As part of a Christian ethics class I am taking at the MSR, I have finished reading two books and am in the process of reading a third. One of the texts I've finished is Christian Ethics: An Essential Guide by Robin W. Lovin. I enjoyed the book very much, and may quote more from it later (I certainly enjoyed it more than the other I've finished, which may end up being a post as well). Following is a passage on covenants and rules, their difference and their inter-relatedness that I found especially thought-provoking (emphases mine):
Covenantal traditions provide for change, not by setting aside relationships that prove unsatisfactory but by distinguishing between the rules that are central to the covenant and those that are interpretations and applications of the more basic rules to new conditions and changing circumstances. The Jewish people have sustained their covenant over many centuries through rabbinic interpretations that restate Torah as halakah, the commandments that Jews follow in their daily walk where they happen to be living now. Protestant Reformers, who gave new emphasis to covenant and to God's commandments in place of the natural law theories of late medieval Christianity, recognized that alongside the basics of church teaching and Christian living that they tried to discern in Scripture, there were many things that were adiaphora, matters that could be decided in different ways by different Christian groups, each being faithful in its own way to the central truths of Christian faith. Political systems based on the rule of law distinguish between ordinary legislation and the constitutional principles on which that legislation is based.
Life in a covenant community then, does not require that one accept all of its rules just as they are. That expectation may, in fact, be more appropriate to a social contract, where you either agree that the rules are in your best interest or you do not; and if you do not, there is not much reason for you to be there. In a covenant community there is a continuing relationship to others in the covenant, and, in a religious covenant, continuing faithfulness to God, who calls the covenant community into being. Part of life in the covenant is learning what is central to its relationships and what is peripheral, what is the commandment of God that makes the covenant people who they are and what is part of the changing ways that this people have tried to walk in faith in different times and places. It is, in fact, by questioning the rules while remaining faithful to the relationship that we find out what is central to the covenant.
Covenant does not preclude interpretations of ancient rules that help us to understand what they mean in new circumstances. What covenant precludes is an individualistic approach to this interpretative task that examines the rules and decides what to keep and what to discard according to one's own set of values and then acts on those decisions without regard for others. Interpretation in a covenant community always involves a great deal of listening, and the decision to act must involve choices not only about what is right and what is wrong, but also about what course of action will sustain this process of communication for the future. The decision to leave a covenant is not made by deciding to do this thing rather than that. It is made by deciding to not try anymore to understand or persuade.So, questioning is not unfaithfulness, but not communicating is. Something to remember in all our relationships, including our romantic ones as we approach Valentine's Day tomorrow.