The Covenantal Structure of the Sacraments

This post is not a theological treatise I have painstakingly come up with on my own. This is more just a regurgitation of something very interesting that I have read in a couple different books as of late.

In his book That You May Prosper, Ray Sutton comes up with a five-fold sequence and structure for the biblical covenants. He makes the case (quite exhaustively) that all the biblical covenants adhere to this paradigm. To make it easier, this idea can be identified using the acronym THEOS (“theos” is the Greek word for “God”).

  1. Transcendence – God the great and sovereign king takes hold of his subjects
  2. Hierarchy – God breaks down the old [and sinful] and restructures it into something new
  3. Ethics – God graciously informs us how we are to live our new life
  4. Oaths – God confirms his promises and warns against curses by oaths, memorials, and other signs
  5. Succession – God commissions His people and ensures their future protection [1]

While I could use this post to go through and show how the different covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, New, etc) all fit into this paradigm, [2] this post is specifically intended to show how the sacraments of new covenant worship (The Lord’s Supper and Baptism) follow this same structure.

The Lord’s Supper

 Jesus seems to make it explicitly clear that coming to the communion table is a covenant renewal rite (Luke 22:20). Every week when those united with Christ through baptism take part in the ritual, God renews his covenant with them by taking them through the steps of covenant renewal (this part will be regurgitated verbatim from The Lord’s Service) [3]:

  1. Jesus took hold of the bread and gave thanks.  He did the same with the cup.
  2. He broke the bread and poured out the wine giving them new names (“my body” and “my blood”), and as Lord and Master distributed them to his followers.
  3. He taught them while they ate and spoke of the new covenant that would result from his death and resurrection (Jn. 14-17).
  4. He told them to “do” what He did and so memorialize His life, death, and resurrection to the Father in this ritual meal.
  5. After they ate and enjoyed the bread and wine, the disciples were strengthened for the mission to which they’re being called. They sang a psalm and departed.

Baptism

The covenant is formally inaugurated with the disciples through baptism. Upon further examination, it can be seen that this too follows the five-fold covenantal structure.

  1. The child (or adult) is called by God.
  2. He is then separated from his old way of life (natural parents). God takes hold of the person being baptized, tearing him from his old world and bringing them into a new life in the Church. United to Christ and His body, the Church, the child is  given a new name (disciple/Christian) and places under the authority of pastors and elders of the church.
  3. As a disciple the person now learns to listen to and heed God’s Word.
  4. He is admitted to the covenant memorial meal (the Lord’s Supper) where he must learn to live faithfully and experience the blessings of the covenant.
  5. Finally, he grows to learn the importance of perpetuating the covenant by means of evangelism, marriage, and the faithful nurture of covenant children.

There you have it. Some will find this interesting, and some (probably most) will not care about this in the slightest. However I do believe things like this are significant. Its important to see the way God uses the covenant to relate to his people all throughout Scripture.

 

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Sutton, Ray R. That You May Prosper: Dominion by Covenant. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987. Print.
  2. For more information on this structure and how it applies to the book of Deuteronomy as a whole and the other biblical covenants, see Ralph A. Smith, The Covenantal Structure of the Bible, available at http://www.berith.org/essays/bib/
  3. Meyers, Jeffrey J. The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship. Moscow, ID: Canon, 2003. Print.
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