Novelty is a fickle temptress. We are all fascinated with new things. The promise of something new is alluring. A new restaurant, no matter what its offers, will boom for six months. Every new social media platform renders all others passé. And when Dr. Oz recommends a new product, demand skyrockets. But it doesn’t take long for the euphoria of fashionability to yield to a longing for the good old ways – the old places, the old platforms, and the tried and true products. Novelty is a fickle temptress. We love change, so long as it doesn’t actually change anything. As the excitement of discovery cools, we see that newer is not always better.
But novelty does offer an appeal. Businesses understand this. This is why beloved restaurants tinker with their menus and discount furniture stores are perpetually going out of business only to reopen under a new name. When market share stagnates, products become ‘new and improved’ and businesses go ‘under new management.’ The word ‘new’ pricks our attention. It arouses consumer desire, but often, not consumer discernment.
Just what is new? How is it improved? Why, if at all, did it need to be improved? Is the change an improvement? Some of us are old enough to remember the New Coke debacle of 1985, and it jaded us. The phrase ‘new and improved’ evokes suspicion. And ‘under new management’ is often an admission of serious problems — code for ‘we swept the floors and the staff out the door.’ When we hear ‘new and improved’ or ‘under new management,’ we would do well to ask some hard questions and exercise discernment.
But what is true of our economics is even more important for our theology. When we hear of new teaching or a new interpretation of scripture or a newly discovered ancient text, we must ask some hard questions. Just what is new? How new is it? Why is something new needed? Is this new thing contrary to the clear truth of the whole counsel of scripture? The easiest way to lead Christians astray is to provoke our fickle love of novelty – novelty in worship, in teaching, or in practical living. Ever since the Fall, God’s children have fallen prey to new teaching about God’s nature and His promises.
When we hear about something new, we would do well to ask hard questions and exercise discernment. Especially when we see that claim in scripture. Theological understanding demands it. God promises a new heart, new heavens and a new earth. He promises to do a ‘new thing’ in the lives of his people as he unfolds redemptive history. And in the midst of Jeremiah’s Book of Consolation in Jeremiah 31:31-34, God promises a New Covenant – a promise formative in the history and theology of the Church.
Jesus speaks of the New Covenant as he institutes the Lord’s Supper.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”Luke 22:19-20
And the author of the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31 twice as he examines exactly what is and is not new about the New Covenant.
But theological heterodoxy over the nature, membership, and significance of the New Covenant has been divisive in the church, especially since the Reformation. For some it points to a new way, or dispensation, of salvation. For others it demotes the Old Testament to a lesser revelation, providing historical background but no continuing authority or relevance for Christian practice. And many believe it radically changes the nature of covenant membership and therefore the nature of the church.
With so much at stake, we would do well to ask hard questions when we hear the word ‘new’ in regards to God’s covenant of grace. Just what is ‘new’ about the New Covenant? How ‘new’ is it? And why was something ‘new’ needed? Jeremiah 31 is the only place in the Old Testament where the New Covenant is mentioned, but the prophet and the whole counsel of God’s Word give us sufficient context to understand just what is ‘new’ about the New Covenant. And why it is important.
Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 31:31-40 and consider what is ‘new’ about the New Covenant and why it matters. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.