Friday, August 24, 2007

[THO] Ray Makes me UnComfortable (2)

Second of Mike Samson's guest posts, should be some good points to discuss in this and the next one.

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The 10 Commandments. Heb. " 'aseret hadevarim," literally the "Ten Words." (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13, 10:4). "Decalogue," from the Latin for "Ten Words" is a more literal rendition of the original Hebrew than "Ten Commandments." What is their signifigance for us today? How should we understand them? How ought they to be interpreted and applied? Most important, can they be mishandled and abused?

The Decalogue shold never be removed from it's proper context. Historically, that context is the Exodus of the nation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. This is the great liberating event of the 1st Covenant and the Hebrew Bible. The Decalogue is handed down to us in the 20th chapter of Exodus and the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy. In both cases they open with the words,

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Exodus 20:1 ( RSV CE)

The Decalogue points out the conditions of an existence free from sin, and a path to life. (Deuteronomy 30:16). One of the keys to understanding the signifigance of the Ten Words is the manner and time in which this gift was given.

In terms of timing, the revelation of the Law takes place between the proposal of the Covenant by God in Exodus 19:1 - 9, and it's conclusion when the people commited themselves "to do" all that the LORD had said, and to "obey" Him. (Exodus 24:7). The Decalogue takes on it's full meaning then within the context of the Covenant. As always is the way in sacred Scripture and in the economy of salvation, it is God who has initiated this Covenant relationship with His people. His love and mercy are clearly revealed here. The Commandments are secondary to this. The Ten Words spell out the implications of belonging to the People of God and the community of faith through the Covenant. Living out the Commandments then is our response to God and His love. This is key!!! They are a response to an already existing relationship. They are not, THEY ARE NOT!!!, a measuring rod to gage the worthyness of people to enter into the Covenant.

Secondly, the Decalogue is revealed by God through a "Theophany," an appearance of God. (Exodus 19:16 - 20:21). It must have been an absolutely unimaginable sight and experience. In revealing Himself in this way to Israel, and revealing the Law in such a fashion and under such circumstances, it should become clear that the Ten Commandments belong to the revelation of God Himself and His Glory. They are the gift of God, the gift of Himself and His Holy Will revealed plainly to His people. So much so in fact that it is God Himself who writes the Commandments on two stone tablets and gives them to Moses. (Deuteronomy 5:22). Understood in this way, we can say with confidence that our morality, lived out in obedience to the Decalogue is a response to the loving initiative of God and a response to an established relationship with Him. They are not, NOT a means of establishing a relationship with Him.

From all this is is obvious that the Ten Commandments can never be abolished. Indeed Our Lord said specifically that He had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but rahter to fulfill them. ( St. Matthew 5:17). As Christians, we are invited to rediscover the Law in the Person of Jesus Christ who is it's perfect fulfillment. It is in the New Covenant that the full meaning of the Law is made known. (See St. Matthew 5 - 7). When asked which Commandment in the Law was the greatest, ( St. Matthew 22:34-36), ASTONISHINGLY, Our Lord does not, DOES NOT quote the Ten Commandments. Equally ASTONISHING though is that He does quote the Law! ( St. Matthew 22:37 - 40). Our Lord cites Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leveticus 19:18 respectively. This is a fatal blow to the Ray Comfort "Way of the Master" approach with all their emphasis on the Decalogue. Our Lord tells us that on these two Commands, to love God, and to love our neighbor depend all the Law and the Prophets. These two Commands are actually one in essance though two in form. They are identical in spirit although two in letter. If we love God, we will love our neighbor made in His image and likeness. It is impossible, IMPOSIBLE for it to be otherwise. ( 1 John 4:7 - 21) Love of God and love of neighbor are one in the same. The Will of God is manifested therefore to Christians above all in the Commandment to love. We are to love as God loves. Hear the words of St. Paul to the Romans,

"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (St. Paul to the Romans 13:8 - 10 (RSV CE).

Our Lord stated clearly that if we love Him, we would obey His commandments, ( St. John 14:15), and that we ought to love one another as He loved us. (St. John 15:12). St. John was consummed with the teaching of his Divine Master as is evidenced in the passage cited earlier. ( 1 John 4:7 - 21). Our Lord and His apostles summon us to love, to Love God and our neighbor in response, IN RESPONSE to the God who first loved us ( 1 John 4:10, 4:19) Again in the New Covenant, as with the first, our obedience to God and His commandments is the response of children to the initiative of our God who is love. The law is not abolioshed, but the Holy Spirit makes it interior. Our obedience is one of love freely chosen, IN RESPONSE to His love freely given.

Now compare this to some of the street "evangelism" methods being employed today. I am refering in case and point to Ray Comfort and the "Way of the Master" approach. The Ten Commandments are wrenched right out of their Judeo-Christian context and used to measure the morality of perfect strangers on street corners through something called the "good person test" discussed in part 1. If the Decalogue belongs to the Covenant of God and His people, what sense is there in showing people whom you assume, whom you ASSUME... are Godless that they have in fact failed to live up to their relationship with God? Paintbrushing people on street corners with the Law like this accomplishes little or nothing. Using the Ten Commandments in this way is disgraceful. It is an abuse of Holy Scripture and an abuse of people. (More on this in part 4). It is the cart before the horse in the worst way. It is shameful...and ridiculous...

Up next, Part 3: Was Christ Punished? If He was, that is bad news for you and I...

To Be Continued...

8 comments:

One of Freedom said...

Good points Mike. I also find it offensive that the Decalogue is used as the standard of rightness on people who are foreign to the biblical context. How arrogant to assume that our texts are the only measure that is valid. How arrogant to assume this is normative. I love that you recognized that the Decalogue is a gift in the context of relationship with the Judeo-Christian God rather than an all arching normative to shame the nations into submission. My good friend Clint has an excellent sermon call the Ten Blessings where he does a reading of the Decalogue in the positive (what you will/shall do) that I think you would love.

Bamba said...

Hi Frank it has been awhile and I have had a busy summer. These posts intrigue me because I don't necessarily agree with Ray Comfort's methods. I have used them before and I can see what he is trying to do. So here is what I am struggling with. The writer of the post, Mike, has pointed out that the Decalogue is in the context with an existing relationship with God. Which I see what he is saying. I know that the apostle Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews and he fits perfectly into the context that Mike has mentioned. Yet Paul uses the law as a measuring tool. My question for you is that is this where Ray gets the idea to use it as a measuring tool and if Ray has not taken that out of context then maybe he is not all wrong.

One of Freedom said...

Hey Bamba, Great Question.

Paul's use of law is really interesting, in fact Paul follows some of his contemporary rabbinic exegetes in their disregard for proper context. I think the safe understanding is that Paul sees it as all being Christological. In other words he sees the Old Testament (OT) in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.

So his use of law is not clear. I've chatted a bit with Mike about this (hopefully he'll weigh in too), but Paul doesn't specifically refer to the decalogue either. Mike argues that the decalogue (as opposed to the Noahaic law which Paul does reference) describes life inside of a covenant relationship. So to impose it on those outside of that relationship is a bit absurd.

Now having said that, there is a whole evangelical/protestant tradition of interpreting the decalogue as an ethical framework. I think that has a lot of validity, especially when we are talking about what a Christian or Judaic morality might look like. But again, we have to be careful when presenting it as an absolute morality. Jesus uses a much simpler law understanding (love God/love neighbour) as a universal, I feel there is more of a case to start there then the decalogue.

I am not as concerned with the use of the decalogue in Comfort, as I am with how it is being used. At least from the videos I've seen of Ray at work. He seems to want to entrap the listener into a sense of guilt. To me that's spiritual manipulation and it will net in weaker folks, but what I'd like to see is demographics on the efficacy of such conversions.

My bet is that those entrenched in such a paradigm have convinced themselves that such analysis is a waste of time. But it is so critical.

What did you think of the rest of the series Bamba?

One of Freedom said...

Comment from Mike - his computer wasn't cooperating with Blogger:
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Hello Bamba!! Mike here. Thanks for reading my post and for your question. I've been looking at this for a while now. There is only so much I could put into the note and only so much I can say here! :-) So here goes. The Decalogue I think should be understood within the cultural and more importantly liturgical context of Israel. The Decalogue only takes up one chapter of the Book of Exodus, and is of course repeated again in Deuteronomy, the Constitution of Israel if you will. The books of Moses are much more taken up with Liturgy, the public ritual worship of the people. The Covenant is proposed to Israel in Exodus 19, the Commandments are spoken in Exodus 20, and the next four chapters make up the "Book of the Covenant." When Israel gets restless waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, she commits a liturgical crime and worships the Golden Calf and so forth. Moses breaks the Tablets of Stone containing the Law as a symbol of the Covenant already broken. The short law of Exodus then gives way to the much more complicated laws of Leviticus, with the Levites being ordained to the priesthood. To me there is a much bigger context in terms of culture and liturgy than simply assigning the Decalogue to the status of God's Moral Law. Jesus when asked about the greatest Command doesn't quote from Exodus, but from Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In Acts 15 when the controversy over circumcision arises, ultimately the Apostolic instructions make no mention of the 10 Commandments for Gentiles. What exactly Paul means by the "nomos,", the Law just isn't clear from the NT. There is some really intersting work in this area among the Messianic Jews though. There take is interesting to say the least. Either way, I just don't see why we should divorce the Decalogue from it's context. :-) I hope this helps clarify where I'm coming from.

Bamba said...

Yeah I see where you are coming from but I think you may have missed a few things. By the way great post. Jesus mentions the decalogue in his sermon on the mt. It think I see both working here. I see your point that Ray Comfort has abused the ten commandments, but I still see it as a moral compass. I think we miss the point if we think that Paul was not clear on what he meant by the law. I think he meant anything traditionally that has been passed down. And I feel safe in including the decalogue because it let's me know what I am supposed to do and not do. As Paul says how can I know that it was wrong to do it until somebody told me. He is referring to the law, which obviously has something to to with right and wrong.

One of Freedom said...

Bamba, I agree there is definitely an ethical dimension being called upon here. That is why for me it is more a matter of what ethical framework is being given priority. I've actually heard an excellent sermon on the decalogue in terms of being positives, not negatives. Instead of thou shalt not, it was thou shall. It is easy to see from there why Jesus brings everything to bear on the two greatest commandments. But it is also easy to see how these are relational commands, which I think is Mike's best insight here.

What I have argued, with the Canadian director of Living Waters at least, is that there might arise opportunities where bringing the decalogue into the conversation is very appropriate. I'm very much unconvinced that high pressure street evangelism is that place though. One of the interesting statistics that Comfort quotes on his site is that only a small portion of people even know all 10 commandments in the decalogue. Obviously the decalogue is of diminishing cultural relevance, so is it not completely absurd to emply a foreign measure against a persons conscious? But, at the same time I'm not one to discount the possiblity that there can be an effective time and place for almost any evangelism strategy. But I do know that I in good conscious could not do what the Living Waters folks do.

Mike Samson said...

You know what, I think we are agreeing more than we realize. The context for my note was the use of the Decalogue in evangelism and in particular the Ray Comfort approach. I think what he says would be much more relevant in a Church setting than in street evangelism. The Commandments are still binding on us as Christians, and that is exactly my point. They belong to the community of faith, to the prople of God. I loved Frank's point in the discussion with Chris Curry, that the Law was a means of mediating a covenant with a people. Exactly!!! To take one chapter out of Exodus and use it the way WOTM does, is I think at best, misguided. The Commandments are for the people of God. They are a moral compass for us. FOr the world though????

bamba said...

I concur Mike, we are agreeing more than anything. I think we just have different scopes. You obviously saw the 10 commandments abused and it is your passion to not abuse others. Which I commend you for. So my question is not of disagreement but one of a exploratory nature. I always understood that when Paul mentions the law it is like a guide leading you and I to grace. For it is by grace we are saved. How can I know if I'm wrong unless someone let's me know. So my question for you Mike is do you have to go to church or be a Jew to have the law work this way? I think I saw a little bit of this idea in your last post. Let me say again that I in no way think that we should bully anyone into a relationship with God. He surely did not bully me. It was because of his kindness that I was led to repentance.