Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Displaying the Commandments

Pastor's Pastor: Displaying the Commandments

When Judge Roy S. Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, surreptitiously sneaked a 5,280-lb. granite monument depicting the Ten Commandments into a state court house, he defended his illegal action by declaring, "I must obey God."

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

When Judge Roy S. Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, surreptitiously sneaked a 5,280-lb. granite monument depicting the Ten Commandments into a state court house, he defended his illegal action by declaring, "I must obey God."

Generating much more fever than fervor, hundreds of protestors gathered, prayed, shouted, and declared their confidence in the "Ten Commandment Judge" who was defying the godless bureaucrats who had determined to prevent believers from expressing their religious convictions according to their first amendment rights.

While it may be argued as to whether any individual's personal beliefs can be imposed upon the thousands of other citizens who daily accomplish business in the state's judicial center, it must also be recognized that displaying the huge monument of the Commandments has been declared unconstitutional and the reasons Judge Moore offers for his actions will not stand the scrutiny of either U.S. law or biblical principles.

Obeying God. When the apostles declared their fealty to "obeying God rather than man," they clearly affirmed the foundational moral position which prioritizes loyalty to God over compliance to the dictates of civil authorities. However, they did not, simultaneously, destroy the clear distinction of separation of church and state which Jesus articulated when He declared, "Render unto Ceasar the things which are Ceasar's and unto God the things which are God's."

By an admittedly narrow interpretation of obedience to the Ten Commandments, it would be possible to define the very establishment of an engraved monument as disobedience to the second commandment's prohibition against making "any graven image." By an admittedly broader definition of obedience, it is mystifying how someone can declare their fealty to God's authority by displaying such a monument and yet disregarding the fourth commandment's enjoinder to "remember the seventh-day Sabbath." Despite a person's intention, the question remains, "What is obedience?"

Displaying the commandments. Furthermore, if we follow Scripture's example, it is difficult to reconcile public display of a monument with God's own example. When the divine lawgiver wrote on tablets of stone and subsequently "displayed" the product of His handwork, He located the display not in the public view, but inside the court yard, inside the sanctuary, inside the smaller room (most holy place) behind the veil, inside the ark of the covenant, covered over with a solid slab of gold (mercy seat).

Neither the perpetuity of, nor the commanded obedience to the Ten Commandments was dependent upon their public display on the avenues of society or in the venues of daily business. In fact, ever since the destruction of the temple, the Ten Commandments have been secreted away at Jeremiah's direction, never yet to have been publicly displayed.

Where God wants to display the Ten Commandments. God desires that the world view His Ten Commandments and He declares the new covenant locus of his intention for their display. "I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Heb. 8:10).

The message is direct and clear. Keeping the commandments and allowing the world to observe you keeping the commandments, is more important than displaying a replica of the commandments. The importance is not what we say, but what we do.

Where is the monument to be? "You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men. Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart" (2 Cor. 3:2-3).

We must understand the essential distinction between cause and effect. Although commandment keeping will never be the cause of salvation ("not of works lest anyone should boast"), good works of obedience are always the con sequence and fruit of a saving relationship (Eph. 2:8-10).

It is essential to note that Jesus personally established the prerequisite of love as the only acceptable motivation for obedience (John 14:15). God does not seek compliance as much as He desires conversion.

Regardless of the judge's good intent to correct society by displaying the commandments, we should never anticipate that unregenerate humanity will be prompted to obedience by mere recitation or visual observation. The perpetuity of the Ten Commandments does not depend on massive monuments, but on faithful response to the Holy Spirit's directives lived out in the behavior of believers to one another.

Our challenge is to keep the commandments out of love, not to display them out of defiance,

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

November 2003

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