On National Christianity . . .
Vol: 73 Issue: 22 Monday, October 22, 2007
I was surprised by the number of you who took me to task by email or in the forums for my comments that the Ten Commandments seem to me an incongruous choice for the battlefield upon which American Christianity would make its stand.
Among the various objections were that I sounded a bit anti-Semitic, that I was arguing against the Ten Commandments, that I was advocating disobedience or a license to sin, and so forth.
As to sounding anti-Semitic, not being Jewish is not the same as being against the Jews. If I adopted Jewish theology, I wouldn’t be a Christian, I’d be a Jew. That’s just silly.
(I am a Christian Zionist to the core and love Israel with all my heart. There are more than 2,000 articles in the OL archives. At least a quarter of them deal with Israel. I’ll let them stand as my reply to charges of latent anti-Semitism and instead move on to some of the other objections.)
In most instances, the only way to reply to the objections that I could see would put me in the position of arguing against the Ten Commandments, (the way that trying to explain the “Mother of God” heresy makes you end up sounding like you think that Mary was nobody special.) That’s not the way to go, either.
Wow. That’s a lot of misunderstanding to try and sort out.
So let’s start at the top. My starting position is that the Ten Commandments are not “Christian’, so it seems an odd point for Christians to choose to draw their line in the sand. In the final analysis, the Ten Commandments is the point where Christianity and Judaism part company theologically.
In Friday’s column, I employed an unfortunate choice of words when I referred to the ‘abolition’ of the Ten Commandments.
As many of you pointed out, Jesus Himself said He came, not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. But for a Christian the net effect is the same.
Jesus kept the whole Law, without offending on a single point. Having accomplished that which has been proved to be humanly impossible for anyone else before or since, Jesus offered Himself as a Perfect Sacrifice in payment for all those who failed to keep the Law of Moses.
His Righteousness is then extended like a spiritual blanket to cover the sins of those who repent of their sin, and trust in the Bible’s promise that His sacrifice was all-sufficient payment for their sins. The Law, as it applies to a Christian, is satisfied, and a Christian is no more under law, but under grace.
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the Law, but under grace,” Paul writes in Romans 6:14.
Paul also makes it clear that we will be judged either according to the deeds of the law, (by which NO flesh can be justified in His sight – Romans 3:20), or we will be judged by grace through faith;
“But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference. . . (Romans 3:21-22)
That is not the same as preaching a license to sin. Although there is a difference in judgment between being under the Law and under grace, sin is sin and God hates sin. “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid,” Paul exclaims. (Romans 6:15)
In terms of salvation, however, how well we keep the Ten Commandments is not an issue. We aren’t saved by what we do for Jesus, but by what Jesus did for us. And it is salvation the lost sinner needs, not the Law of Moses, which, according to the Apostle Paul, keeps sinners in bondage.
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
So, while the Law hasn’t been abolished, but rather, fulfilled by His Life, death and Resurrection, Christians are made free from the provisions and penalties of the Ten Commandments, by virtue of a Decree issued by Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees, (hoping to use the Ten Commandments to entrap Him), which was the greatest of the Ten Commandments. Note His reply:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, if one keeps the “Law of Jesus” one cannot run afoul of the Law of Moses.
But the Law of Moses is not Christian law. Loving God above all things and loving one’s neighbor as oneself is “Christian Law.” (One sees precious little of either whenever the topic of the Ten Commandments comes up.)
The Apostle Paul writes; “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12) I couldn’t agree more. But like Paul, I am a realist; “but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” (Romans 7:14b-15)
I look at the provisions of the Ten Commandments, and like Paul, I don’t see an avenue for redemption, but rather, I see it as a searing indictment of my guilt before God.
As I stand exposed by the light of the Ten Commandments, I know I am guilty and hopeless. Paul’s anguished cry, “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24) resonates with me.
I’ve cried out to the Lord in similar words more than once.
Choosing the Ten Commandments as the place to make our stand means defending the Ten Commandments. I don’t keep them all — and I know that I don’t.
All somebody has to do to decimate my best argument is to ask me the last time that I did any work on the Sabbath. Or if I keep the prohibition against graven images. (I’ll leave it there. This isn’t “True Confessions.”)
The Ten Commandments point out mankind’s need for a Savior. A lost sinner looks at the Ten Commandments and is convicted of his sin. So he would prefer not to look at them at all.
The Ten Commandments therefore, one might argue, point to Christ, so why would I argue they are an odd choice for Christians to choose as their rallying point?
The Ten Commandments expose sin in all its hopelessness. But they don’t offer a solution to the rest of Paul’s question in Romans 7:24; “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
As such, the Ten Commandments represent only half of the Christian worldview — the hopeless half.
THAT is what the Ten Commandments represent. A searing indictment against man. It is why the secular world hates them so much. They are an indictment against them for which they have no defense.
Christianity IS the defense, but that isn’t what is being offered here. What is being offered is the Ten Commandments as the expression of Christianity — when what they really point to is the need for it.
The Ten Commandments identify the sin problem of mankind. Jesus Christ offers the solution to the problem. We offer the problem as the solution — and wonder why the world doesn’t embrace Christianity with open arms.
The lost guy looks at all the Christians rallying around the Ten Commandments and says, “I can’t hope to keep them all.” And he knows in his heart that neither can all those Christians, so is it any wonder that 76% in a recent Barna poll chose ‘hypocrisy’ to describe their view of modern Christianity?
Nobody up there rallying around the Ten Commandments is telling anybody that Jesus has made a way to expunge the writing of the indictment against us contained on the tablets of the Law. Instead, they are insisting that the lost embrace them as emblematic of Christianity.
All of us were once of the world. Which would you have embraced? The secular worldview that leaves you to decide if you aren’t as bad as the next guy? Or a ‘religious’ worldview that says you are guilty of violating every tenet of God’s Law — and then just leaves you hanging there?
THAT is why I say that the Ten Commandments issue is cultural. It is political Christianity, which bears little or no resemblance to the spiritual kind. The stifling provisions of the Ten Commandments bear little resemblance to the Christianity Jesus described when He said, “For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
One critic of last Friday’s column said that Christians should strive to keep ALL of God’s law. That is an impossible argument to sustain for long. (One can find provisions in the Old Testament wherein parents should take their disobedient children outside the gates of the city and stone them to death.)
For that matter, it is almost as difficult to sustain any argument to the contrary. I certainly don’t want to be the guy arguing which of God’s laws we are supposed to keep and which we are not — but I am pretty sure stoning one of my kids to death will not earn me any points in Heaven.
I am not arguing against the Law, or the Scriptures or trying to slam Judaism or suggesting we have license to sin. There is a difference between cultural Christianity and Bible Christianity, and my contention is that this is cultural Christian politics and should be viewed from that context.
Cultural Christianity embraces Bible stuff because it is part of our historical culture, but cultural Christianity includes Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, 7th Day Adventists, and any other sect, denomination, religion or worldview that includes the mention of Christ or the Bible.
Biblical Christianity is not symbolized by the condemnation offered by the Law, but rather by the fulfillment of the Law in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Having gone this far afield, let me return to my original point. Since no American Christian taking up the fight is qualified by virtue of having kept them himself, it strikes me that the Commandments offer a somewhat precarious platform upon which to take one’s Christian stand. The Ten Commandments offer the judgment for sin, but alone, make no provision for salvation.
In a sense, they simply state the obvious, which is that man in his own right has no hope. But Christianity is all about the hope that is found in Jesus. The two views are hopelessly at odds with one another.
Why does American cultural Christianity rally itself around the symbol of the theological problem — man’s inability to keep the Law? Because once Christianity becomes cultural, rather than doctrinal, there is no universal solution to man’s sin problem.
Cultural Christians are Catholics and Lutherans and Unitarians and Presbyterians and Anglicans and salvation is according to Church membership, works plus grace; by grace plus works; salvation by grace alone; salvation by grace — but works count against you, etc., and so on.
There is virtually no Christian doctrine upon which everyone who self-identifies as ‘Christian’ can agree. There are mainstream Christian denominations that go so far as to deny the Deity of Christ. But they accept the Ten Commandments as having binding authority.
I know Christians that would never own a crucifix because it symbolizes a dead and powerless Jesus still hanging on the Cross, yet some of those same Christians find no conflict in rallying around the symbols of the Law that hung Him there.
As a self-identified Christian culture, we want to be ‘godly’ but can’t agree on how. The one thing everybody can agree on is the Ten Commandments, which are all about the weakness of men, but stop short of any mention of God’s regenerative and saving Power.
It is the one thing upon which American cultural Christianity can find common ground — mainly because it begins and ends with man’s failure. A political rally aimed at putting the 10 Commandments beside the Dalai Lama’s Buddha may be a form of godliness, but as an expression of Christianity, it’s a form that, [it seems to me], denies the power thereof.
To borrow a phrase from the Buddha, the Ten Commandments without the Cross is like the sound of one hand clapping.
And so I question it. It seems too surreal for me not to.