The question of the Law comes up frequently in churches where the holy scriptures are believed and obeyed.
Specifically, this question: Is the Christian still obligated to obey the Ten Commandments?
Up until about 150 years ago, there was significant consensus among Protestant churches on how to answer this question. Almost all Protestant churches agreed that the Ten Commandments direct and bind the Christian to walk according to God's moral law revealed therein and obey it.
Luther's Shorter Catechism and Larger Catechism have expositions of the Ten Commandments, brief and long, respectively. The Presbyterian confessions and catechisms also have such expositions, as we well know and gladly use at Apple Valley. Not only do the Westminster Standards rightly commend the moral law, but so do other Reformational confessions and catechisms that precede it and follow it, such as: The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, and The London Baptist Confession of 1689.
Why then has knowledge of and commitment to the Ten Commandments been so significantly diminished among modern Christians?
The answers are many, complex and worthy of study. For my purposes here, however, I will simply say I believe modern Christians, first in the pulpit and then in the pew, have largely refused to submit their minds to a carefully taught systematic theology of the entire Bible. This not only explains, in my thinking, the great lack of biblical literacy in our churches, but it also explains the proud suspicion toward ancient creeds and confessions.
The scriptures have become, rather, a scattered collection of pithy, uplifting bumper-sticker statements to most Christians because that is how they are preached in most churches. Why? Because the spirit of the Western world has been, for some time now, a progressive spirit not a conserving spirit. We despise all things old. We despise what was said long ago by our dead fathers in the faith because we want to hear ourselves. We want to be innovators and inventors of new doctrines and spiritualities. The silver-lining here is that perhaps this spirit will go on long enough that it too becomes old and finally succumbs to its own contempt. But, of course, antiquity itself has no power to mortify the flesh if it be not the ancient truth of God's Word and Spirit.
There are other reasons some Christians dismiss the Ten Commandments. The emergence of Dispensationalism about 150 years ago is one such reason as is the more recent emergence of New Covenant Theology. Both of these groups seek to study the scriptures and bring forth a system of its doctrine. I would argue, however, these groups exist largely because of the innovative spirit that has gripped American Protestantism since the mid-1800's. In next week's E-note, I will lay out a simple case why both Dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology is wrong about the moral law, the Ten Commandments.
I close this week by coming back to the big picture of our Protestant forefathers. They all largely agreed - as pastors and theologians - that scripture teaches the Christian is duty bound to obey the Ten Commandments. They carefully explained how this duty is in no way contrary to the grace of the gospel, for to be in Christ by faith no believer can also be under the law as a covenant of works, as if we could be justified or condemned by it. Even so, the Christian is to make proper use of the Ten Commandments.
Improper use of the moral law is to seek justification before God by it, or to so loathe ourselves by failing in it that we despair of any hope of salvation. Proper use, on the other hand, is threefold.
First, the pedagogical use (Gal. 3:22-24). In this proper use, the law is a perfect teacher, showing us our faults and leading us to what is Perfect. Like a mirror it shows us God's high and perfect standard of righteousness, our coming short of it, and ultimately God's gift of it in Jesus Christ. If we are justified only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, received by faith alone, then this first use of the law has greatly blessed us.
Second, is the civil use (Rom. 13:3-4). In this proper use, the moral law is worked into society, coercing and constraining all men from breaking out in an unrestrained evil. Moral codes against theft and lying and murder and many other immoralities are all distillations of God's moral law to bring and keep civil order. This use does not necessarily lead men to Christ, but it keeps them from stealing your stuff, which leaves you, the Christian, with enough resources to go out and call all men to Christ.
Third, is the normative use, often simply called "the third use of the law" (2 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). In this proper use, the moral law gives specification to what love must look like if it is pleasing to God (see Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5;6). This is why the apostles often admonish the saints with one of the Ten Commandments (Eph. 6:1-2). The commandments bind and direct us to the true shape of godliness. As R.C. Sproul rightly said: "Our redemption is from the curse of God’s law, not from our duty to obey it. We are justified, not because of our obedience to the law, but in order that we may become obedient to God’s law."