Ten Commandments and Public Life

I often hear church goers lament the fact that the Ten Commandments are being taken out of schools and other aspects of public life. Same with prayer. They are always a bit surprised and taken aback when I don’t share their concern. I understand that the people who are behind their removal have a goal and agenda to remove any religious devotion from public life, and this is wrong. As it has been pointed out many times, the First Amendment clause on establishment was not meant to remove religious expression from public life. It simply states that the Government will not establish a state religion. As Rush Limbaugh quipped, it was not meant to protect people from religion, but from government.

It seems to me that there is a belief among many Christians that religion and, more specifically, the Ten Commandments are needed for an orderly, morally aware society. Isn’t this a denial, though, of the Scriptural teaching that the Law is written on the hearts of all men? Whether one is a Christian or not, the knowledge of right and wrong, i.e. morality, should be self-evident. True, it is terribly marred because of our sinful nature. But my point is that it doesn’t take a Christian, a believer in Christ, to know that it is wrong to steal, or to kill, or to commit adultery. People who have never read the Ten Commandments before still know these things. Is their removal a sign of moral decay in our society? Certainly. But can there be a moral society without them? Yes. One does not need to know the Ten Commandments in order to exercise virtue.

Besides which, only Christians know rightly how to use the Ten Commandments. Remember, they were given to the people of Israel, not the Canaanites. This is what happens when you separate the Ten Commandments from baptism (or in their case, God’s call in the Red Sea). The Ten Commandments describe above all the life of the baptized. It is the baptized who are to have no other gods. It is the baptized who bear the name of God who are to honor and not misuse that name. It is the baptized who are to “Remember the Sabbath Day,” which is to say, gladly hear preaching and His Word.

A society does not need the Ten Commandments to teach them what is right and wrong. It does not need God’s special revelation to have order and decency. It does, however, need God’s special revelation to know Christ. Knowledge of Christ and faith in the forgiveness of sins is not written on the heart, and that is why we preach. I will be more alarmed when the government tries to censor that preaching, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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4 Responses to Ten Commandments and Public Life

  1. Rev. Eric J Brown says:

    I freak people out when I say that I am dead set opposed to prayer in school. When they asked shocked, I ask, “Whose prayer is it? Who is leading it? And what trash would they be teaching my child about God?” Either it would be generic, and I don’t want my child worshiping a generic god – or it would be a rotating experience of religions, and I don’t want my kid having rotating experiences.

    Really, I think a lot of this goes to dereliction of duty. People don’t want the burden of actually teaching their children – let the schools do it, let pastor do it in Confirmation class, why don’t my kids just show up at home knowing everything that they need to know.

  2. Joel Woodward says:

    Rev, Beisel,

    I’m glad there is someone who shares my opinion. I was starting to feel lonely.

  3. Dear Eric:

    This is an excellent point. Public prayers are always a problem. I once declined the offer to lead the prayers at a high school football game.

    The same is true of the Pledge of Allegiance – when a group of people collectively invoke their god – which may be YHWH, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, what should the Christian do?

    Maybe our Lord’s counsel that we lock ourselves in our closets not to be seen by men has some merit. 😉

    But I think the reaction against the removal of the Ten Commandments is about something deeper – the sinisterization of Christianity and our culture’s tendency to call good evil and evil good (sort of like the vilification of the Boy Scouts and the normalization, if not outright exaltation, of homosexuality.

    I don’t know that people really want to have prayer in schools so much as they don’t appreciate the Christian faith being singled out for intolerance and hatred. But hey, that’s what we were signed up for when we were baptized.

  4. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Larry, I think you’re right. This does point to a deeper rooted problem, namely, the complete denial of a natural, built-in moral code. The issue over prayer in school is not always just about public prayer, so I’ve been told, but it is also in some places forbidden even to pray privately before meals or any other time of the day. Can this be substantiated?

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