Brother Maynard, reflecting on the possibilities of a missional order, comments that, “It’s a time to remember what we’ve forgotten.”

In recovering forgotten memory we need to recover the stories that were fundamental to the first interpreters of our faith who penned the New Testament: the stories that formed Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul. Those stories are found in the Old Testament.

Here me on this: we need to recover Christian memory, and Christian memory is profoundly rooted in the First Testament. That’s a problem for us for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the strongly Pauline legacy of the Reformers (and a dispensational theology). We have mostly opposed grace and law and neglected the continuity of First and Second Testaments. NT Wright and others are helping us move beyond those dichotomies.

So as we consider a missional order, what role does the theme of covenant play? There is no more fundamental theme in the First Testament, and while the term “covenant” is rare in the Second Testament, the theology of covenant is pervasive. So.. my question: is a missional order a framework for covenant renewal? Is a missional order a response to both lost memory and enculturation? Lost memory and enculturation are the primary dangers of a people living in exile. Brother Maynard references 2 Kings 22-23 which provides an abbreviated account of the 31 year reign of King Josiah.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah sent a company to Hilkiah the priest on a financial errand concerning the restoration of the temple. Hilkiah returned the message, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Josiah discovers what was written there — forgotten things – and it changes the course of history for the remainder of his reign.

Hilkiah had discovered nothing new, but something forgotten. In Nehemiah 7-10 the people return from exile. The first thing they do is dig up the records of their family tree to remember who they are. Next, they gather to hear Ezra read the Book of the Law to them — something forgotten while in exile without opportunity to hear it. The things they were reading were being explained, and the people are told to celebrate. On the second day of the reading, they discover that they are supposed to be celebrating the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles)… so they stopped right there, and did just that..

Covenant renewal, memory, celebration, food and feasting, community and worship: immersion in covenant practices and dwelling in the word together — these are fundamental to Christian life and fundamental to our story. A study of covenant and covenant renewal in the First Testament may be greatly helpful as we think about missional orders.

14 Comments on missional orders and covenant renewal

  1. Good stuff, Len. Like the testamental play you have going on. On the way down to Seabeck I listened to a Rabbi exposit “love your neighbour as yourself,” with an accompanying note that Breuggeman says that Deuteronomy is a manifesto for neighbourliness, and Torah is a call to neighbourliness. All this comes out again in ….wait for it… drum roll…. Luke 10, of all places.

    The thing that strikes me here is that in the Jewish mindset, the Old Testament, or Tanach is comprised of Torah (Law, or Pentateuch), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). The thing is, there is Torah, and everything else is commentary on Torah. Jesus would have taught the same way, and I have to ask: is the New Testament any different? Viewed this way, we have Torah and then we have God saying three more times, “Let’s see, how else can I put this so you’ll understand?”

    It’s a renewed call, the message never changes. Man, I’m going to be thinking on this some more… you’re prodding me, but also getting ahead of an emerging series on Missional Order that I seem to be into. I hadn’t planned my exiles discussion until Friday, the post you quote was just foreshadowing! ;^)

    Wait ’till we get to the part about stories, inheritance, promise, land, identity, exile… and we start talking about the Diaspora, the Jews, the Mennonites…. but I have to drag out some old notes and listen again to Alan’s talk from Wednesday morning. We could be a while unpacking all this stuff.

    btw, you skipped mention of John in your gospel-list above. Thursday evening I discovered John Gilmore is a lover of the Fourth Gospel as I am, and we got to talking about the Johannine community and the talk in there about “exile”, about being put out of the temple… plus the connectedness of chapters 9 and 10.

    Okay, gonna go process some more.

  2. len says:

    Yeh, this is a good dialogue 🙂 Check out Bob Hyatt in the new Next Wave. Unfortunately he echoes a very common misunderstanding of the place of Torah. Too many teachers, inheriting either Luther or dispensationalism, have opposed OT and NT, law and grace. That was never Pauls intention. NT Wright is helping is sort this out. And its important for reasons of memory and identity as we look for a path to missional formation.

  3. len says:

    btw, regarding the word Torah, its semantic range in OT is the same as didache… it is not best translated LAW but rather INSTRUCTION. There really isn’t much “law” even in the Pentateuch. It is mostly narrative. And Deuteronomy was poorly named. It is really a second “instruction” about a way of life. Moses role, furthermore, as author of the Pentateuch is not “law giver,” he never describes himself this way. His role and function.. and thus the clue to the framework and intention of the Pentateuch.. is given in Nu. 27:16,17 and Dt. 18:15.

  4. Peggy says:

    Len…when I have a minute I want to weigh in a bit…but today, sadly, is not that day!

  5. J. Michael Matkin says:

    I’m also enjoying this discussion, but I have to admit that, even after our time at Seabeck, I’m still not entirely certain what we all mean by ‘missional order,’ both in terms of structure and in terms of purpose. If it’s just a question of providing mutual encouragement and accountability for the personal practice of spiritual disciplines, there’s not much that’s terribly distinct about it. YWAM, Campus Crusade and Intervarsity, for example, would all qualify in some ways under that definition (and in some ways even more than what we seem to be talking about). Perhaps everyone else has a common picture in mind that has escaped me; if so, I’d like to hear what people are thinking and what images or models we’re drawing from.

  6. J. Michael Matkin says:

    I should clarify that. I realize that we looked especially hard at Northumbria. I guess my question has been, as I’ve had time to reflect on the conversation that we had in Seabeck, what exactly are we trying to create here and what are we seeking to draw from examples like Northumbria.

  7. len says:

    Mike, I think a lot of what we draw is covenant… that we need not only practices but SHARED practices. Shared practices shape a culture. Its difficult to walk alone, and in our culture we are almost compulsively individualistic. But secondly, if culture is a cultivating force, practices will shape an ethos that in turn will help us shape a people, and not just any people but a peculiar people.. an alternative (and faithful) culture. I’m describing something of a circular process. Perhaps this process is closer to our experience than we realize, but like fish its hard to describe water.

  8. brad says:

    it makes sense to me what you said, len, about shared practices shaping a culture. it will be important that the Allelon leaders and fellow-travelers eventually consider other angles about how cultures change in times of relative calm, and how cultures change when external forces dictate that things can never again be how they were. (both of these topics surfaced but were not explored at Seabeck).

    meanwhile, perhaps we could reflect on the turn-of-the-20th-century salons as a case study in shared practices among people who were likely more on the fringe of things and created a way of coming together to share discussions among people who appreciated circling in and through lively and “subversive” issues. the forum itself provided the continuity, though the topics varied.

    and that “lost generation” was actually a type of “virtual tribe,” drawn together by a similar non-standard ethos (which at the same time meant being marginalized by people of the standard ethos). that’s something important to look at, as the Church [capital “C” for universal Church] is the world’s longest-running virtual tribe, cutting across all dividing lines of time and space, and despite local cultures we as disciples following Jesus Christ hold to a counter-cultural ethos …

    some other very intriguing forms of covenant and listening/leadership can be found among councils of various Native American tribes. for instance, the Iruquois elders would consider the implications of potential decisions to the seventh generation. i believe it was the Cherokee whose practice was for whichever group arrived first at a council, the men or women elders, to wait for the other to arrive; with only one group present, they could only hold half a dialog. (i’m still trying to get my research together and verify which tribe did that, as well as the following.) another tribe, when making decisions, allowed anyone present to share questions and comments, starting with the youngest and going to the eldest.

    i have been a long-time student of this cluster of cultures, and was even a member of Indian Club in high school. i’m intrigued by all of these modes of leadership and listening, as they run so very counter to what is typical for most contemporary European cultures. they are also far more “future-oriented,” both in interacting deeply for the sake of the community’s future and in finding ways to raise up its next generation leaders.

    okay, gotta zip for now. still working on my own processing of Seabeck and the issues from that i’m wrestling with …

  9. Dan Steigerwald says:

    Len, various theological centers of the OT have been posited (e.g. community, promise, presence, covenant, etc.), and some suggest there is no theological center (e.g. Westerman, Gerhard van Rad, Brevard Childs). Hassel Bullock, who I had in seminary, suggests we can only rightly say God is the theological center. So, covenant may be a good choice to begin to relate to missional order, but certainly not all would agree that it is the most fundamental theme of the First Testament.

    This is not to suggest that covenant isn’t a good starting point for more thorough considerations on constructing an Order. We need to be quickened by communal help to proper memory I agree, and the MO certainly could be structured to get at that. If our covenanting with one another in the sight of God (gulp, sounds like marriage) enables greater faithfulness to God individually and communally, then I’m all for a meaningful covenantal framework.

    My wife is calling for dinner, so I’ll get busted if I delay any longer…

    Good thoughts. Thank you.


  10. len says:

    dan, it may not matter what we identify as THE central theme. It is a critical theme, and it carries over strongly to the NT. How critical it is to the function of an order.. probably too soon to say, but possibly useful to explore that theme. I’m going to spend some time on this..

  11. len says:

    brad, it sounds like you are talking about process? I was aiming more at the execution and ethos of an order, thinking about the nature of commitment and where it takes us, how it contributes to sustainability, renewal, etc

  12. Peggy says:

    Len and all,

    I have, over the past 15 years, come to finally rest upon covenant as central to everything—fully realizing that this is neither well understood in most circles nor easy to disentangle from changing nuances of vocabulary over the past 1700 years. What I am not talking about is making a covenant together to join an order—I am talking about us actually understanding the very nature and reality of the covenant to which we have already been joined—ratified by the very blood of Jesus.

    We need to acknowledge appropriate societal expectations, yes, but we are already bound to one another, whether we want to be or not! What hurts you hurts me, whether I feel it or not. What benefits you benefits me…and if I see something that is potentially hurtful to you and I do not move to protect you from it, to defend you in it, I am guilty…you get the picture.

    I resist using covenant in the current common manner because it confuses and dilutes the understanding of the binding covenant we already have…as if we are not really already bound to treat each other as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ…as if the way we treat each other is not received by Christ as personal to himself.

    I am required to look out for the best interest of my covenant partners (God and members of Christ’s body), and discerning what that means is the challenge people do not want to embrace—as in Chesterton’s famous quote about Christianity being found difficult and left largely untried. There are, however, new covenant terms and conditions: Love God/neighbor & disciple the nations. And those Ts & Cs find their full articulation in the Great Commandment/Great Commission and are summed up by the simple command to be like Christ.

    Faithful covenant-keeping (chesed) in the old covenant is to be found in the new covenant through the command to have love (agape), grace (charis) and mercy (eleos) for “one another” (allelon), made manifest in acts of mutual submission, sacrificial service and servant leadership. These are, for me, foundational attitudes and actions that safeguard mDNA for whatever we do in God’s name and for his Kingdom.

    That is not to say that we can always be totally successful in our efforts—especially complete inclusion of the “other.” But we—every one of us—must never cease to give due diligence to that effort…looking to at least have representation in line with our constituencies. Without intentionally remembering our binding responsibility to both recognize and include the totality of the covenant community/Body of Christ in whatever we plan, we break covenant—with God and with those we neglect. And covenant breaking requires the humility to embrace confession, repentance, forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation.

    If, then, we are centered on God (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) as solemn covenant-making and faithful covenant-keeping “communitas,” realizing the amazing “simplexity” of the new covenant in Jesus Christ, then what we do and how we do it already has an established framework…I would venture that it is a forgotten framework, as it were… ;^)

    And if we, in the birthing of this new order, move too quickly to set form and action without proper replication of the mDNA found in covenant…we doom it to become the latest “new thing” rather than the fresh work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. And so we embrace the tension of the “don’t wait” and “be patient.”

    I will be carefully working through these issues as they relate to CovenantClusters in the coming days…but I did want to mention them here at this point in time.

    Thanks for listening…

  13. len says:

    Peggy, great stuff. Yes, these themes are at the heart of our Story, and so also at the heart of the way we live it out…

  14. […] I’ve been working up to this all week, and I doubt I can cover it off in a single entry, but let’s see what we come up with, shall we? Just piecing together some themes following the Seabeck Gathering sponsored by Allelon, I have begun to consider The Role of The Rule (and other disciplines) as part of The Subversive Nature of the Ordinary in helping to keep us on the path during a mapless quest or an aimful wandering — a Peregrinatio. Len picked up a theme from me of covenant renewal, which I commented further upon, saying I didn’t plan to hit the theme until today, that I was just foreshadowing. Well, the pressure’s on. […]