Friday, June 23, 2023

Do We Still Need the Ten Commandments?

 First published January 2019

An article I read last week told how prominent pastor Andy Stanley declared that churches should no longer erect monuments of the Ten Commandments because the old covenant does not apply to Christians. After reading the article, and many of the heated comments that followed, I considered my own feelings when the Ten Commandments were removed from the sanctuary at the church I attend.

The lovely banners—five commandments on one and five on another—were handsewn by some of the older ladies in the congregation. The monuments were erected over the side doors near the front of our large sanctuary. They hung there for years. Then one day they were gone, replaced by modern wall décor reading on one side: LOVE GOD You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. Matthew 22:37. On the other side: LOVE OTHERS Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39.

I smiled at the change, considering it good to remove the old banners and replace them with the simple, two-part New Testament command of Christ. Afterall, we are a church built on the gospel, not the law. We know we can’t keep the law, that our only hope is in the One who came to fulfill the law. We know that living by this new covenant command will guide us to keep the Big Ten: (Yes, I’m paraphrasing.) Don’t accept any gods other than God, don’t establish idols, don’t use God’s name in vain, set aside a day for rest and worship (Yes, I go to church on Sunday.), honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t steal, don’t tell lies about people, don’t yearn for other people’s stuff, privileges, talents, or blessings.

But if we’re no longer obligated to keep the Ten as our code of conduct, does that mean we can forget our history? Are we to denounce the validity and lasting measure of the entire work of the Holy Scripture? The words newly poised in our sanctuary were all we needed to obey the ten laws that used to hang above us. But should those old laws be forgotten, stowed away like an out-of-fashion historical document?

I’m not sure that’s what was suggested in the article I read, or that I was able to grasp Andy Stanley’s full intent in what he had to say about the Ten Commandments. I’m quite sure others who read the piece were left with a blurred perspective. To put it in biblical terms, the article sowed discord among the brethren.

The pastor’s suggestions, whether good or bad, were directed at the church. For decades, the Ten Commandment have been forcefully removed from public view in court houses, schools, and other places. I’d rather see them removed from a gospel-centered church than a courtroom. Whether Jew or Christian, citizen or foreigner, these ten laws God handed down through the ancient Hebrews formed a foundation of civility and order, rightness in community, and respect for proper governing. Our country was built on such laws, and they benefit any civilization wise enough to adopt them. Even the atheist, who may choose to omit the first four commandments for lack of acceptance, will find a better life by obeying the last six. The unbeliever must realize that to break one of these outdated commands will, even today, bring detrimental consequences.

As a New Testament Christian, I’m not required to live by the old law or even know it in its entirety. I won’t attempt to recall every rule pertaining to meat, or fabric, or what course of offering amends what type of sin. But it seems living by the Big Ten should be easy enough for a Christian. Well, maybe not. Maybe we don’t live in a polytheistic culture, but we still put other things ahead of God. Maybe we don’t erect golden idols, but we stare into the glow of our TVs and PCs and smart phones. What about the Sabbath? It’s a source of contention for some believers. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Enough said.

My offenses and misperceptions are covered by the righteousness of Christ. Even so, I’ll strive to follow Him, which means some things are just wrong, no matter what covenant you’re under. I should hope that any church building void of a display of the Ten Commandments is filled with members who have etched those ancient decrees on their hearts.

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