This is a follow-on to my previous posting on ritual.
I have noticed recently that a number of people are thinking of “covenant renewal worship” as grounded in “Old Testament” (whatever that actually is!) or Levitical ritual typology. Perhaps that is so for some, but not for me, and not for those of us who uncovered or recovered these matters in the 1980s.
Of course, this depends on what is meant by “typology.” If what is meant is the post-Reformation intellectualist notion that types are simply symbolic forms slapped onto reality and designed to teach us things, then no, CRW (“covenant renewal worship”) has nothing to do with this. If what is meant is a Vantillian and arguably pre-modern view that “typology” is a revelation of the meaning of human life as imaging the life of God, then yes, CRW is indeed about that.
The CRW pattern in common use today (Call, Confession-Absolution, Ascension-Word-Offertory, Communion, Commissioning) had its origin in my reading Dix’s *Shape* and noting that the shape of the communion is virtually the same as that of the covenant making rites in the Bible. From there it was a matter of noticing that the conventional Christian worship service with which I grew up, the Lutheran service of Luther Reed, was but an expansion of the steps of Dix’s *Shape.* From there, in discussion with Ray Sutton and Gary North, who were examining Meredith Kline’s covenant structures from a more Vantillian-creationist viewpoint, it became clear that (a) God’s initial formation of the world in Genesis 1 went through the same steps, and hence this was how the Spirit does things, and that (b) human beings inescapably move through five steps of laying hold, dividing and reforming, distributing with words, sampling, and enjoying. My work in the Leviticus Food Laws in the later 1980s forced me to outline Leviticus and consider all of it, and it became apparent that the sequence of the sacrificial offerings followed the same pattern. And sure enough, this order had been observed by previous liturgists. Jeffrey Meyers’s *The Lord’s Service,* (an admirable treatment of all this) shows how thoroughly this sequence had been observed and considered by previous generations of Christians.
Now, what is important here is not so much that the discovery of the Levitical sequence came after other things, but that our interest in CRW was not grounded in an intellectual apprehension of some typological pattern that we decided we should copy. Yes, one can indeed start with Leviticus, and then notice all the Levitical language in the so-called “New Testament” and from that conclude that we ought to follow this pattern. But that is not where CRW came from.
Rather, we were concerned, pastorally, with adjusting our sinful and warped ways of life to the proper Imago Dei ways of God’s life. “God’s Rite for Life,” as I called it in essays and lectures, is how we need to live and move and have our being. Salvation readjusts us to the right way of walking. The Bible shows us this right way, over and over, and context after context. Indeed, this way is inescapable. The difference between the wicked and the righteous is whether or not we give thanks as we take hold of the world.
All of this, we saw, is grounded in the life of God: The Father sends the Spirit to the Son, who sends the Spirit back to the Father. This five-fold shape is the shape of time and of human life and hence of liturgy. To try to do things otherwise is anti-human.
Worship follows the same pattern. And so of course, that pattern is found in the Levitical sequences. But we who advocated CRW did so not out of a desire simply to follow “typology” as evangelicals ordinarily conceive of it, but rather as a way of adjusting to reality, adjusting to the life of God.
Now, since human beings walk through these steps all the time, why call one kind of worship “Covenant Renewal”? The answer is that we need a way to distinguish special worship from ordinary worship, and that way is when the Lord’s Supper is done, in particular the second rite thereof. Jesus said that the cup/wine/blood is the Covenant. Covenants are made by blood. Eve was ripped from Adam’s side to make covenant, just as blood flowed from Jesus’ side to make His bride. Blood (should) appear on the wedding night, to make covenant. Blood appears when children are born. In Exodus 21, blood appears on the doorpost when a man is adopted as a house-born servant. In the Bible, the display of bread is a Memorial (as in Lev. 2, the rite of jealousy, in Malachi, etc.) and the display of blood is both Memorial and Covenant renewal. Hence, CRW is worship that not only follows the sequence of Reality but also has the Lord’s Supper in both its rites.