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On Faith
Willis Moore

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Jesus was a key
editor of God’s rules

Spending the first 30 years of life as a Baptist, I was bombarded with the "surety and simplicity of the Word of God." Preachers frequently hurled biblical quotes, a verse from here and a verse from there, randomly selected to support a point of view: no drinking, no dancing, against rock 'n' roll, against sex before marriage.

Surely the Ten Commandments appeal to evangelical Christians because they are simple, straightforward, unambiguous and seem to draw a bright line in the moral sand.

What is ironic is that these are not the commandments of Jesus. In Mark's gospel, the rich young ruler who asked what a person must do to inherit eternal life is told by Jesus to "keep the commandments." Inquiring "Which ones?" brought Jesus' reply. He gave only five of the original 10, and a new one:

1. You shall not murder.
2. You shall not commit adultery.
3. You shall not steal.
4. You shall not bear false witness.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Not only did Jesus edit the Ten Commandments, which sounds like moral relativism, but the way Jesus does it speaks volumes about the current debate over separation of church and state. The ones Jesus left out deal with formal religious observances -- precisely the ones that clash with the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution:

» You shall have no other gods before me.

» You shall not make for yourself an idol (like a monument to the Ten Commandments).

» You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

» Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.

The six commandments of Jesus make no mention of God or faith and thus, could appear anywhere in America without constitutional entanglements. What is more interesting is that they are part of the religious teaching of every world religion. So why do Christians not pay more attention to the Six Commandments?

That begs a larger, more urgent question: Why don't Christians pay more attention to Jesus? No one is arguing that the Sermon on the Mount be posted in schools or on the courthouse wall. Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? You cannot serve God and money? Sounds like a recipe for the collapse of Western civilization.

What's more, by the time the last Gospel is written, Jesus is down to one commandment: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Perhaps a real issue in contemporary society is not so much the separation of church from state, but within the Christian community, the separation of church from Jesus. Whether the established church (of England) or the dominant church in a particular country, the focus seems to be on canon law, church teachings and church traditions.

The problem of the evangelical Christians is something called "proof-text" whereby a Scripture verse, usually taken out of context, is used to "answer" a question or solve a problem. Jesus taught that the "law," and the rigid interpretation of the "law" by the Pharisees was not what God's Kingdom is really about.

Willis Moore is organist for St. Paul Episcopal/Philippine
Independent Church in Honolulu and a writer of church history
for the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists.

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