calling
us to live a shared life of committed love as brothers and sisters in Christ,
in a particular way, in community.
Called to a shared
At the end of the summer of 1970 we took a retreat
together at a camp in the hills of southeastern Michigan. After prayer
and deliberation we agreed to make a covenant together as a community,
and we adopted a pattern of community life and order as close to that of
the New Testament as possible. A community covenant statement was written,
and we took a few weeks to pray in preparation for making our commitments.
Our “Covenant Statement” summarized what we believe we heard from the Lord.
In order to respond to what God is doing
among us and in order to be that people he is calling us to be, we desire
to give our whole lives to him, to follow his Son, Jesus, and to live more
and more in the Holy Spirit. We desire to love and serve him in lives of
daily prayer and service; to praise and worship him always; to ever seek
his face; to know and serve the truth of his Word in joy, peace, and love
of the Holy Spirit; to believe what he speaks to us and to be obedient
to the truth of his Word and the guidance of his Spirit; to offer hospitality
to those whom he sends to us; to widen our hearts to those he adds to our
number; and to carry out the mission that he is entrusting to us. Above
all, we desire to be a people who always grow, by his great mercy, in the
fervor of that first love he has given to us – he who is our all. We desire
to consecrate our lives to him, not simply as individuals, but as members
of a people – members of The Word of God.
In the fall of 1970 we gathered to offer our lives
corporately to the Lord. Some 50 brothers and sisters each stood in turn
and publicly made their commitments to the Lord and to one another: “I
want to give my life fully to God and to live as a member of The Word of
God.” A prophetic word was spoken after we had made our covenant commitments:
“This is a night of importance for my church...tonight I am restoring much
that has been lost...” That night we knew that God had changed us and knit
us together as a people, as brothers and sisters in the Lord. And we knew
that he had called us together, not just for our sakes, but for the sake
of his work of renewal and restoration throughout the body of Christ.
A prophetic sign
Today there are many hundreds of covenant communities
around the world. What is the significance of covenant community for today?
First, it is a signpost of what God is bringing about through the gift
of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is a visible public sign of the
Lord's work of renewal in bringing people into a revitalized relationship
with God, and it is a sign of the unity he desires for all his people.
The unity we already have as brothers and sisters in Christ stems from
baptism and the gift and working of the Holy Spirit. This gift of life
together enables Christians of different traditions to recognize one another
as brothers and sisters in Christ and to live together in real shared life.
This unifying grace is a hallmark of God's work today.
Second, covenant community is a servant of the
renewal. It is meant to be a prophetic sign to the rest of the charismatic
renewal, and to the churches, and to the world. It's a message to everybody,
but not everybody is called to this particular form of community. People
should be able to vist covenant communities and see how the Holy Spirit
is renewing his people and restoring to them a fuller shared life together.
It is part of the nature of a sign that you cannot be everything. Covenant
communities cannot do everything and cannot solve all problems. They are
only a part, but, nonetheless an important part of God's work of renewal
We are priviledged
to live in community
Living in Christian community is a gift and calling,
and a privilege we should not take for granted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in
his book, Life Together, speaks of the privilege Christians have
to live in visible community with other Christians.
It is not simply to be taken for granted
that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples
deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers
and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies
of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered
life but in the thick of foes. There is his comission, his work.
..So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious
anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live
in visible fellowship with other Christians.
We believe that the Lord has called the Sword of
the Spirit, an international network of covenant communities, for this
age, a time of significant change and upheaval in the world and a time
of difficulty and spiritual conflict for many Christians. But it is also
a time for great spiritual renewal and evangelism, and for building Christian
communities throughout the world to stem the tide of evil and to strengthen
Schwager is a member of The
Servants of the Word and author of Daily
Scripture Readings and Meditations]