The thought behind the liturgy

A liturgical example of the multiple purposes of the Law, and of the thought which is behind the liturgies we use, too often thoughtlessly:

In the Lutheran context, the Commandments were usually read as preparation for the confession of sin, thus serving one of the functions of the law: to convict us of our sins so as to open our hearts to confession and God’s forgiveness. Similarly, up to the modern era the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has called for the repetition of the Commandments by the priest while the people would respond to each commandment with “Lord, have mercy.” While the Reformed tradition did not worry too much at first about where the Commandments belonged in the liturgy, because they were understood to function primarily catechetically, Calvin and other Reformed leaders came to have the Commandments sung or read after the confession of sin and the words of absolution, as a guide to living according to God’s instruction.[1]

[1] Miller, Patrick D. The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. 11

Our Real Commandments

The following is directly quoted from Philip Graham Ryken’s book Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis; I customarily comment upon quotes that strike me, but what more is there to say than what follows below?

In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim lay down the law for postmodern times. They observe that today there is “absolutely no moral consensus at all.… Everyone is making up their own personal moral codes—their own Ten Commandments.” Patterson and Kim proceed to list what they call the “ten real commandments,” the rules that according to their surveys people actually live by. These rules include the following:

  • I don’t see the point in observing the Sabbath;
  • I will steal from those who won’t really miss it;
  • I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage;
  • I will cheat on my spouse—after all, given the chance, he or she will do the same;
  • I will procrastinate at work and do absolutely nothing about one full day in every five.1

These new commandments are based on moral relativism, the belief that we are free to make up our own rules, based on our own personal preferences. The law is not something that comes from God, but something we come up with on our own. And our laws usually conflict with God’s laws. It is not surprising that what Patterson and Kim call the “ten real commandments” generally violate the laws that God gave to Moses: remember the Sabbath, do all your work in six days, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, and so forth. We have become a law unto ourselves.

One would hope to find that the situation is somewhat better in the church. Surely God’s own people honor the permanent, objective standard of God’s law! Yet the church is full of worshipers who do not even know the Ten Commandments, let alone know how to keep them. This problem was documented in a recent report from The Princeton Religion Research Center. The headline read, “Religion Is Gaining Ground, but Morality Is Losing Ground,” and the report showed how recent increases in church attendance and Bible reading have been offset by a simultaneous decline in morality.2

How is this possible? How can people be more interested in God and at the same time less willing to do what he says? The only explanation is that people do not know the God of the Bible, because if they did, they would recognize the absolute authority of his law. Respect for God always demands respect for his law. And whenever people have a low regard for God’s law, as they do in our culture, it is ultimately because they have a low regard for God.[1]

1 James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth (New York: Plume, 1992), 201.

2 “Religion Is Gaining Ground, but Morality Is Losing Ground,” Emerging Trends, Vol. 23, No. 7 (September 2001), 1-2.

[1]Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone : The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2003), 11.