Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ten Commandments

There has been some buzz about the rerelease of the Cecil B. DeMille classic “The Ten Commandments.” It has been restored to DVD and will be released on BluRay. What a great movie! Who would not want to see tough guy Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, complete in Egyptian headdress? (Does anyone remember the 1973 sci-fi movie that reunited Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson?).

It wasn’t too long ago that Christians were protesting the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Courthouse. The commandments gained renewed popularity after being the target of the “secular and liberal elite.” It seems that we Christians (or conservatives or card-carrying members of the religious right and now TEA party activists) are always on the prowl for a cause to defend. Do not misunderstand. I do not suggest that people of faith roll over and play dead as the culture “slouches more and more toward Gomorrah” (to paraphrase Robert Bork’s great title), but we better be equipped to engage the battle intelligently.

Regarding the Ten Commandments, many modern Christians gave little thought to them until them became a cause celebre. Stop reading this and take this little test: grab a paper and pencil and see how many of the Ten Commandments you can list (insert Jeopardy theme music here). If you are not able to list all ten, you are probably like many, if not most, evangelical Christians. We have relegated the Ten Commandments to a bygone era that has little relevance to the modern age. Some have even claimed that since we are under grace, then the law – as represented by these rules – has no meaning to us.

This is a strange paradox: defending principles that many cannot articulate and some consider unimportant. However, the Scripture teaches that there is a “lawful use of the law” and our neglect of this has contributed to the cultural problem. Books and sermons produced by smarter people than I have expounded the proper use of the law. For the sake of brevity, I will point to one aspect. The moral law of God, the Ten Commandments, exposes the moral bankruptcy of our culture and shows sin as being the transgression of God’s law.

Of course, we “get” the first table of the law: no other Gods, no images, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and the Sabbath day observance (with its attendant controversy). Most of us would claim that we are guiltless concerning these – although idols and images are not merely statues of stone. They may be concepts that stand opposed to God; they may be people who usurp our loyalty to God; they may even have wheels, account numbers, or 160 channels.

The second table of the law is where the transgression is closer to where we live. Honor father and mother – a direct indictment on modern family dynamics where Homer Simpson is the quintessential father. Do not steal – at least the Bible honors the private ownership of property (take heed, socialists). Do not commit adultery – how does this square with a culture that has invented the concept of “serial monogamy” and “starter marriages.” Do not murder – unless of course he or she had it coming, or was old and wasting resources, or lived in the womb of someone who planned to terminate the pregnancy. Do not covet – if we followed this, how would General Motors, Ford or Chrysler ever sell a new car (something to consider, capitalists)? And of course, if we took seriously the bearing false witness business, what would that do to contract law?

Let’s be honest. Many in our churches today care little about the Ten Commandments. It may be the stuff of a classic movie, but that’s about all. It has become cliché, but it is true that we see them more as the “Ten Suggestions.” If we really took this seriously, the results would be life altering – much too uncomfortable for us to bother about.

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