Covenant Theology & UUism- Intro

November 14, 2014 at 1:20 am Leave a comment

Unity Unitarian has a worship theme for each month- November’s is Covenant. This is an important idea in UU history and theology that has its origins in Calvinism and the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). Since I was raised Methodist and later attended a Lutheran college, before joining Unity my understanding of covenant was primarily that of the historical covenant between the Hebrew people and YHWH. The idea that in return for following only God (or placing him before other Gods), they would have his special protection as his chosen people. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God makes several covenants with different patriarchs on behalf of their family or people- Adam, Noah, Moses and David. These covenants are repeatedly broken, and God punishes humanity as a whole, or the people of Israel specifically, but then forgives them and makes a new covenant.

Some Christians believe in a New Covenant between God and Christians as the new chosen people- some see this as replacing God’s covenant with the Jewish people (supersesessionism). This is not the type of covenant that Unitarians believe in, especially considering we don’t believe in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement- the idea that Jesus “stood in” for all of humanity to atone for our collective sin.

Basically to sum up relevant history- Unitarianism arose in Transylvania & Hungary, Poland (the Socinians) and spread to England. Meanwhile Congregationalist churches had been founded in the Plymouth Colony & the Massachusetts Bay Colony by both Puritans & Calvinist Presbyterians. Some of them became influenced by Unitarian theology from England. So how does this connect with covenant theology? The founders of the Plymouth Colony wrote the Mayflower Compact together as an agreement of self-governance. They made a commitment to each other as a community. Really this document is a cross between the secular social contract (a tradition going back to the Magna Carta) and the covenant, because it was seen as an agreement between the people themselves, as well as between the people and God.

However, since Unitarian Universalists as a whole are rather “sorta kinda maybe?” about the existence of God, is the idea of covenant still relevant to us? This question has been raised, particularly by humanist/atheist UUs (one person I’ve been conversing with online claims the use of covenant is reflective of a “fetish” for Christocentric language) I’m not sure I agree with that, but it does raise a valid question. I’m also interested in comparing the idea of covenant to similar concepts in polytheistic religions. Stay tuned for more!

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Entry filed under: Theology, Unitarian Universalism. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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