Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reflections On The Second Commandment

This was one of the earliest topics I picked up on this blog. As it is not an entirely common view in this era - or in any era since the inventing of the printing press, actually - I probably should write about it more. I should write about it every month until everyone rolls their eyes and is sick of it, actually. The link a short post from 2006. Please read it.

The injunction not to take the Lord's name in vain has nothing to do with bad language, or with oaths. It is about false prophecy, a fairly common theme of scripture. We should not forge God's signature under our own opinions. Yet many Christians, do this, and do it often. They say "God wants us to..." or "The Scriptures clearly teach..." or "Jesus said..." and I don't think they have anything near the proper caution about this.

No, the word caution is much too mild. Whenever we make a claim for what God's opinion is on any matter whatsoever, we should imagine Jesus dangling us over a cliff, held by our shirts, looking at us intently and asking "Are you absolutely sure that is what I want people to hear?" We should be petrified to make any pronouncement. I think the idea of death or torment for getting it wrong should cross our minds. If we are quoting directly from the Scriptures, giving no hint of interpretation, then perhaps we are safe.

Example: At camp meetings and revivals back in the day, some preachers would give an altar call, and on the basis of many scriptures and their own personal experience would declare unto the people that God wanted them to come forward and commit their lives to following Jesus, turning from their previous ways. They would state right out loud "Jesus wants you to come forward this night, say the sinner's prayer, and give your life to Him." Every evangelical can cite, right of the top of his head, a few dozen places in scripture where that statement could be justified.

Yet I would still shrink back from such a declaration. I would phrase it as a question: "Is the Lord calling you...?" Or I would qualify it as an opinion based on scripture study "I believe that this may be your last chance. I believe God may be calling you tonight..." I would stress the general call; I would even hellfire-and-brimstone a story of a sinner who did not respond and died in a car accident the next night; hell, I would lie and make up stories about healings and conversions before I would let the words "Jesus is telling you to come forward this night..." escape my lips unless I was absolutely sure of what I was saying.

Because maybe it's next year. Or maybe the darkest mutterings of Calvinism are true and this is one of the damned, who will use my arrogant declaration for greater evil. Or maybe I've misunderstood completely and coming forward is irrelevant. Or maybe he came forward a dozen years ago and I am subtly teaching him to doubt his salvation. Or maybe, maybe, maybe, a hundred other things I never considered.

I believe all Christians should shrink back in horror from declaring God's will with any certainty, unless they dragged almost weeping like Isaiah or Micah or Habakkuk, or in the NT, Peter, or John of Patmos, barely daring to speak but compelled for the sake of the Gospel. We are held out over the cliff, our destruction spreading below us.

It is the Second Commandment, right? The first thing God wanted us to remember once we had first recognised Him. Don't put words in my mouth, y'hear?

In the current era, it is the apolitical who offend most in this way, those who believe that they have discerned the will of God for the world, as the recent 5/21 catastrophists were (I admit I don't even remember what they were called or who that guy was who led them); next, the religious right offends, jumping in almost reflexively on particular issues, declaring "God says..." Well, maybe so. They may have read the scriptures rightly, and have understood God correctly on any or all of their issues. But I get nervous about that certainty. The fear is not in them. There is a stretch, imperceptible at times, that says because God forbids homosexuality among his people, therefore He just MUST want homosexuality to be against the law in a pluralistic society, or MUST be opposed to civil unions. Well, maybe so. But the NT actually says almost nothing about what we should be convincing the secular powers to do.

Which leads to the more quietly stated, yet I think ultimately more dangerous violations of the Second Commandment by the religious left: the absolute assurance that they are declaring God's will for society, yet seldom making it ultra-specific. They are flexible on the details of the legislation, and eager for new ideas. Yet they have no one among them who questions the basic approach. They declare with confidence, even offhandedly, that they know what Jesus intends.

Let me step back from that a bit. I have framed this in terms of the political issues, because as a recovering socialist, I am still drawn to the political questions which make the news. But those may actually be the peripheral issues to God. My reading of history would certainly suggest that Jesus originally, and then the greatest minds of the Church thereafter, were not much concerned with the political issues of their days - there is almost nothing from any of them about Christians trying to influence the secular governments, on any level, about policy toward gays, or the poor, or women. That is our prism.

Rant over. Release the hounds, as Tigerhawk says.


karrde said...

Alright, that there is scary.

Background: I come from (and am still connected to) a branch of Christian belief that is heavy on Hearing From the Lord.

While the members are rarely talking about National Politics things, there is a generic assumption that is somewhere to the rightward on the American Political spectrum.

But most of the Hearing From the Lord events are on a personal level. Sometimes they are small things, and sometimes they are big things. It's not engaged in flippantly, but neither is it shied away from.

However, every such utterance is given with the understanding that believers are to 'test the spirits'.

Is this practice defensible? I don't know if I could defend it; but I also don't know if I could construct a useful criticism.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"believers are to 'test the spirits'."

That in itself, the mere awareness that such caution is necessary, even if poorly done and badly understood, is an enormous step forward.

Dubbahdee said...

Hammer in one hand. Nail in the other. Pound it until its all the way in.

You have completely and radically redefined the traditional interpretation of the 2nd command -- but I believe you got it right. Not that I'm saying that what you said is what YHWH said. (Oh won't trip me up on that little wrinkle in the carpet.)

As for Fear of the LORD, you could make a strong case that the failure to comprehend the meaning of C2 is a corollary to the failure to see Fear of the LORD as primarily a prerequisite for Speaking in God's Name. Perhaps FOTL has less to do with moral behavior and more to do with prophetic utterances. I think there is much to chew on in that.

james said...

I suppose "traditional interpretation" might depend on what circles you ran in. That wasn't the interpretation I used to hear in SBC circles, but I heard a Lutheran pastor put it that way during his series on the 10.

Glenn said...


I saw this post and thought it was very interesting. Just so you know where I am coming from on this, I am one of those people who is often quite dogmatic about what the Bible commands. What point is there in giving us commands unless we clearly know what they tell us to do?

That being said, the thought struck me that if anyone believes that the second commandment forbids us from speaking dogmatically about God's commands then isn't that taking only the second commandment dogmatically? I suppose if I had taken any philosophy courses in school I could turn this into a cute little paradox but I hope you see what I mean.

It seems to me like we need to take all of the commands given us very seriously or we take none of them very seriously. I know Christians can be abrasive at times about doctrinal issues (I don't think we are supposed to) but it seems to me like God's commands are a package deal.

Just my thoughts.