I’ve been disturbed (some would say that I am disturbed) by the way that we treat the covenants we freely enter into in the Name of God. We seem to think that if we freely entered in we are free to change the terms or even to dump the whole thing, without penalty, as if we were simply changing phone carriers or banks. (My bad, they usually have penalties, don’t they?)
I couldn’t sleep so I researched a few terms and here is the best I can figure after looking through a number of definitions, word roots, and sources:
– An oath is a declaration sworn to people, with God as a witness, a sacred restraint to limit or do something, often under penalty.
– A vow is a promise made to God alone, with or without human witnesses.
– A covenant may be described as a contract involving oaths and vows made before God pertaining to a relationship with God and/or others. A covenant is binding when we come freely, we are of sound mind, and we publicly commit to the terms of the covenant in the Name of God.
I have voluntarily entered by my own free will into three covenants, by my oaths and vows, which are ratified in heaven (that means God holds me responsible for my end), as they were made in the Presence and in the Name of God:
1. My Baptismal Covenant, with God by my faith in Jesus and my public profession, which joined me to Him and to the Communion of His Body – past, present, and future – for all eternity.
2. My Wedding Covenant, with my husband, in which God joined us together in the Communion of one body, “as long as we both shall live”.
3. My Ordination Covenant, with the United Methodist Church, which joined me in Word, Sacrament and Order to the Communion of the Clergy, in ministry together, as long as we both agree!
“It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”
“If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.”
“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth,
so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.
“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?”
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
“Some Pharisees came and tested [Jesus] by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” He replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”
God honors the covenants made in His Name even when we don’t. They do not become null and void because our circumstances or our hearts change. He holds us to the terms we freely made before and to Him: our “Yes” is yes and our “No” is no.
There is an older Church of England introduction to marriage which states, “… Holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God Himself, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with His presence, and first miracle that He wrought, in Cana of Galilee, and is commended in Holy Writ to be honourable among all men; and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly; but reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God…”
Seems to me that we should have this same state of mind: undertaking our oaths, vows, or covenants “reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God…”