Are the Ten Commandments Overrated?
Why do we Christians so fanatically promote the Ten Commandments? Is this what Christ would want us to do? Is our desire to raise monuments to the Ten Commandments in our courthouses and schools a valid reaction to New Testament teachings?
The article below appeared in the July/August 2006 Plain Truth magazine [Christianity without the religion, www.ptm.org]. It does a very credible job of helping the reader see that modern Christianity has tended to deify the 10 Commandments, which may be making it just that much harder to undo the legalistic mindset many of us are still laboring under.
Breaking the Ten Commandments
By Glen Moyer
“You call yourself a pastor? You are not qualified to shepherd God’s sheep. I feel sorry for the people in your church—you are not leading them in the ways of God. You are a false prophet. Frankly, I question if you are even a Christian. I believe you are in danger of going to hell.”
What wretched deed did I do to launch this religious crusade from my fellow Christians?
How could I do such a sacreligious
act without remorse? Didn’t Jesus say we must seek first the
Obviously, I have a different opinion of the Ten Commandments than these folks did. Consider another trouble-making example:
One famous Christian leader, addressing Judge Moore’s suspension, lamented, “The old earthen dam that has held and protected the reservoir of Judeo-Christian values and beliefs since the days of our Founding Fathers has been leaking for decades. But in recent weeks, the entire superstructure appears to have given way. We must return to our nation’s Christian heritage.”
While he was saying that, I wrote this, “While I admire
Judge Moore’s determination and conviction, I can’t support his cause. In fact,
I’ve always had difficulty understanding why we Christians so fanatically
promote the Ten Commandments. Yes, they represent our historic spiritual
heritage as a people, but I can’t agree with Judge Moore when he says the Ten
Commandments are ‘the moral foundation of our law, upon which all other law is
based.’ Such comments represent an oversight of Jesus’ life and teaching, not
to mention the core message of the New Testament. Furthermore, which Christian
heritage do we want
I just can’t figure out why Christians, of all people, would want to build monuments to the Old Testament Law. What do non-Christians think as they watch us feverishly defending our sacred Ten Commandments monuments? They think Christianity is just another religion of rules and regulations. That God’s attitude toward us is all based upon how well we keep all those laws. Of course, that means they’re doomed because nobody can keep all those laws.
So why even bother with Christianity? Jesus ran into this same granite wall. Let me illuminate his response by first asking a question. What is the greatest commandment in the New Testament?
I’m sure your mind just traveled to Matthew 22:36-40 which reads: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.’”
But neither you, nor this passage answered my question. I asked what is the greatest commandment in the New Testament, not the Old Testament. Look again. Jesus said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” That’s in the Old Testament.
If we simply must erect a monument to the Old Covenant of Moses, why not take Jesus’ advice and simply inscribe these two commandments in granite instead of all ten from the book of Exodus?
However, an even more fundamental question has to be asked. Why would we want to erect a monument of any kind to the Old Covenant which the author of Hebrews said Jesus made obsolete? “By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and his people, God put the old plan on the shelf. And there it stays, gathering dust” (Hebrews 13:8, The Message). Paul was even more direct when he said that Jesus “abolished” the law with its commands and law (Ephesians -15).
Yes, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew ). But by fulfilling the Law, Jesus made it obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Hebrews ).
The last thing Jesus would want us to do is erect granite monuments to the very Law that he set us free from by his suffering and death on the cross. When Jesus shouted, “It is finished” from the cross, among the other things, he meant the Law is finished, and we are now free!
Do I think The Law and the Ten Commandments are part of Scripture? Absolutely. Are they still useful? Certainly. Do I think we need a Ten Commandments monument in every American courthouse? Absolutely not.
Again as Paul said, “The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidance for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork” (Romans 7:7, The Message). There has to be a standard and that is why the Ten Commandments are a terrific basis for our civil law.
But the Ten Commandments only help us identify evil; they never have, and never will deliver us from evil. God never intended for them to be the basis of moral law; that is reserved for faith, hope and love—especially love.
Conservative Christianity’s insistence that the Ten Commandments be the basis of our moral law is an exercise in futility. Some say rulings such as the removal of the Ten Commandments from our schools, court houses and other public places has helped lead to the social decline we see all around us. Why then are the rates of negative social indicators (divorce, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, bankruptcy, domestic violence, etc.) as high, and sometimes higher, inside the church where the Ten Commandments are still hanging, as they are outside of it where they aren’t?
Yet, I’m even more concerned about how clinging to the old legalism has entrapped us in a system that values rules over relationships. Obsession with rules encourages self-righteousness and harsh judgment upon those who break the rules. It reduces life to exclusive bad/good and with/against categories—all based on whether you have or have not broken a rule.
We often say “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” Why then do we keep slipping back into legalistic religion? Christianity is not what we do for God; it’s what God has done for us. It’s not about being religious; it’s about being loved. Our hope is in the person of Jesus, not some religious system of rules that plagiarizes his name.
That is why Paul said, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you; I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered…” and “…we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!” (Galatians 5:1-2 and Romans 8:12-14, The Message).
If we must build a monument, why not build one to the greatest commandment Jesus gave in the New Testament? “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples, when they see the love you have for each other” (John -35, The Message).
However, such a “Love One Another” monument would be completely redundant, because God has already built it: “This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; this time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people” (Hebrews , The Message). Every Christian is to be a living monument in the New Testament.
Could there be any better illustration of the de-humanizing poison of submitting to a religious system of rules than the fact that not one of those folks who demonized me for watching the Super Bowl with my dying father even so much as asked how my father was doing? Not one offered to pray for him.
Glen Moyer is an Amy Award
winning writer and pastor of High Point Adventures in Missoula,