Tag Archives: Ten Commandments

We Don’t Need a New Set of Commandments

We Don’t Need a New “Ten Commandments”

Lech Walesa, famous for masterminding the overthrow of Communism in Poland, recently proposed that the world needs a new set of commandments, secular commandments, that transcend religions and draw from common global values. His proposal made worldwide headlines. Speaking at the 13th Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Warsaw on October 21, 2013, Walesa’s proposal sounded very good to secular thinkers around the world.

Secularists will applaud this idea and will, no doubt, organize themselves to work for this objective very soon. There are two reasons that secular thinkers find this idea appealing: 1) a secular ten commandments would not include any mention of God, and 2) a global Ten Commandments would increase momentum for a world government to sprout from the United Nations.

Like a lot of other items on the secular agenda, this item may not immediately bear fruit. It smacks of a call for one or several global gatherings to produce a document with the list. Such gatherings may not be able to contain themselves within only ten commandments. There is so much to say!

Christians may feel puzzled by the prospect of this endeavor. On the one hand, Christians don’t feel the need for new commandments. The ten given by God on Sinai are quite universal and deal with the most profound human problems. Christians believe that the first commandment, to worship God and God alone, is central to all the others, yet they know that secular thinkers don’t want any mention of God in their rules. Further, anything global must, in the secular view, take into account every god ever dreamed up plus all the views of people who reject God or any idea that any god can exist. In the stew that such a concern stirs up, it is almost certain that all mention of God or gods will be suppressed by whatever group is tasked with the writing. That rejection immediately poses problems for Christians, especially if the rejection is expressed in a commandment that everyone must keep his religion to himself.  (For comments on this idea, see my post “Just Keep Your Religion to Yourself.”) This commandment flies in the face of the Constitutions of many nations and is in direct contradiction to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nevertheless, if public rhetoric in the US is any guide, there will be momentum to shut down the public expression of faith or anything spiritual, all in the interest of world peace. Christians will not be the only people who feel threatened by such a commandment,

On the other hand, Christians will want to be involved if such a discussion takes place. Christians have a commission from God himself to share their faith with the whole world. Simply to object to a process that will create new, global commandments for humankind will not be enough. If objections fail, and the process is initiated, Christians will want to have a voice in the final wording.

That phrase is ominous: “final wording.” And worrisome. It invites contemplation of an era in which someone in the world has the final say on everything in the world. Commandments, by definition, require enforcement. Otherwise they are nothing but suggestions. “The Ten Best Options for Human Behavior” simply do not have the force of “The Ten Commandments.” If enforcement is called for, the options for enacting enforcement lean heavily in the direction of a global government with police powers. Only secularists who actually believe that human beings are steadily and irreversibly evolving into a higher morality could think that this development would be utopia.

Christians know that God has already given us ten commandments that humans cannot live up to. Those commandments begin with a commandment that empowers all the others. If humans could ever live by the first commandment, the others would just naturally follow. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2) Humans cannot obey this law, nor can they obey the others. Humans do not need more commandments or different commandments. Human beings need only one thing: Christ our Savior. Christ’s blood shed on the cross covers all our sinful disobedience to the commandments God gave us, and Christ’s blood covers the arrogance of our disobedience to the first commandment when we start thinking that God’s commandments need to be edited and revised, or just outright replaced.

The human race does not need ten new commandments to live by. The human race needs to live by the ten commandments we already have. The human race needs Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. As Steve Green said in his song, “People Need the Lord.” That is what the world really needs.

Evolving Standards Do Not Work in the Real World

When Barack Obama first spoke publicly about same-sex marriage, he was equivocal. His views were still “evolving” he told us. Then later, after he had tested the waters and determined what cultural trends were developing, he spoke in support of it. He behaved consistent with the growing influence of a belief that all moral standards are relative and that human beings evolve morally as well as biologically.

This idea is most fully developed in secular philosophy. (There are secularists, there are humanists, and there are free thinkers who advocate substantially the same views. I try to refer to them consistently as secularists, because that term seems the most appropriate word for their core ideas.) Secularists deplore the idea that anyone would impose their morality on other people. They teach not only that each generation must find its own way, but further that each person must find their own way. In a recent conversation with a secularist, I asked how he knew that he had found the “right” answer to a moral problem, and his response was that the “right” answer would be whatever made him happy.

Continue reading Evolving Standards Do Not Work in the Real World

A Verse for Meditation

English: A sheet form Bach's cantata #59
English: A sheet form Bach’s cantata #59 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.    Luke 10:27

  • Jesus said that these commandments sum up all the Law. Look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Can you find all ten in the summary above?
  • J. S. Bach wrote a cantata about this text. In the cantata, one singer says, “God wants your heart by itself.” Why did Bach include these words? 
  • Secular humanists assert that God does not exist, and therefore they reject the authority of God’s revealed Law in the Bible. They consider human happiness and social justice to be the goals of human ethics, which they believe to have evolved through millennia of human experience. What is a fundamental difference between Law as revealed in the Bible and ethics as the evolutionary result of human experience? (You might find more than one difference.) 
  • In Bach’s cantata, one singer cries out, “Give me … a Samaritan heart.” What does the singer mean by this prayer?
  • In the cantata, the alto sings an aria about a problem we all have. She sings, “Though I often have the will to fulfill what God says, yet I lack the ability.” When you are faced with this problem, what do you do?

Christianity is All About YES!

The culture of the USA in general believes that Christians love the word NO. People believe that being a Christian is about thinking you are perfect and everyone else is a bad person in God’s eyes.

This misconception about Christians and Christianity is one example of the disinformation that has come to be accepted as the truth about us. We do, of course, believe that some behaviors are good and some are not, and we are all guilty of behaving badly, even by our own standards, so none of us appears to be a good example of being Christian. As a result, the culture often concludes that we are complete frauds. The fact that some people pose as Christians and perpetrate real fraud on people does not help our image.

Complicating our issues with image and reputation are cultural changes that have nothing to do with us. The mix of ideas and religions in the culture of the USA has undergone massive change in the past fifty years. As a consequence, the number of people who accept Christian ideas as normal and desirable has declined dramatically. In 2012 many more people doubt the existence of any god whatsoever than would have claimed that viewpoint in 1962. In 2012 the proportion of people who claim to be Christian is much reduced since 1962, alongside an increased proportion of people who claim to be Muslim, Hindu or humanist. Many who claim to be Christians because of their upbringing no longer practice their faith in any public way and even claim to believe that it ought not to be expressed publicly because of the possibility of offending people who believe something different. This sort of generic dismissal is coupled with widespread disinformation about Christianity.

A Christian who speaks and acts on Christian faith principles is likely to encounter real opposition to Christianity because of a public notion that Christians are hate-filled bigots. They further believe that we think all non-Christians are wicked.

And they are right! What they do not understand is that we know Christians are wicked, also. As a bumper sticker once reminded me, “Christians aren’t perfect–just forgiven.”

We have a real challenge when we try to tell people the good news that as Paul wrote, “In Christ, all of God’s promises are YES!” We don’t live in mournful gloom and doom. Living redeemed, living in relationship with Christ, is a resounding YES to life and love and fulfillment.

One way to demonstrate that truth is to rescue the Ten Commandments from the King James translation of the Bible. The culture hears “Thou shalt not” as a big NO, and interprets it as a harsh judgment intended to suppress and devalue human beings. That misconception thrives on any focus on “Thou shalt not.” It is biblically true that our God expects us to put boundaries on our behavior, but the best way to establish a boundary that shuts out unwanted behavior is to understand the mandate for desirable behavior.

Take for example, the first commandment Jesus said it in a very positive way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:39) Jesus put the focus on God’s expectations, but even the word “expectations” must be understood in the context of the fact that it is Jesus speaking. Who is Jesus? Jesus is God in the flesh, come down to earth, accepting the limitations of a human body in order to suffer and die a humiliating death because of his love for humankind. He stands there in the flesh, the living evidence of the depth and strength of God’s love for us, and he asks us to love him back with the same fervent commitment. That makes the first commandment a loving invitation to a relationship in which we will absolutely receive more than we can possibly give. Will that relationship be exclusive? Yes, but who cares? How is it negative for a person to love and serve this God exclusively? Why would you want to make any room for some fake god, some second-best option?

Try another. Jesus spoke the commandment often stated as “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” in a positive way, too. He said, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.’” (Matthew 5:37)  He gave this statement to refute a Pharisaic legal view that taught people it was bad to swear to a lie. Jesus said people ought not to swear at all, because swearing proved nothing. His point is that when we speak, we should speak truth. Our words must be truth. We expect God’s words to be truth, and we should expect nothing less of ourselves. When people live by the standard “Speak the truth,” then swearing or not swearing means nothing. After all, we all know that people can swear to lies. If they are going to lie, why would they fear to swear to a lie? You know without my saying it that our world would be a very different place if everybody spoke only truth.

People accuse Christians of being bigots and hate-mongers because they look at the behaviors we reject and think that we are defined by what we reject. If we live by Christ’s positive restatement of the commandments, we can refute that misconception without saying a word. I paraphrase the two great commandments Christ gave us this way: Love God more than anything else, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we live this way, people will see a lot more of Christ’s YES to life than they will ever see of the ancient “Thou shalt not” that sounds so negative to them.

Have you ever tried restating each of the Ten Commandments as positive directives?