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Listen to Rick read this post:
During the Christmas holiday a local pastor, who has a national voice, preached a message debunking the idea of the Ten Commandments being called the Ten Commandments. He said the LORD gave him the message in a matter of minutes, but before preaching it, he asked his co-pastors if he should, to which they encouraged him to do so.
It reminded me of the ready-fire-aim approach to midnight thought visitors. This has happened to me many times and in a similar way that he described. I can sympathize with him. I will be in bed late at night and the LORD will give me an idea. It could be a turn of phrase that sheds a different kind of light on an old theme.
In most cases I would get up and start typing. How could you not? It is fresh, new, and invigorating. However, I have learned through the years that when I am done with my midnight reflections, it would be best not to push play, but pause. It has proven to be a wise move to let such things simmer a bit longer before I put them out for public consumption.
In nearly every case, what seemed to be a fully baked idea was only half-baked after I came back to it a day or so later. It appears this pastor pushed play when he should have pushed pause, but I have no rock to toss at him about this method since I have left the bakery too soon too many times.
The new light that broke through to him, which led to the Ten Commandments rewrite, was regarding the word commandments. He said the word commandment did not appear in the Hebrew. He also said he was not a Hebrew scholar. Neither am I, so I will not enter into that discussion. The truth is, I do not care if the word commandment is in the Old Testament and was perplexed as to why it was the premise and point-of-departure for a sermon.
Where it became surreal for me, as I listened to the entire sermon, is the English-centric assumption of the sermon. The weight of his argument was whether the English word commandment was in the Old Testament and since it is not—according to his Hebrew taxi driver mentor, then it was okay for this pastor to rewrite all ten of the commandments.
One of my all-time favorite poems is A Valediction Forbidding Mourning by John Donne. Let us suppose the word valediction was a made up word. (Work with me here.) If I followed the logic of this pastor, because the word valediction is not a real or the right word, then that gives me the right to rewrite Donne’s poem.
The pastor has built a false continuum–because of this condition, then that must be true. In the case of the pastor, he is saying because the word commandment does not appear in the Bible, then he can change God’s Words. (The words he changed are found in Exodus 20:3-17 as well as Deuteronomy 5:7-21).
Let us bring it back to the Bible. Suppose a person wanted to argue that the word Trinity was not in the Bible. (For the record, this argument has been made many times.) And based on the word Trinity not being in the Bible, it is okay to reprogram God from a Trinitarian being to any self-centered presupposition that the person wants to contrive.
Honestly, does it really matter if the word commandment is called the ten sayings? Which is more important: (1) what we call them in English or (2) how we respond to them before God and others? Let’s take a look:
You shall have no other gods before me. – Exodus 20:3 (ESV)
You could call that verse a commandment. You could call it a saying. You could call it a truth. You could call it wisdom. You could call it a word. I am not going to spend much time arguing about what you want to call the verse, but I would be interested in engaging you about how you are affected by it.
To imply, “Because the word commandment is not in the Bible, I have the right to change the meaning of the text” is not only unwise, but it dangerous. This pastor did a lot more than change the word commandment. He changed the meaning of what God said. He rewrote the ten commandments-sayings-truths-wisdom-word of the LORD.
He really over-complicated what could have been a straight-forward and helpful message. He could have read the ten commandments and given an application of them. There are thousands of commentaries on the market today that do this. They take God’s Words and give us an application of God’s Words. Preachers do this every Sunday. It is a good practice.
It would have been much better for him to apply God’s Words, rather than change God’s Words. I think I could have arrived to his application points, but I would not have set them up the way he did by altering the meaning of the text.
For example, he rewrote the first commandment to mean, “You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore.” That is not what that verse means, but it is possible to make that application.
For example, if you put no other gods before yourself, but only trusted, served, honored, and obeyed the one true God, then the chances of you living in constant disappointment would be slim.
As a biblical counselor I have seen many perpetually disappointed people struggling in how they trust, serve, honor, and obey the LORD. In many of these people’s lives, they had a horrible relationship with their dads. Twenty years later as an adult, they have mapped their experience with their dad over their view of and experience with God.
This kind of mapping inhibits them from fully trusting the LORD. Their relationship with God the Father has been unwittingly manipulated by their mean and abusive fathers.
In many situations like this the person may choose to be promiscuous as a teenager and then they marry too early, only to end up divorced. They are empty love cups, hoping to be filled by someone. By anyone. Their fathers have ripped them off, so to speak.
These disappointed people have put the god of human love ahead of the love of God. They have only one view of father and it is not a good one. This happens all the time and the end result for them is ongoing disappointment. Plus, if they have been around religion, they may even blame at the LORD for their disappointed lives.
When they come for counseling, I do not quibble over whether the ten commandments are commandments or sayings. What I am interested in is what has been interfering with their relationship with the LORD. What have they put before God? What has been more important to them than God, which has led to their disappointment?
The two greatest commandments (sayings) in the Bible are found in Matthew 22:36-40 and I can promise you that if you do not obey these two commandments, by making them the most important things in your life, then you will be disappointed.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I live in the public domain and I know what it is like for people to correct me in an uncharitable fashion. Everybody (seemingly) has access to a platform today, which gives them a voice in the public square. With this kindness from the LORD–a public platform–comes a personal responsibility for His children to steward their voices well.
I am writing about this issue because I was asked to write about it by a Member of our site. I have a responsibility to our Membership, as well as to our readership, to engage them about all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). This is what I do for a living. This is also my passion.
However, it is not my job to be nasty or uncharitable toward others, especially those who live in the same body in which I inhabit. My hope is that my readers will love me enough to correct me when I am wrong, but that they will do so with respect, care, and a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1-2). I have tried to do the same regarding this pastor.
The other reason I am responding to this latest evangelical brouhaha is because of how this kind of thinking about the Bible has done much harm to the body of Christ. The number one problem that I have encountered in helping people with problems is their inability to practically apply the Bible to their personal lives.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:23 (ESV)
The starting point for Bible application is sound Bible knowledge. It is analogous to drinking water from a well. Drinking the water is the application part, while the water in the well is the source part. In order to have good application you must have a good water supply. If the water is polluted, then you will become sick.
To practically and powerfully live out the Bible is similar. If the source (theology) is contaminated, then what goes into your heart will not help you. When someone purposely, regardless of motive or intention, begins to alter God’s Words, then God’s children must speak up. What other choice do we have?
The general rule of thumb for correcting the wrong things we do is the sphere of confession should be as large as the sphere of the offense. Meaning, all the people who were affected by our wrong actions should be made aware of our change of heart through humble confession.
Practically speaking, those who experience my sin should hear my confession–how I agree with God that what I did was wrong. All the affected or offended parties should be offered the same opportunity to know that I am changing my thinking and actions on a specific matter.
For example, when I sin against my wife, and my children overhear and/or experience my sin, then it is wise and right for me to confess my sin to my wife and to my children, while asking all of them to forgive me. This has happened many times in our home and has proven to be the most effective and biblical way to clean up my messes.
Unfortunately, there were thousands of people who experienced this man’s adulteration of God’s Word. Nevertheless, the most effective and God-honoring thing he can do at this point is to make a loud, broad, humble, and public announcement, that acknowledges his mistake. He should give the body of Christ an opportunity to respond with grace in a proportional manner in which they have decried his actions.
There is a delicate dance going on here. We live in a culture that balks at any criticism whatsoever. The Christian community is especially vulnerable to this tension. We have been labeled as some of the meanest people in our culture. There is some truth to that assessment and with the assessment there is a temptation to oversteer the car or to throw the baby out with the bath water.
What I mean is we are accused of shooting our own if we say anything that is critical about our own. And that is the dance where we regularly find ourselves. Somehow we have to learn the middle ground, which we will only be able to do imperfectly. Sigh. Nevertheless, we must press on to this good end.
There is too much at stake. James told us this (James 3:1), as well as the writer of the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:17). Leaders will be held to a stricter judgment because they have been given the high privilege of soul care.
I would not be loving to those in authority if I did not love them enough to graciously share my perspectives with them, especially when I do not agree with them. Disagreeing with someone is not wrong. Having a sinful attitude toward those you disagree with is wrong. May God give us the wisdom, the courage, and the kindness to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Response from Perry Noble
Follow this link, A Letter to the Church I Love, to read Perry’s response to those who were offended and/or took issue with his message on the Ten Commandments.