Monday, June 12, 2006

Christians should post Beatitudes, not Decalogue

In doing some research on issues of church and politics, I came across an interesting article, written by Prof. Jerome Meckier, a University of Kentucky professor of English emeritus. The premise of the article deals with Christians (primarily Evangelical Christians) voicing their opinion on the issue of fighting for the right to ‘post' the Ten Commandments, while not ‘living’ out the Beatitudes! Professor Jerome Meckier states:

Supporters of posting the Ten Commandments in America's post offices or on the lawns of state capitols misunderstand separation of church and state. Unfortunately, their grasp of Christianity is just as faulty. The Commandments are a pre-Christian document central to the covenant between the God of the Old Testament and his chosen people.

For Christians, the New Testament supersedes the Old. Tolerance and compassion replace the demand for an eye for an eye. The Sermon on the Mount, nine blessings, takes precedence over 10 strictures from Mount Sinai. Christians would do better to post the Beatitudes. Moses was an inspired lawgiver; Christ claims to redeem. The former commands the Jews not to anger God, whereas the latter reveals the sorts of people who will actually see him.

The Beatitudes may be said to list the characteristics of the ideal Christian. Such a person is poor in spirit, meek, a mourner, a seeker of justice, merciful, clean of heart and a peacemaker willing to be persecuted in support of truth and justice. The mourner I take to be anyone sorely afflicted; perhaps this includes all who can empathize. One can be poor in spirit -- that is, detached, free from material craving -- no matter how grand one's actual worth, although the less one has or needs, the better.

In Matthew, when one of the Pharisees, putting Jesus "to the test, asked him, 'Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?' Jesus said to him, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets'." In short, Jesus reduced 10 commandments to two: honor God and love your neighbor. Instead of prohibitions, both are calls for positive action.

Jesus was a gifted pedagogue with a subtle sense of humor; he proposed less, yet demanded more. He knew how difficult it is to love another with the same degree of understanding that one reserves for oneself. Nor can one ever excuse another person's weaknesses and failures as readily as one accepts one's own. Two commandments are more difficult to obey than 10.

And just who is one's neighbor? If you expand the list beyond wife, husband, parent, siblings and the people next door, obeying Christ's second commandment becomes increasingly difficult. Loving one's neighbor is this world's simplest, yet hardest, imperative. Loving one's neighbor as oneself, one will not kill him, lie to him or about him, sleep with his wife or steal his cow…None of the great teachers posted anything. Christ, Buddha, Mohammed -- none erected monuments. Each taught by word of mouth and personal example.

Those who are eager to set up ostentatious display cases for the Ten Commandments should be compelled to memorize Matthew 22:35-40. Then they should have to write on the blackboard 500 times what may be called the 11th commandment: Thou shalt post no commandments.”

So, what are your thoughts on this issue? Do you agree or disagree with the premise of the article?


(article taken from: www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/news/editorial/14786377.htm)

17 comments:

Jim and Jaena said...

Hmmm...Jesus did summarize all of the law into these two commandments, which also "cover" the 10 commandments (if you love your neighbor, you will not murder him or commit adultery with his wife. If you love God with all your heart, you will not have an idol, etc...)

I think Jesus "raised the bar" in the New Testament when it came to his expectations for us. He didn't just say don't commit adultery; he said that if you look at a women lustfully, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart. He didn't ask the rich young man to give 10 percent; he said to go and give all he had to the poor.

It seems that Jesus fulfilled the law yet increased the definition of a Christ-follower.

I am also not as worried about posting the 10 commandments in public setting as Christians living out their faith each day in those same places.

Jim and Jaena said...

BTW, that last post was Jaena. Maybe Jim will share later...

Keith.Drury said...

The point is well taken I think. Perhaps we'd rather post the 10 commandments as a means of being "preachy" to the world..as in "You'd better live like this or else" while the Beatitudes preach mostly to ourselves and represent difficult attitudes and behaviors where we seem to fall short too often perosnally and collectively?

How about this idea: Post the Beatitudes with the heading "You will find the people in this house (church) act like this:" (hten the beatitudes...

(heh heh heh I'm not holding my breath).

Thoughtful post.

Scottie said...

I agree with Jaena (hi, I'm Scottie).

If anything, the Ten Commandments and older Jewish law should be seen as the basis on which Jesus developed the Beatitudes.

He would start off by saying, "It's been said... (enter law or commandment here), but I tell you... (enter beautitude here." Most of the beautitudes were commandments or law that were made tougher!

The prior testament was made obsolete by the Holy Spirit entering our hearts. Laws regarding burnt sacrafice and who can enter the tabernacle were obviously void. But, others should still be heeded. Circumcision has become infant baptism, the covenant still holds true. Also, I think our prison system would do well to look at old testement civil law in regards to criminal punishment.

It should be noted that I am a reformed Presbyterian and beleive in the election of God's saints. A sinner saved by grace, and not of my own doing.

Trisha Miller said...

Cecil B. Demille was the one that originally placed many of the 10 commandments in courthouses around the country in order to promote his 1956 movie, "The Ten Commandments". I think we missed our opportunity to post the Beatitudes during the Passion of the Christ, but don't worry. Capitalizing on Christianity is the American way, and sadly, perhaps the only platform many have.

Nate said...

Summers,

I miss you bro - I'll give you a call soon.

Nate

J & D Freed said...

good to see you posting again. And great thoughts! Couple months back, i walked a group of students through the Sermon on the Mount...took 4 months to process and work through them. I loved it, and we all got a ton out of them.

Also, thanks for the giving my students 2 great weeks. You were a great leader to Guatemala and a great Pastor at Youth Camp! Thanks bro!! Will be praying for you this fall as school hits high gear!!

keep on!
jf

Joel said...

I've never met you, but I love to debate anyone anywhere :-)

Points of agreement with quoted article:
1) I like the creativity of posting Beatitudes. Yes, Beatitudes would seem to point the finger directly at the church...self-responsibility is good.
2) Yes, sometimes professed Christians love confrontation for the sake of confrontation, it would seem. Not good!

Points of disagreement with quoted article:
1) Jesus NEVER "reduced" the 10 commandments to 2. In fact, those two Great Commandments are simply quotations from the Old Testament. Yes, on these "hang" all the law nad prophets, but they certainly don't replace or reduce them.
2) I don't even agree that the NT supercedes the OT. I further contend that when Jesus was stating "it has been said" in the Sermon on the Mount in regards to "eye for an eye", etc. He was refering to the Pharisee's misinterpretation of OT Scripture - not OT Scripture itself. For instance, later on in the Sermon, He stated that it had been said to love the friend and hate the enemy. The OT never says to hate one's enemy!

So to sum up, I am very weary of people who say that "in the OT it was all law and rules", while "in the NT it's all love and mercy". The same Jesus Who spoke in the Sermon on the Mount inspired OT Scripture too.

Post BOTH the Beatitudes and 10 Commandments...if I can make a sign big enough that is :-).

Jim Womack said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jim Womack said...

Perhaps a valid question to ask is: “what was the purpose of the Law”? This may get us closer to an understanding of how we should use it today. I am not willing to say that the law is not valid for today or that it should not be spoken or posted. However, when it is posted or spoke is it accomplishing the purpose for which it was intended when it was given to the Israelites?

In his letter to the Romans, Paul presents an argument in the form of a contrast. We see that first of all the purpose of the Law is not to make us righteous. Instead, it is intended to show us who we are and to teach us that it is not possible for us to do anything to become righteous. The law was given to teach us that the root of the problem is not our actions (though they are evil) the law teaches us that the root of the problem is at the core of our being or at the essence of who we are.

To simplify –
The law exists to show us what righteousness is. In comparing ourselves to the law (trying to live by it) we learn that we are not righteous and it causes us to look to God for that righteousness.

My question is, “in making the law known to others does it continue to contrast their lives today and open them up to the greater need of Christ in their lives?” If so, then at some level it seems that by trying to remove knowledge of a moral law would do a disservice to the world around us.

There is much more to write about this but I guess it will have to be another time.

Trisha Miller said...

I tried to write a coherent response to this earlier. I failed and didn't publish it.

Jim, are you looking for 'the purpose of the law' or ta'amei ha-Mitzvot--the reasons for the commandments?

I don't think its arguing semantics here. First, I wonder what working definition of 'the law' you're using, and what it includes. Are we talking about everything included in the Hebrew Bible with regard to mitzvot/halakhot (commandments/laws)? Are we just talking about the decalogue?

What makes you sure that the purpose (that is, if it is a singular purpose) of the "law" (I include mitzvot and halakhot) can be distinguished? How do we know that what we have is, not a purpose or reason (ta'am) but a desired result. Righteousness, a distinction from other ANE people (which is another discussion altogether), and devotion to a deity--all could be construed a desired result of actions performed under the law. So what is the reason to do these things specifically, when other methods could easily work? (e.g. Numbers 19:2, the infamous Parashat Parah Adumah)

Even the Torah basically divides commandments into two subgroups--the hokim and the mishpatim. Traditional rabbinic interpretation says that the hokim are the commandments without reasons, the mishpatim are commandments which are given reason--but it really isn't as clear cut as that. What it really comes down to, is "that the law is the law because its the law"--what we come up to do to explain these laws and how they are or are not binding, isn't necessarily scriptural, but speculation...and as Hillel would say, "the rest is commentary..."

(I'd better stop now before I take up the whole page.)

Jim Womack said...

Trisha –


This is great stuff; I appreciate your insight into the Hebrew (an area that I hope to study more someday). You present an interesting point in speaking of the differences between the commandments and law. This does not necessarily change my perception of the topic but it is something I would not mind discussing with you further (I am writing an article on it and challenge always helps to refine a concept).

I believe that I can say with some certainty that the apostle believed the law was intended to make us aware of what sin is (Romans 3:20). It also appears that the “law” he was speaking of was used quite generically. Although, we do see some connection in Paul’s writing to the Judizers or the circumcision sect (which at least hints to the Abrahamic covenant).

I feel that the distinction here is more of a matter of contrast to humanity and human tendency. The basis of all knowledge is comparison and contrast. Without an accurate framework for understanding or comprehending information it is impossible to know anything. Before the law, it is likely individuals felt that there was something broken and had a sense of right and wrong. However, without revelation of the law there was nothing to contrast or compare their lives to (or clearly define right from wrong).

When we can not accomplish something on our own, we will naturally look to something or someone else to help us. The law being an insurmountable task and requirement, points out a need. It also tells us that the need is not just a behavioral predicament for if it was the problem could have been “behaviorally” resolved. Instead, it causes us to understand is a greater problem at the core of our humanity. Something we can not fix. Therefore, ultimate fulfillment takes place with Christ and the cross.

Some of this discussion may be a little long for this blog so if you would like to email I am fine with that. I would like add a few more comments in response to your questions but I feel bad using Jeremy’s blog for this long of a dialogue.

Thanks again for your insight into the subject. I am sure that I can learn some things from you and always appreciate the challenge.


Jim

Trisha Miller said...

jim,

i'm not sure how great of help i'll be, but you can feel free to email me at trisha_marie_miller@yahoo.com and i can do my best...

i'm going to take issue with a couple of things...you write, "without revelation of the law, there was nothing to contrast or compare their lives to (or clearly define right from wrong)..." I don't necessarily think this is true, as in the ANE you have other codes (Hammurabi for example) which establish rules of behavior for its people. Indeed, there are parallels between Hammurabi's code and what is presented in the Bible--it is a product of its time, not necessarily a divine mandate that fills a void. In addition, there are comparisons between peoples concerning morality. Again, its not creation ex nihilo for the sake of a covenant per se, but rather competition regarding governing people.

I'm not really up on my NT scholarship, so I don't really want to venture on Paul's writings too much. But one thing that is obvious is that they, like pretty much everything else, are reactionary. He didn't wake up one day and decide to jettison the more superfluous aspects of the law. He's making a distinction between interpretations...in fact, compared to the sadducees and pharisees, Paul's view about "the law" seems to be quite reductionist and minimialistic.

at any rate, i should actually get back to work. i dawdle far too long.

Nate said...

dude - you need to post bro - it's been like forever dog.

Nate

radagast said...

Hi Jeremy. google brought me here, cos I've been thinking a lot about the beatitudes...
i've been helping a friend set up a website devoted to exploring this idea. He started with the beatitudes (obviously), an article by Kurt Vonnegutt who suggests that we should post the beatitues up instead of the commandments, and Ghandi's great line that we should be the change we want to see in the world.
Hmmm, i had something to say but it's turned into an ad for the site.
Anyway, here's Kurt's article and a link to wecan.be

soaverageimaboveaverage said...

The N.T. does not supercede the O.T. It reveals it. God through Jesus comes down off the mount,no longer the burning bush but a man and instead of the people having to stand far off from God, He explains the commandments to His disciples who now through Christ can approach the Creator of the law and sit at his feet and hear His explanations. Obviously we were not getting it!It was all there in the OT about the deceitful heart but we were/are dull. Then... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He(Christ) said I(Christ) did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it(because we could not). The beauty is how the Holy scriptures all come together in Christ. Ten commandments or Beatitudes either or they are the same and we are unable to do either yet are accecptable to God through Christ who did it all and urges us to push on.

soaverageimaboveaverage said...

Either or...they are the same. N.T. is the O.T. revealed. The Burning bush comes off the Mt. and explains His laws to us. No longer are we kept at a distance from Him, no longer ordered to stay afar from the Mt. but the disciples are able to sit at the feet of the Creator of the law as the Word became flesh and dwelt among them. Hopefully as Christ exounds on His Law and Beatitudes we are all brought to the same conclusion that we are powerless to save ourselves. In the O.T. no one was saved by the law either. Same as Same. So post either because I think we are reminded of God when we see them and hopefully call out to him for help.(Is that cecil b demille thing true?)