Keeping the Law

IMG20006I received across my desk last month a little book entitled, TEN COMMANDMENTS – TWICE REMOVED. If you have received a copy of this book too and read it, you are a better man than I am. I got through the first 30 pages and decided it was a waste of time. The book, in short, is about how the Church both upholds the public display of the Ten Commandments, yet fails to keep them. Some have asked me what my position on the Ten Commandments is, and I’ve tried to give a simplistic answer. Such an answer is insufficient in response to this book, since the authors attempt to reinstate the Ten as binding upon Christians. Here goes . . .

First off, as Christians, we should not be opposed to the public posting of the TEN. It is after all, the WORD of the LORD. That said, let us also acknowledge that it is not the government’s job to evangelize. The Government was given the task to uphold justice, not spread the gospel. “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4b) Therefore our support should never encroach on the actual purpose of government. The American government, however, is unique, in that it is the only government in the world designed to function around Christian principles. This is no accident. Since the Pilgrims, American government has always assumed a personal relationship with God and the Church. Ben Franklin is to have said at one point that the Government of the United States would only function if its people were Christians. (This has significant bearing in Iraq, don’t you think? Why don’t democracies established in Islamic countries take off?) As such, the Ten Commandments has a rightful place in the public forum, both historically and ethically. In fact, the TEN have an historical place where the Five Pillars of Islam or various other religious icons do not.

Some object that the Ten Commandments is promoting a particular religion, and thus violating the “law” of the separation of Church and State. The Constitution says that Congress shall make no law establishing a religion. But this was written in a context when nearly everyone attended Church, invoked the God of the Bible at all public proceedings, and depended on that God to sustain their country. The establishment clause wasn’t about religion as we would define it, but was about Christian denomination. They didn’t want a particular denomination (i.e., Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, etc.) to be the “official” church of the US. That everyone was going to worship God was a foregone conclusion. Freedom involved how you were going to worship that God.

The critics are right. Posting the TEN does promote religion. By their posting, government declares that they are not the absolute authority, and that government stands under that final authority. This should be a comforting reminder for all of us. Yet to go by only the TEN is to observe only a very generic God. You have to read the Bible to learn about him. Objections to posting the TEN are only going to be offered up by those who intend to ignore them anyway.

If we were a nation founded upon any other religion, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Do you think that the average Iranian objects publicly that he is called to prayer five times a day, through government-run public address systems? Do you think he would sue the state to take down the PA speakers so that he could pray on his own time? Not a chance.

The Ten Commandments deserve a place in our public forum, both historically and ethically. The Church should resist efforts to remove them, but it should also work doubly hard on bring Christ into the hearts of minds of every person involved. Let us not fight displacing the TEN because we are too lazy to post them ourselves, but to remind government who is the final authority.

Second, should Christians be worried they might be breaking the Ten Commandments?

Since the Ten Commandment Law of God is a packaged proposal, and breaking one commandment makes us guilty of breaking all, then we must conclude the Ten Commandments have been twice removed – not only from our government, but from most of our churches as well. (from Ten Commandments – Twice Removed, 20)

The authors make an old argument. The Sabbath-Day is the fourth commandment. Of the Ten, only the Sabbath-Day (i.e., Saturday) gives Christians trouble. This argument has been around since the days of Paul. Should Christians observe Jewish Law in order to be “real” Christians? “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the Law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:2-3) The answer of course is no. Why? Because in point of fact, it is much easier to be Jewish than Christian.

To be fair, the authors (Danny Shelton and Shelley Quinn) posit that there are two different laws, one from God and another from Moses. But it’s not clear from their text how they make that distinction. The say that the TEN are from God and everything else is from Moses, and thus Christians are only responsible for the TEN. This is disingenuous, since the Lord delivers all the Law to Moses, not just the ten. And it’s difficult to argue that the whole law was not also written on the stone tablets. Read through Exodus again and see what you think.

For the Jew, the Law (all of it, including the TEN), meant what God expected them to DO. It was all about what they were to be doing so as not to sin against God. Anyone who reads the Old Testament knows they failed consistently even in this. In New Testament times, a different attitude is reflected by the Pharisees, who applied human tradition to the Law to make its external nature even more prevalent. For the Jew, to be Jewish required doing the right things that please God, offering sacrifices, making offerings, loving your neighbor, loving God, etc. But this was easy, since the Law said little about the heart nature. A person could be a Jew outwardly, yet on the inside be very evil. Hence Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, “you white-washed sepulchers!” (Matthew 23:27) They were clean on the outside, but inside they were completely dead to God.

For the Christian, we have something completely different. It was against the law to commit adultery, but Jesus said that to even look on a woman with lust in your heart was to commit adultery with her, and thus break the law. It was against the law to murder someone, but Jesus said to even be angry at your brother, wanting to kill him, was tantamount to very act. Jesus said that the law which spoke to the outward man applied to the inward man as well.

In point of fact, no one can keep the Law, whether it’s the TEN or the whole of the 613 commandments of the Mosaic system. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Why would anyone think that emphasizing the Sabbath Law is going to improve the situation? Rather, “now a righteousness from God, apart from the Law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22a) Righteousness only comes from Faith in Jesus Christ, which is about the everyday, the common, the familiar. Faith impacts in all areas of our life, not just the ones we set apart for God.

Thus when this principle is applied to the TEN, and especially to the fourth, you see it is easy to designate one day in seven to rest. It is harder to make every day devoted to God. God isn’t just looking for an outward demonstration of your love for Him on one day. He is looking for that same attitude to follow you throughout the week. Every day is holy to the Lord, not just the Sabbath. As Christians, we are called to the higher standard. One day in seven? No, but every day, every hour, every moment is the Lord’s, and worthy of His remembrance.

Christians, don’t get mired in this argument. Those that argue for a Sabbath-day observance (Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, who also argue against the Trinity) love the Lord too. They just got off the track somewhere and need to be taught the way of Christ more accurately. That is best done when the truth is spoken in love.

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I've been in ministry in the Christian Churches/ Churches of Christ for 20+ years. Finished my doctorate in Biblical Studies in 2015. Serve today as a Hospital Chaplain.

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