The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is replete with teachings grounded in a covenant framework, and even has passages (e.g., King Benjamin’s speech) that reflect the findings of modern scholarship about ancient covenant formulas used in the Middle East. My reading of the scriptures has always left me a little puzzled about why covenants have become rather downplayed in modern Christianity, and why the idea of Latter-day Saints making covenants to obey God and keep His commandments would be viewed with such revulsion, as if that were to deny the grace that God offers us (through a covenant relationships). The word “covenant” is thrown around, but the substance is often lacking, in my opinion.
Such views will be immediately rejected by those not familiar with our faith and our understanding of covenants, but there’s a resource that I think will be helpful both to Latter-day Saints and others in understanding this intriguing issue. Noel Reynolds, one of my favorite writers, has a carefully documented chapter, “The Decline of Covenant in Early Christian Thought from the book, Early Christians in Disarray (in the list of online books at the Maxwell Institute – click on the link to see a list of links to individual chapters). One of the interesting insights, for example, is that the term “covenant” in Roman law referred to illegal secret societies, and thus there was heavy pressure in the very early days of Christianity to tone down references to covenants and covenant making. That, coupled with the Hellenization of Christianity and other factors, brought us to the state where one-way sacraments rather than two-way covenants are the norm. Let me know what you think.