Thursday, May 17, 2018



“Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.” Douglas MacArthur. If we apply the “rules are made to be broken” approach to, let’s say, sports, then how would a soccer match look if it followed the rules of rugby? Or how would a game of cricket look if it followed tennis rules? I’m sure if ice hockey started playing by the rules of baseball, then it would no longer be hockey but baseball! Of course, when Douglas MacArthur made his quote he was referring to government red tape and not referring to sports. Indeed, in the height of battle Government over-regulation can be restrictive when one is trying to win a war. However, in the ordinary bump and grind of life, things run smother if everyone plays by the rules. But who makes the rules?

The Geneva Conventions are the laws of war. The rules for sports are made up by the various sports bodies. Sometimes rules or laws need to be tweaked, e.g., in the interests of players’ safety in sports or civilians and non-combatants in war. God’s covenant contains all the rules for humanity. However, just as there are different sports’ codes, so there are different rules for different groups of humanity. Let us call these groups of humanity “covenant communities.” There are three basic covenant communities to be found in any Western nation, viz., Family, Church, and State. Notice that the covenant rules for each of these communities, Family, Church, and State, are not the same. The Family is symbolised by a rod, the Church by keys, and the State by a sword. The rod is symbolic of family discipline, the keys of belonging to the Church are of God’s Kingdom, and the sword is, of course, justice as administered by the State. Just as the game of tennis works better with racquets than hockey sticks, so the State works better with the sword of justice than with the keys of the kingdom or the rod of discipline.

It has taken centuries and has cost lots of blood and treasure for the West to progress to the point where the demarcation of each of these covenant communities has become and remains distinct. In history families have ruled both Church and State, or the Church has ruled both the Family and the State, or the State has ruled both the Family and the Church. Any nation is at its healthiest when these covenant communities can easily be distinguished from each other. However, the covenants of each of these communities comes under and is kept in check by an overarching covenant, the Covenant of God. “One nation under God” states this principle simplest and best.

Interacting with the writing of Herman Bavinck, Cornelius Venema says,

"Whether in marriage, family, business, science, or art, human social relationships and interaction invariably take the form of covenants in which there is mutual obligation and intercommunion. This is no less true of the highest and all-embracing relationship between God as Creator and man as his creature. Indeed, there is no possible way human beings could enjoy blessedness in fellowship with God other than through a covenant relationship. In the first place, the “infinite distance” between God as Creator and man as creature confirms that there is no possibility of communion with God without covenant."[1]

The Triune God is eternally in covenant with Himself. Each of the three Persons in the Godhead eternally loves God and His Neighbour as Himself. Loving God and your neighbour as yourself is the summary of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, is the outward expression of the inward character of God. Thus, the Covenant rules for humanity are the Ten Commandments as they apply to every sphere of human social relationships and interaction. Thus, in order to function properly the covenant communities of the Family, the Church, and the State must each look to and adhere to the covenant rules as laid out by God. These covenant rules must be adhered to only as they apply to the respective communities with clear demarcation lines. Otherwise, like some out of control ice-hockey games, they will begin to look more like boxing matches!

The Bible is the Book of the Covenant. It is revelation of God from God, of how God interacts within Himself as Father and Son and Holy Spirit, of how He interacts with humanity, and of human social relationships and interactions. The Bible records a series of “case studies” in which the Old Testament nation of Israel, interacts with each of the Ten Commandments, as “one nation under God”. Though there were one or two positive and therefore hopeful moments, (e.g., the early days of Solomon), the lines of demarcation for the covenant communities (as in prophets, priests, and kings) remained blurry at best and non-existent at worst, resulting in national chaos throughout its history.

In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus spelled out how God’s Covenant Law (the Ten Commandments) properly applies to the individual, the family, the church, and the state, i.e., in all human social relationships and interaction. Love for God and neighbour is to be at the heart of each covenant community.

I fear that after having come so far, Western nations are beginning to blur the lines of covenant demarcation. The State is gaining too much control over the Family and the Church as it redefines gender and marriage. As the old bumper-stickers reminds us, it’s “God’s Law or Chaos!). The West looked so promising…    

[1] Cornelius P. Venema, Christ + Covenant Theology, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, pp. 163-4. 2017.

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