pastor says ten commandments send wrong message

Don’t you love that headline?

It has a perfect appeal. It makes some people think that a pastor is flying in the face of religion. It makes some people happy that someone is finally speaking truth. It makes some people terrified that yet another pastor has gone over to the other side.

That’s why I made it up.

I am the aforementioned pastor.

I sort of said that in a Sunday school class yesterdat. I put it here to grab attention. But you can never believe headlines. What I really said is more like this:

When people think of Christianity, many people think of rules. They think that God is about saying no, that church is about “thou shalt not”, that Christians are against everything fun.

And that isn’t surprising.

After all, one of the things that many churches and Christians and people on the radio get upset about is when there are attempts to take the ten commandments out of courtrooms and classrooms and village greens. What they mean, of course, is that they want abridged versions of what are known as the ten commandments from Exodus 20 mounted on the walls of those places.

Unfortunately, in addition to that law is something called the law of unintended consequences. When we take certain actions, those actions may have consequences that are the last thing that we desire.

Say, for example, you are told that you are supposed to love God and love other people. Say, for example, you are told that those two things are the centerpiece of following Jesus. Say, for example, that Jesus says that those two things summarize the whole law. Say, for example, that he goes to great length to illustrate what he means, to give many examples. Say, for example, he says that murder starts not when a person stops breathing. Instead, it starts when someone hates. Say that he says that prayer isn’t about public pronouncements, it’s about intimate conversations. Say that he says that loving your friends is nothing. Loving your enemies is something. And so is praying for people who beat you up. And then he prays for the people who beat him up. Right before he dies.

That is a pretty clear expression of something other than rules.

What happens, however, when people begin extended battles to defend putting a list of rules on walls? (Not that those rules are bad, I mean, “go ahead, murder” is a pretty silly command.) What does it convey when you say “we’re not about rules, we are about relationship” and then we say “let’s keep these rules on public walls”?

The unintended consequence is that people begin to identify church as being about the defense of that abridged list of rules.

I suppose what the headline really should say is, “Pastor suggests that emphasizing public posting of rules reinforces a public perception that the brand “Christian” is about rules when perhaps there might be other things to talk about and live about that might be more effective in showing love.”

But that’s not a headline anyone would notice. That’s a headline that takes a long time to read, and to live. That’s a headline that invites conversation.

Of course, maybe that’s the point.

10 responses to “pastor says ten commandments send wrong message

  1. Say also, for examples, that He resisted headline infatuation to the point of telling virtually everyone he touched *not* to tell anyone (not that that ever did Him much good….). Say more, that he resisted “branding” to the point of making every conversation a one-on-one around whatever mattered most to one other person. Say also, that he spoke the most provocative and challenging truths imaginable to those single persons, blithely ignoring any “unintended consequences” that might arise from his pin-point words being recycled as universals.

    Don’t forget to speak of the uncountable damage we’ve done, over the centuries, by ignoring these examples.

    And still … I don’t know … it’s incredibly hard for me to ignore the PR and focus on the people. Do I have to? REEEAAAALLLLYYYYY????

  2. You’ve said a mouthful right here, Jon. Great post.

  3. Tim – thanks.
    Jack – well said.

  4. Have you ever considered a book–or at least a blog series–along these lines, with some things to chew on for believers who would get all up on their ears about other things that might, in reality, be majoring on minors–or , at the very least, marginalizing the law of love? You did a great job of articulating something I’ve often thought but not quite been able to get a handle on, relative to the 10 Commandments thing.

  5. Awesome post. I wish everyone could read stuff like this…I’m afraid most of the people reading it already “get it.”

    I like to keep the yogic yamas and niyamas in mind when considering the Ten Commandments. Not so much the specifics, but the way in which they are applied. For example, it’s not enough to Not Lie, it’s important to Speak The Truth. Murder can happen through our words. Violence against myself is still violence. Etc.

  6. Amy – that’s all i ever write.
    Hannah – i had been thinking about pursuing that approach in a next post.
    Now I don’t need to🙂

    And here’s what I know about talking to those of us who already understand
    (whatever the subject): We (at least me) don’t come close to doing what we
    understand.

  7. You’re not only talking to people who get it-

    As a teenager- pushing away from the rules- it would’ve been nice to have read this then. To have felt at all like church was about relationships.

    When the focus is on the rules- there are so many opportunities to feel as though you can not measure up. (Not to Him, but to them.)

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