A group of pastors and I recently grappled with the focus of our teaching ministries. Specifically, we wondered if it were more important for us to focus on the theological beliefs of the Christian Church, or if we should highlight Christian lifestyle expectations. To put the question another way, “Is what we believe more important, or what we do?” In a perfect world the answer would be “both/and” rather than “either/or,” but we don’t live in a perfect world. Which side would you champion?
THEOLOGY OR LIFESTYLE
I asserted that church leadership needs to address the challenges of living a Christian lifestyle in today’s context. The church has focused on theological beliefs for the last 1,700 years, I pointed out. This focus has led to splits within the Church and several wars—not very Christ like behavior. It has also led some Christians to believe that they can be nasty, obnoxious people as long as they have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So much for the fruit of the Spirit!
Focusing on the lifestyle expectations for Christians hasn’t been a pristine walk-in- the park, though. Often it has denigrated into making a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts.” These lists have been used to judge the validity of one’s faith–good Christians don’t swear, and real bad Christians have premarital sex. On the whole, lifestyle discussions have been trivial and nit-picky, and they have been used to exclude rather than include people.
Despite its past problems, I think it is important that we focus on what Christians are expected to say and do. We must use what we have and move forward with the discussion. One of the greatest tools that we have, of course, is the Ten Commandments or, as it can also be translated, the “Ten Promises.” In the coming weeks, I intend to discuss the possible implications of these words in the context of our 21st century diverse culture.
NO PATH TOWARD SALVATION
As we start, I think it is important to identify what the Ten Commandments are and are not. In the past, many people have thought that these laws are the path to heaven. The Pharisees at the time of Jesus certainly thought that they could keep the law in a perfect manner and that God would see them as righteous people. Christians have picked up on this train of thought. Have you ever been to a funeral visitation? As a pastor, I’ve been to hundreds of them. Invariably I will hear something like, “At least we know that John is with Jesus now. He was such a good man.” We don’t need to debate whether or not John is in heaven with Jesus. We do need to realize, though, that John’s entrance into heaven was not based on his performance. What we do does not create a relationship with God.
If you look at Genesis 19:1-6, God is speaking just before God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. God talks about how God has led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. God has carried them on eagle’s wings. In other words, the Lord established a relationship with the Israelites before they ever thought of trying to keep the Ten Commandments. The uselessness of a set of rules for salvation was argued by Paul before the first church council in Jerusalem. Later Paul penned a powerful passage to the Ephesians saying, “You are saved by grace through faith, and this is not a work, but a gift so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).
NO PATH TOWARD BLESSINGS
Denied heavenly rewards because of their stellar behavior, some Christians have sought earthly rewards. This is often the gospel preached by the television and radio evangelists: “Live a good life, and you will be rewarded by attaining your dreams and receiving your desires.” There are several stories in the Bible that can be used to back up this claim. Both Abraham and Job were righteous and rich, for example. Jesus, though, lived a righteous life but he was never rich, he never had land and only Dan Brown and the Divinci Code with a few devotees believe that Jesus had children. When Jesus called his disciples, he did not promise that he would make them wealthy. Instead he promised that he would make them fishers of men. When Jesus invited people to follow him, he didn’t say that they should be powerful and famous. Jesus said that if anyone was to be his disciple he or she would need to deny himself or herself and take up his or her cross (Matthew 16:24). Certainly this is not a path to fame and fortune. So, what role can the Ten Commandments play in our lives today?
NOT ABOUT US—ABOUT OUR NEIGHBORS
First, let’s get one thing straight. The commandments are not about us. They are not about our salvation, or our blessings. The Ten Commandments are about others. Do you remember what Jesus said when the rich young man asked him what the greatest commandment was? Jesus replied that the greatest commandment was, “Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-30). The Ten Commandments or Promises were given in love and are about love—loving God and loving neighbor.
The Ten Commandments are not an exhaustive list of “Do’s,” and “Don’ts.” They are general instructions on how to nurture our relationship with God and live in peace and harmony with our neighbors. We are told to keep the Sabbath, but not how to keep it. We are told not to lie, but we weren’t told the myriad of ways to speak the truth in love. There’s a lot left for our hearts and imaginations.
Now let’s talk about how we can love one another while journeying toward a sane faith.