Making It Up as We Go
I’m sure there are many people inside the church—and especially outside the church—who would say the Ten Commandments are irrelevant and antiquated. This was a moral code for a different time, some of them are even offensive to us now.
You read these stories of people crowd-sourcing their Ten Commandments in an online contest. What they come up with, on one hand, is vastly different. They’ll have rules about being true to yourself; don’t judge anyone.
In this country and in so many places around the world, the Ten Commandments have been foundational.
And yet, it’s really remarkable that when people have to come up with a moral code for themselves, they do come back to some absolutes. I was reading one report of this on CNN a few years ago. There are all these sorts of live and let live commandments. There’s no one right way; there’s no wrong way to live. And yet, the other commandments were so absolute about how you treat other people, about sexuality.
We live in this strange cultural moment which isn’t entirely relativistic and isn’t entirely absolutist, but is sort of making-up-your-rules-as-you-go. Your rules are fine for you except that my rules need to be fine for you, too.
I don’t think we need to convince people why the Ten Commandments are relevant. I would first want to help people see Jesus is relevant and why the gospel is relevant. Then, maybe there’s an apologetic avenue to help people see that before you dismiss the Ten Commandments, you need to understand that they have been, in some sense, the foundation for Western ethical and moral thinking for 2000 years—and for the Judeo-Christian tradition, even further back than that.
You can look at the Supreme Court building and see Moses as the Lawgiver etched on the roof. That doesn’t mean that it’s a Christian building or that we live in a Christian country, but it means that as a part of the Judeo-Christian heritage in this country and in so many places around the world, the Ten Commandments have been foundational.
Before we decide five minutes ago that we don’t need the Ten Commandments, we ought to know some of our own history—even more so in the church. The Ten Commandments have played such an integral role in discipleship and catechesis in the history of the church. For Jesus and Paul, the Ten Commandments were a summary of obedience to God. If we pay attention to our history and to the Bible in particular, we’ll know that the Ten Commandments are always relevant.
The Old Testament identifies several ways in which the third commandment can be violated.
There have been three items that have formed the backbone of the church’s catechesis: the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.
The way to find moral instruction is not by listening to your gut but by listening to God.