By Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
Due to Scripture’s covenantal emphasis, man’s obligations are not fundamentally individualistic, but rather corporate. As we shall see in later chapters, this fits well with a postmillennial eschatology and its strong view of social responsibility. Here I will briefly outline the case for covenantalism’s societal obligations.
God purposefully creates man as an organic, unified race. Whereas all mankind traces its origin back to Adam, including Eve herself (Ge 2:21–22; Ac 17:26), God creates animals en masse (Ge 1:20–25). He even creates angels en masse as non-procreative, disconnected individuals (Mt 22:30).
The human race’s organic unity is vitally important to God’s redemptive plan, as we see in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Adam is the federal head of all mankind, a legal representative. In him we are legally and judicially dead (Ro 5:12–19; 1Co 5:22). Christ is the federal head of all those “chosen out of” (eklektos) mankind. In him God declares us legally and judicially alive (Ro 5:15–19; 1Co 15:22). Christ becomes flesh in order that he might attach himself to the unified race and become its Redeemer (Php 2:5ff; Heb 2:14).
We may see the social implications of God’s covenant in his establishing it with Abraham and his seed (Ge 12:1–4). Israel’s organic connection appears in her portrayal as a vine (Ps 80:8–16; Isa 5:1–7). In addition, when God makes covenant with Israel in the wilderness it includes future generations (Dt 5:3).
Because of this God specifically promises covenant blessings and warns of covenant curses running in communities. Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 detail community curses and blessings that run from generation to generation and expansively cover the broader community. We see this covenantal factor also in Israel’s history. For example, the whole nation suffers defeat in war due to Achan’s grievous sin (Jos 7:1). They were learning corporate responsibility through this “lesson” from God. Outside of Israel God destroys pagans for their corporate evil.
Neither may we properly understand Christianity in terms of radical individualism. By God’s grace, we are in covenant with him as a com-munity. We see this from a number of angles: (1) God grafts us into the community of his people as a branch into a tree (Ro 11:17–18). (2) God adopts us into the commonwealth of Israel so that we may partake of the covenants of “the promise” (singular, Eph 2:12–16). Thus, we are in the “household” of God (Eph 2:19–22) as stones in a building (1Pe 2:5). (3) God constitutes us as one, inter-related body (1Co 12:12–27). (4) We are part of one, connected vine (Jn 15:1–8). (5) Our blessings as members of the Christian community flow from our Head, Jesus Christ, through the body to us (Eph 1:20ff).
The common societal unit among men is the family. Family solidarity involves covenantal succession, as we see from the following:
• God establishes marriages the world’s first institution (Ge 1:26–28; 2:18–24; Mt 19:4) and as a permanent obligation among men (Ge 2:24; Mt 19:5, 6).
• For Adam to fulfill his dominion mandate requires family procreation and solidarity (Ge 1:28 3:16; 4:1).
• The Bible clearly illustrates family solidarity in God’s sparing the families of righteous men during judgments (e.g., Noah, Abraham, and Lot).
• Due to this covenant, responsibilities center around the family: God expects diligent child training (Dt. 6:4ff; Ps 78:1ff; Proverbs, passim). His law protects the family (Pr 13:22; 19:14; 1Ti 5:8). Three of the Ten Commandments specifically guard the family (Ex 20:12, 14, 17), while the others easily relate to the family.
• The Scripture declares families to be an heritage from the Lord. Fruitfulness is a blessing, whereas barrenness is lamented.
• God’s blessings run in family generations, as we see in the cases of Noah, Japheth, Abraham, Rahab, and covenant people in general. By the same token, God’s curses also run in family generations.
Because of God’s covenantal love, he graciously sanctifies the off-spring of the covenant faithful (1Co 7:14; Ro 14:17). In the New Testa-ment he frames his blessings in terms including family generations, rather than terms excluding family generations (Ac 2:38, 39; 16:31; 11:14).
In all of this we learn something of the Christian faith’s wider obligations. “We should always bear in mind that there is a collective responsibility, and that there are always sufficient reasons why God should visit cities, districts or nations with dire calamities.” In the soil of covenantal corporate responsibility, postmillennial eschatology takes root then grows under the life-giving light of God’s Word.