How Small Are Your Ten Commandments?

Jake Meador addresses the question of whether to support impeachment of President Trump on the basis of the Decalogue (as the Christianity Today editorial did implicitly). After all, if you argue that Trump lied and broke the 9th commandment, what about other presidents who were not exactly truthful about intelligence and wars?

He goes on to say that the Ten Commandments are the basis of Protestant political reflection:

First, the Ten Commandments are central to traditional Protestant political theology. Indeed, the Reformed political theorist Johannes Althusius says that you destroy all possibility of symbiotic human community if you remove the Ten Commandments from public life. (In as much as many of our arguments about symbiotic communal life today depend on structuring our economy in such ways that human selfishness is ingeniously twisted to promote mutual material prosperity, I think Althusius is almost certainly correct.)

Likewise, many early Protestants, Melanchthon included, would argue that the Ten Commandments are simply a distillation of the Natural Law and so to remove the Ten Commandments from all consideration in public life is to render public life lawless; it is to make the norms of public life equivalent to the wishes of the powerful, who have the ability to wield the power of government to their own ends and who, apart from the law, have no mechanism to limit their power. This, of course, is an echo of Augustine’s much-cited line when he says that kingdoms without justice are but little robberies. Given the state of our republic, I, once again, find this line of thought highly persuasive. Therefore, any attempts to push the Ten Commandments to the center of Protestant political thought is quite welcome, for it is an attempt to return Protestantism to its historical roots.

… The magistrate’s responsibility is to preserve the peace of society through protecting the good and punishing the bad. So while I might sin in my inner life through impure thoughts, coveting, or some other vice, these things are not crimes, properly speaking, because they are strictly internal; if these thoughts are externalized in my conduct then they could become subject to civil law.

But what about the sins of the First Table that, as Protestant political theology teaches, magistrates are supposed to enforce? Don’t people remember the original Westminster Confession?

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he has power to call synods, to be present at them and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (23.3)

That might be a good idea — having the magistrate (as long as it’s not Donald Trump or Anthony Weiner) evaluate worship — if the church is struggling with veneration for POTUS:

For Rose Ann Farrell, 74, from Florida, the claim rang true. “I really believe he was sent to us,” she said. “From one to ten, he’s a ten. He lives in a Christian world and we needed a strong Christian, somebody who is not afraid. He speaks for us, has the guts and courage to speak what we want to say. His actions, his intentions, are Christian.”

But is it such a good idea to enforce the First Table of the law on Muslims and Mormons?

Plus, why do Protestants concerned about public life so often reduce the Decalogue to the Second Table? That was not the way old Protestant political theology had it. Not only did the First Table restrict religious expression and worship, but the magistrate — maybe someone like Barack Obama — was supposed to enforce worship and morality. It doesn’t get much older for Protestant political theory than Calvin:

no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care. We have already shown that this office is specially assigned them by God, and indeed it is right that they exert themselves in asserting and defending the honour of him whose vicegerents they are, and by whose favour they rule. Hence in Scripture holy kings are especially praised for restoring the worship of God when corrupted or overthrown, or for taking care that religion flourished under them in purity and safety. (Institutes, IV, 20. 9)

I understand Meador wants to promote the common good and to do so as a self-conscious Protestant. I don’t understand, though, in a nation that prizes freedom — even religious freedom — how that common good is going to come from the Decalogue if the whole of it is in view.

32 thoughts on “How Small Are Your Ten Commandments?

  1. Donald Trump has built his life on everything God hates. Just like Hollywood. Except that he is FAAAAAR better entertainment and I don’t have to violate either of the 2 greatest commandments, or the larger catechism questions 91 through the 10 commandments for it. 😀

    I didn’t vote for him last time and I would publicly burn myself at the stake before voting for Hilary Clinton. I’ll probably vote for him in November though. If you have to watch your country destroy itself, it may as well be entertaining right?

    I’ve scraped things off my shoe with higher moral character and conviction than the average contemporary American politician of either major party.

    One could replace the 3rd person personal pronouns of Romans 1 with “Americans” (including most of the church world) without doing substantive violence to the text.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I’ve scraped things off my shoe with higher moral character and conviction than the average contemporary American politician of either major party.”
    Can I borrow that line?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t understand, though, in a nation that prizes freedom — even religious freedom — how that common good is going to come from the Decalogue if the whole of it is in view.

    Red meat, Darryl. How do we define “common good” at all? There’s Your Truth, My Truth; Red Truth, Blue Truth. It’s a Dr. Seuss book.

    sdb,

    How does one get from natural law to keeping the sabbath holy?

    Who cares?

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  4. So beautifully state. It’s hard to not believe we are in trouble. I can’t even stomach the news. Between the lies and the hypocrisies. Hopefully it won’t infect the church… “A second function, the “civil use,” is to restrain evil. Though the law cannot change the heart, it can to some extent inhibit lawlessness by its threats of judgement, especially when backed by a civil code that administers punishment for proven offenses (Deut. 13:6-11; 19:16-21; Rom. 13:3, 4). Thus it secures civil order, and serves to protect the righteous from the unjust.

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  5. “Hopefully it won’t infect the church…”

    You’re decades too late for that my friend and it’s worse now than ever. American Christendom at least, is sharply divided along exactly the same lines as is the dying world around us.

    Whether it’s the relentless critical theorists on the left, or the relentless “God Bless America” crew on the right. Or anybody attempting to be in between. It all reduces to the same thing. Trying to force sinners to act like saints. With “saints” being defined as they see fit. Just different versions of the same thing.

    There are 2 and only 2 kinds of people on this Earth according to the christian scriptures. Those who have been born dead in Adam, and those who have been born again into new and everlasting life in Jesus Christ. According to His word, that’s what God sees. Sheep of every nation, tribe, kindred and tongue, and goats of every nation, tribe, kindred and tongue.

    Nothing could be wronger than His sheep showing more affinity with goats in self interested worldly causes than they do with other sheep in the true cause of Christ. The devil has been very successful with this.

    It ought not be so.

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  6. Greg, so others watching sex and violence merely depicted in film comes in for rabid moral judgment but your contributing to the (real or perceived) downfall of the country by casting a vote for mere entertainment ain’t to thang? Can’t watch movies because Hollywood is “built on everything God hates” but can vote for Trump even though his life is, too? Eye on the shell, kids. But you either have to inject moral judgment into both or neither, but you can’t be selective.

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  7. “A second function, the “civil use,” is to restrain evil. Though the law cannot change the heart, it can to some extent inhibit lawlessness by its threats of judgement, especially when backed by a civil code that administers punishment for proven offenses (Deut. 13:6-11; 19:16-21; Rom. 13:3, 4). Thus it secures civil order, and serves to protect the righteous from the unjust.

    I think the second use of the (second table of the) Law in public is out unless you’re in a “Christian” commonwealth such as the Reformers lived in. We don’t enforce the first table because it’s too easy to abuse blasphemy laws (even though we still have them for blasphemies against protect classes and their gods). Natural law is also out because it depends on a Biblical view of Creation and a “Christian” commonwealth. Few will admit this. Where do we get a definition of “common good” that everyone will agree upon as the basis for public order?

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  8. Yes, second table is an extension of the first. And yes, the church is being led by the culture and the uniparty.

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  9. So the 2KT framework is dead…? Are you promoting for the Christian to retreat from society, maintain faux ignorance, or provide a well intentioned, biblically based recommendation on civil law and church relations.

    Not sure how we will not be compelled by the state to change or fold. Isn’t that what the acceptable mainstream is consensus is requiring us?

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  10. There is obviously a new religious test for public office, civil service, private business, health and human service including adoption and education and the overall acceptance in the marketplace of ideas…

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  11. I believe Jefferson’s anti-Calvinist take on separation of church and state defaulted to a higher criticism form of Unitarian Christianity as the most acceptable and progressive form of faith. His wall of separation was a perfect compliment to his “embrace of Unitarianism in fact allowed him to continue his loathing of historic Christian teaching like the Trinity that he found so essential to Calvinism. Both Deists and Unitarians found the divinity of Christ and associated doctrines–the Virgin birth and the Incarnation–revolting. Jefferson’s fear of the Calvinists was not without reason.”

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  12. So the 2KT framework is dead…? Are you promoting for the Christian to retreat from society, maintain faux ignorance, or provide a well intentioned, biblically based recommendation on civil law and church relations.

    Not sure how we will not be compelled by the state to change or fold. Isn’t that what the acceptable mainstream is consensus is requiring us?

    I don’t think the 2K framework is dead until the day of judgment. I don’t see a basis for the church to engage with the government since the government does not buy natural law arguments. Joe Biden even scoffed at the idea of natural law. Most Christians don’t even believe it. We’re also told ITT that the Ten Commandments are not admissible into these discussions. I have never convinced anyone with a natural law argument. They hold sway only in a “Christian” commonweath. The rest of the world is a theocracy, whether it’s secular humanist, Islamic, Hindu, or Chinese Communist.

    I think 2K theorists need to work through the implications of what they’re saying and “red team” their statements with reports from the field. If we can’t use the 10 commandments or even the last 6 and natural law arguments don’t work, we have no basis to engage with our government. If that’s the case, 2 kingdom theorists need to admit this and give the laity the appropriate guidance. As you said, there are starting to be religious tests for public office and even private employment. Maybe we should be preparing to take the church underground. The WCF says the church is more or less visible and that Christians MAY serve as magistrates. This all depends on the circumstances.

    I’d like to hear theories on what the proconsul and centurions did when they converted and still had to serve in their capacities as magistrates. Natural law arguments were probably much more persuasive back then, but did they use them or argue from Scripture? What about Calvin’s Consistory? Modern 2 Kingdom theorists would definitely oppose the idea of Calvin’s Consistory in Geneva these days.

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  13. “… there are starting to be religious tests for public office and even private employment. Maybe we should be preparing to take the church underground …”
    Isn’t this what people like Dreher have been saying for a while now? The problem is, how does one remain faithful to his calling and yet subject himself to the will of the magistrate in certain areas? If employment requires adherence and consent to various gender categories and pro-choice criteria does one sign up in agreement? IOW, live according to the state by day and according to one’s Christian convictions behind closed doors at night?
    Seems like the early Christians followed their consciences along the lines of both tables of the decalog at all times, being praised by some of the more benign emperors as model citizens and hauled off to the arena by the more wicked ones.

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  14. Isn’t this what people like Dreher have been saying for a while now? The problem is, how does one remain faithful to his calling and yet subject himself to the will of the magistrate in certain areas? If employment requires adherence and consent to various gender categories and pro-choice criteria does one sign up in agreement? IOW, live according to the state by day and according to one’s Christian convictions behind closed doors at night?

    How do the illegal immigrants do it? They work for cash off the books. Unlike them, we still have to file tax returns. The job you’re going to have in the future is the one you create for yourself. You’re not going to be able to go to GloboMegaCorp and get one. That’s good anyway for a lot of reasons. It could actually lead to a renaissance in many ways. The Millennial friend I was talking to last nigh works at Starbucks. He and his manager are Christian. A man just came out to them that he’s going under the knife to have his wedding tackle removed and try to convert to female (Starbucks will pay for this). He gave my friend his new name and list of preferred pronouns. My friend informed him with a smile that he’s going to use his old male name and pronouns. My friend has several things going for him that give him the confidence to do this: he has about 5 odd jobs of his own creation, he lives near family in a house his parents bought, he fears God. One of his businesses is a wedding video business and I think he just hangs up the phone when he’s asked to do gay weddings or he only does Christian weddings. As an aside, I wonder what would’ve happened if Jack Philips had just hung up the phone or told the gays, “We’re too busy for that. There’s another cake shop down the street that can help you.” Jesus did not answer every question the Sandhedrin asked him.

    Seems like the early Christians followed their consciences along the lines of both tables of the decalog at all times, being praised by some of the more benign emperors as model citizens and hauled off to the arena by the more wicked ones.

    And this is what Christians in the Global South do. Vishal Mangalwadi thinks governments should listen to Biblical wisdom. I need to read more of Wang Yi to see what he thinks. He has stated he wasn’t interested in reforming the government but I know he and his church members were very public with their opposition to certain government practices like abortion.

    I’m starting to think laymen may need to write a book on Christian living in the post-Christian America (however long that lasts). All of the fallout from Obergefell has, so far, fallen on the laity. I’ll withhold my opinion on the leadership of ?Bigfoot Evangelicals in this matter.

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  15. A man* just came out to them that he’s going under the knife to have his wedding tackle removed and try to convert to female (Starbucks will pay for this)

    I meant “a male coworker.”

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  16. There you go again Steve.

    I know you’re not gonna try n tell me that you don’t recognize a hyperbolic sardonicism when you see it.

    You really should ask yourself why you’re always trying to make me wrong. Your conscience may not be as dead as you try to make it appear.

    BTW, I was mildly but sincerely bummed when you unfriended me on Facebook for no apparent reason.

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  17. Greg, oh so you would actually vote for HRC before publicly burning yourself at the stake (how does one actually do that and if a terrible Greg burns himself in public would anyone come to see)?

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  18. “How do the illegal immigrants do it? ”
    Aren’t they committing a crime by working off the books. How does that square with Romans 12? Frankly, I think the bigger threat is (and has been for 50yrs) the consumerism of our culture. It permeates the church in subtle ways and renders it weak. The entertainment society we live in (bread and circuses on steroids) is an anesthesia for the soul. The challenge is not how to avoid calling Jack, Jacky or making a cake with a rainbow flag (it’s debatable whether it is even problematic for a Christian to do these things). The bigger challenge is raising our kids to embrace the faith and marry within the faith when every pressure in society is working against you and our churches are so tiny that the odds of finding a spouse at church is basically nil. I’m not sure what the answer is here, but watching my slightly older friends watch their kids walk away from the faith and seeing my oldest prepare to move out (she’s a senior in high school), I sure would like to know.

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  19. Aren’t they committing a crime by working off the books. How does that square with Romans 12?

    Sure, but no one seems to care. The only absolute authority is God, not the magistrate. Scripture commands work, so at some point you may have to obey God rather than men.

    The bigger challenge is raising our kids to embrace the faith and marry within the faith when every pressure in society is working against you and our churches are so tiny that the odds of finding a spouse at church is basically nil. I’m not sure what the answer is here, but watching my slightly older friends watch their kids walk away from the faith and seeing my oldest prepare to move out (she’s a senior in high school), I sure would like to know.

    I’ve made the same comments here. These small church denominations don’t take demographic data. I’ve seen lots of kids walk away and the dating prospects for our children are nil as you say. I’ve heard only a few ministers even bring this up. It’s treated like a papercut rather than the sucking chest wound it is. Got any ideas on how to solve the problems? CR Wiley took a good stab at why you should get married and have a family at all if you’re a man living in this society. I’ve heard no good theories on why children of faithful parents depart. I wasn’t raised in a Reformed church, so I hope this isn’t what I’m in for with my kids.

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  20. Reading through some of these threads lately is causing me to better understand what Paul may be saying in his 1st letter to the Corinthian congregation in what we call chapter 7, “… I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another….A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God…” Perhaps his advice may apply even more seriously to our future.

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  21. Wrt “The bigger challenge is raising our kids to embrace the faith and marry within the faith when every pressure in society is working against you and our churches are so tiny that the odds of finding a spouse at church is basically nil.”

    Well and good and right to desire to raise kids to embrace the faith. But, like, why is societal pressure such a big concern? If society were to make it ‘easy’ to embrace the faith, it’s all that more likely that such a faith would only lack substance, and maybe not even worth embracing. Constantine certainly made it ‘easier’ to embrace Christianity, but it’s a very much mixed bag if that was such a good thing for the spiritual vibrancy of the church.

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  22. If society were to make it ‘easy’ to embrace the faith, it’s all that more likely that such a faith would only lack substance, and maybe not even worth embracing. Constantine certainly made it ‘easier’ to embrace Christianity, but it’s a very much mixed bag if that was such a good thing for the spiritual vibrancy of the church.

    I don’t think it’s ever easy to be a Christian. 100 years ago, Machen said it was difficult to be one in his day. It’s been legal to be a Christian here since 1620. Faith has only crumbled in the last 100-150 years.

    Augustine said it was difficult to be a Christian and he lived after Constantine. There were still many societal pressures and penalties for getting baptized. Don’t forget Julian the Apostate, either.

    We should always attempt to falsify our understanding of history with counter-examples, Devil’s Advocacy, and “red teaming,” IMO.

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  23. Reading through some of these threads lately is causing me to better understand what Paul may be saying in his 1st letter to the Corinthian congregation in what we call chapter 7

    There’s also Psalm 124.

    If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
    let Israel now say—
    2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    when people rose up against us,
    3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
    4 then the flood would have swept us away,
    the torrent would have gone over us;
    5 then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.
    6 Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth!
    7 We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the fowlers;
    the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped!
    8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

    What you should do on your gifts, conscience, circumstances, and the Law of God. There are no easy answers.

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  24. ajc, are blasphemy laws what you have in mind?

    Darryl,
    That’s a very deep question. How do we like the blasphemy laws we have? For example, an illegal immigrant felon just got 15 years for stealing a rainbow flag from a synagogue of Satan and burning it. Hate crime legislation was used against him. This is obviously cruel and unusual punishment for blasphemy.

    Another thought-provoking case came up in the Aquila Report today. I wonder if the judge would’ve allowed blaspheming Mohammed? It’d be one thing if he said, “I strongly condemn blasphemy but since blasphemy laws are as easily used against good people as bad, I’m going to allow this (Kuyper’s argument),” but he didn’t. He made flippant comments. Brazil is also one of the most murderous countries on the planet. Maybe someone should study the correlations of different types of blasphemy with societal metrics. Metrics could be murder rate, abortion rate, divorce rate, etc. In other words, to what extent is Romans 2 true? Furthermore, since every society has blasphemy laws, they seem to be “The Common Laws of Nations” as Calvin put it. You could argue that they’re natural laws.

    I’m actually not advocating blasphemy laws, I’m just thinking this through.

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  25. Wrt “There were still many societal pressures and penalties for getting baptized.” Well, that all changed in 381 AD when Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. No pressure on Christians after that. Only mega-pressure on paganists.

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  26. @Petros – Christianity did a good job of conquering the globe after Constantine. Christianity is a communal faith (don’t neglect gathering together as is the habit of some, etc…) – we need each other. While we don’t have gulags and probably never will, our wealth and the concomitant individualism and materialism that characterize our culture do a much better job at distracting people from the faith than persecution.

    “it’s all that more likely that such a faith would only lack substance”
    Fortunately, it isn’t the strength of our faith that saves. The NT is filled with admonitions about how to organize the church that are in large part ignored by much of the church. As the church is the means by which God has chosen to propagate the faith, weakening the church by neglecting what scripture calls us to unsurprisingly leads many to fall away.

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  27. Can you clarify. Do you think the main impediment to raising kids in the faith is secular society, per your comment “when every pressure in society is working against you”. Or, is the main impediment the (presumed American) church’s “wealth and the concomitant individualism and materialism that characterize our culture”?

    Wrt “Christianity did a good job of conquering the globe after Constantine.” The Crusades certainly tried to advance that cause, and they may be one of the biggest blights in church history.

    Presumably, 2K’ers would/should prefer an earthly life in exile to one that’s tied at the hip to the magistrate?

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