What’s the Big Deal About Covenant?

Imagine living in a situation where “whatever works for me” dictates ethics. No business contracts are enforced (except perhaps by fists). Loans get repaid if things work out well, and “it’s too bad” if they don’t. Conflicts get resolved by intimidation or separation. This legacy from animism, which our friends in western Ethiopia have inherited, blocks peace, community development, and economic progress, to say nothing about Christian maturity and the ability to be a joyful and redemptive community.

Among some of our friends in Ethiopia this legacy is now crumbling in the face of covenant, an idea which shows up repeatedly throughout the Bible. They have created a written covenant which commits them to certain ethical behavior, to the kind of church structure which will foster the growth and development of each person, and to becoming independent of outside subsidy. It is a radical idea for this culture, made more difficult for them to understand because in at least one congregation 80% of the men and 99% of the women are illiterate.

But they are getting it! Beginning in February, 2014, key leaders began to sign an individual leader’s version of the covenant. This group now includes more than 100 leaders from most of the 16 churches in this movement. Now entire congregations are enlisting. In late November 2014 a congregation of over 1000 became the 8th church to make the commitment, with all of the 780 people present writing their names on the covenant document. They have even decided that no one will have any ministry in the church-even singing in the choir-who does not sign the covenant!

Work with these churches in the past has been difficult; petty squabbles have often seemed to derail good intentions. But if this covenant process which now has momentum gets completed, and if leaders gently and repeatedly remind people of what they have committed themselves to, it will form a basis for real change–spiritually, and out of poverty, ignorance, dysfunction, and helplessness.