Never are Christians more guilty of doublethink than when it comes to the issue of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the place of God's law in the life of a Christian is a source of much debate, confusion and error. Yesterday Mr. Driscoll posted a blog post on this very topic and it certainly provides food for thought. In many respects it is a perfect example of reformed charismatic teaching: a strong root of reformed thinking which is then corrupted to something less.
Case in point: Driscoll refers to the Westminster Confession of Faith on understanding the law of God and proceeds with an excellent very short summary of reformed thinking. For the purposes of a fuller explanation I'm going to write my own longer summary.
Old Testament law is spilt into three types: ceremonial, civil and moral. The ceremonial law refers to all the laws about the sacrificial system: the priesthood, the laws of being clean, the tabernacle, and so on. The book of Hebrews is all about how these laws are fulfilled in Jesus, he is the sacrifice that all the animal sacrifices pointed to. He lived the pure life all the laws on cleanliness pointed to. The Old Testament system wasn't good enough to save; only Jesus could bring salvation.
"Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."
Hebrews 10 v 11 - 14
As Paul writes about Old Testament religious festivals: "These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." Colossians 2v17. Since Jesus Christ is now the better way then it is wrong for us to return to the old ways. Thus the ceremonial law has been done away with in the sense that it has found its ultimate fruition in Jesus Christ, his person and works.
The civil law are laws relating to the governance of the theocratic nation of Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel, as God's chosen people, were meant to stand out to the other nations and be examples of the holiness God requires. Hence the reason for a lot of the "stranger" laws about not making clothes with two types of linen or not eating shellfish, etc were all outward expressions of the difference and purity of the Israelites. The rest of these laws related to matters of justice and social benefits in the nation of Israel.
But in the New Covenant God's chosen people are no longer a nation state but rather a spiritual people, his adopted children, found all over the world in every nation, with a spiritual citizenship not a national citizenship. As such, while much wisdom may be gained from the civil law then it is no longer binding upon today.
This leaves us with the moral law of God. These are an eternal expression of what is right and wrong, not conditionally for certain times but stamped across all of time and eternity as what is good and right and pleasing to God. The Ten Commandments are the main expression of this moral law. For the interesting thing about the Ten Commandments is that you can find examples of people breaking them and God's punishment for this disobedience before they were even given. Not all the laws were written by God's own hand on stone tablets but only the Ten Commandments. Not all the laws were placed in the ark of God in the Holy of Holies but the Ten Commandments were. This signifies the special place of the Ten Commandments in the giving of the law.
Jesus obeyed all the law perfectly, fulfilling the ceremonial, civil and moral law of God. But while the first two have past away with the change from Old to New Covenant (as explained above) then the moral law still is in force today.
Christians get this, even when they pretend not to. For we look at the Ten Commandments and know that murder, theft, adultery, idolatry, lying are all still wrong. We know that we still need to obey the summary of the law: to love God and love our fellow man. In fact, Jesus applied them in the Sermon on the Mount not just to physical actions but our though life too. His conclusion: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is holy." (Matthew 5v48) is surely just as applicable today. This need for holiness is repeated often in the New Testament and all in accord with the Ten Commandments. Yes, we are saved not by works but by faith but we are saved in order to carry on in obedience. After we are saved we go on to be made more and more like Christ, living increasing obedient lives.
And now we get to the gaping hole in Mr Driscoll's blog post, the Everest of Issues, the Atlantic Trench of Odd Things to Say. Speaking about keeping the moral law he writes: "These include every one of the Ten Commandments—with the exception of keeping the Sabbath."
Talk about a curve ball - we have ten commandments written on stone tablets, ten commandments given special prominence by God, ten commandments but with a casual dismissal Mr Driscoll takes us down to nine. This is not an example to follow of good exegesis. It makes no sense that we should keep only 9/10s of the Ten Commandments. Since when were we given the luxury of picking and choosing in these matters? Don't the Ten Commandments stand and fall together?
It makes even less sense when we consider the fourth commandment: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy... For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Exodus 20v 9, 11
Notice that the reasoning behind the Sabbath is grounded not in the nation of Israel but in the creation of the universe. Is that creation still in operation? The change from Old Covenant to New Covenant changed a lot but it didn't change the fact that God rested on the seventh day of creation.
Of course, the immediate response is that Christians now meet on a Sunday whereas the Sabbath was a Saturday. But Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and we know from the gospels that every recorded instance that he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection was on the first day of the week. And there are a couple of other places where the first day of the week is connected to Christians meeting. The concept of keeping the Sabbath remains unchanged but to mark the change from Old to New the day we celebrate has changed.
Therefore, we need to remember the Sabbath day, laying it aside and not doing any work on it or doing anything which requires others to work for how can we lead other people into breaking a commandment of God?
In conclusion, it is inconsistent not to obey the fourth commandment but to seek to obey the rest. Either obey them all or write them all off. Laying aside one day in every seven is a creation principle not just a "Jewish" thing. It is not legalistic to hold to obeying the fourth commandment in the same way that it's not legalistic to say that murder is wrong.
There is much more than could be said. The Sabbath was made for man and there are so many benefits to keeping to it. Suffice to say, it is good and right and proper to devote one day a week to resting from worldly affairs and applying ourselves exclusively to the worship of God.
As a unashamed plug the Edinburgh Conference this year (9th November) is on this very issue. Please do come if you are able. See the website for more details.