Letter to a Christian Nation – Part 7 – The Ten Commandments
Continued from Part 6 . . .
Mr. Harris’ next complaint is concerning the Ten Commandments. On page 20 he summarizes the commandments and then informs us that, “This first four of these injunctions have nothing whatsoever to do with morality.”
I don’t recall who said this, but I think it fits here: The job of the apologist is to explain Christianity (or it might have been “. . . to rescue Christianity from misunderstanding”). For that reason I thought it prudent to explain the first four commandments for the benefit of those, like Mr. Harris, who might be confused as to their meaning.
The Ten Commandments are divided into two tables, as described in the Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 93: the first of which teaches us, in four commandments, what duties we owe to God; the second, in six, what duties we owe to our neighbor.
The first commandment forbids me from worshiping any other god, whether personal or impersonal. It also requires that I “trust in Him alone, with all humility and patience expect all good from Him only, and love, fear, and honor Him with my whole heart . . .” God, as our creator and king, is worthy of our total devotion. All other “gods,” whether they be things, people, or we ourselves, are completely and utterly unworthy when it comes to being an object of worship. Only the One, True God is worthy.
Although some confuse the second commandment with the first, this one forbids us from worshiping God “in any other way than He has commanded in His Word.” Because He is holy, we must worship Him in a way that He has deemed acceptable.
The third commandment has to do with honoring God’s name. Here’s how the answer to question 99 puts forth the requirement . . .
That we must not by cursing, or by false swearing, nor yet by unnecessary oaths, profane or abuse the name of God; nor even by our silence and connivance be partakers of these horrible sins in others; and in sum, that we use the holy name of God no otherwise than with fear and reverence, so that He may be rightly confessed and worshiped by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.
Finally, the fourth commandment requires that “I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church to learn the Word of God, to use the Holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms. In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.”
(All quotes are taken from the Heidelberg Catechism. For a complete exposition of the commandments from the catechism, refer to Q & As 92 through 115.)
The Ten Commandments are a summary of God’s moral will. As our creator and king, He requires that we conform to them, including the first table. Not to do so is immoral, since God’s character is the standard of morality—Mr. Harris’ contrary claim not withstanding.
In part 8, we’ll take a look at what Mr. Harris has to say about the second table. We’ll also consider some amazing (and, indeed, fanciful) claims he puts forth regarding the biological foundation for morality.