Is this a picture of the new Moses?
Our E-100 last Sunday morning was Exodus 20, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. The visual image we used on the cover of our order of worship was one of Chagall’s paintings of Moses receiving the tables of the law directly from the hand of God, and all Sunday morning long we thought and talked together about the significance of the Bible’s foundational claim that the God who is there is a God who has spoken and acted, and that what we have in the Bible is a reliable record of that Divine speaking and acting. There are few Biblical narratives that assert this idea more directly than does Exodus 20 with its introductory formula – “And God spoke all these words,” and its concluding exchange between the people of Israel and Moses –
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
There is simply no question that the author of Exodus 20 wanted us to understand that Moses didn’t come up with the Ten Commandments on his own, but that they were given to him by Divine revelation, by God Himself giving them to him. And generally speaking, when a word is believed to have come directly from God, most people of faith have been hesitant to monkey with it too much. The dire warning at the end of the book of Revelation – “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll” (22:18-19) –while referring in context only to the book of Revelation itself, has nevertheless, appearing as it does in the very last verses of the Bible, been taken as a general rule. I don’t know too many Christians who would advocate making wholesale changes to what’s in the Bible. And then there’s the British evangelist J. John.
That’s his picture at the head of this blog posting. After the riots in Englanda few years a back, J. John began thinking about the unraveling of the social order and moral sense in his culture that these violent economic and social upheavals represented, and he wondered what the proper response of the church should be. Traditionally understood, one of the functions of the Ten Commandments have been their “civil” assignment. In the “God Goes with Us into the Coming Week” section of our order of worship on Sunday, in an explanation of “The Threefold Use of the Law,” Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul described the function of the law in its public setting like this –
A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.” The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized. www.monergism.com
This is why some Christians are so insistent that the Ten Commandments have a place in public school classrooms and in the corridors of government and the administration of justice. And so J. John, working from this traditional perspective, concluded that at least part of the response that the church needed to make to the social crisis was to get the Ten Commandments back in front of the culture. But as he thought about the best way to do this, J. John recognized that without some explanation about their meaning to a post Christian secular culture, that the Ten Commandments would likely not be understood. And so, this is when J. John came up with his “Just Ten.” Here’s a comparison of the traditional Ten Commandments and J. John’s modern restatement of their meaning –
1. You shall have no other gods before Me …………………………….…“Know God.”
2 You shall not make for yourself a graven image ……………… “Catch your breath.”
3. You shall not use the Lord’s name in vain ……………….…..“Take God seriously.”
4. Remember the Sabbath ………………………………………..…“Live by priorities.”
5. Honor your father and mother …………….……“Keep the peace with your parents.”
6. You shall not murder ……………………………………..…. “Manage your anger.”
7. You shall not commit adultery ……………….….“Affair-proof your relationships.”
8. You shall not steal ………………………….……“Prosper with a clear conscience.”
9. You shall not bear false witness ……………………………..…. “Hold to the truth.”
10. You shall not covet ……………………………………………..“Find contentment.”
The “Just Ten” are getting some real traction in England. A number of churches are using them in the program that J. John has designed, and they are reporting some real energy and engagement about them. In an article on the “Just Ten” in the British newspaper the Telegraph these testimonies were reported –
The Reverend Paul Roberts, 54, vicar of St John the Evangelist in Old Coulsdon, Surrey, which dates back to 1210 AD, is among those using the new commandments. He said: “It’s basically a way of presenting the Ten Commandments to help people connect with them in a positive way. Rather than just seeing them as a list of things you shouldn’t do, it is meant to help people live as God intended for our good. Unlike the dos and don’ts most people imagine when quizzed about the maker’s instructions, the message is meant to be both a challenge and an encouragement.”
Wayne Dulson, 40, minister of Loughton Baptist Church, Essex said: “People really engaged with the Ten Commandments in a new and fresh way. People now see these commandments not as a set of rules but as a template for living so that we experience God’s best for our lives. All Ten Commandments were extremely challenging, especially as the series helped us see them in the context of modern day living. People keep telling me how just10 has made them think much more about how they live their lives and also how much they have learnt about the commandments as they found out things they never knew before.”
Even former Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England after objecting to women priests, has backed J John’s rules. “I’d say it’s not a patch on Moses but not a bad set of rules really,” she said. “What he’s trying to do is offer a modern take on the original to explain it to a modern audience, which is fine as long as he doesn’t dispense with the original.”
And that last sentence might be the push. As “a modern take on the original to explain it to a modern audience,” the “Just Ten” have some real utility. But if taken as a plot to “dispense with the original,” many of us get a little nervous and can become downright difficult.
So, what do you think? DBS+