I am amazed and distressed sometimes by the remarks made by people who should be well-schooled and well-versed in core beliefs. I’m also amazed at some of the attitudes that comes through the computer screen, but that’s not what I’m addressing today. Besides, I think those who are discerning can usually pick up on the latter.
No, I’m talking about basic, core beliefs. You know, for example, like the Ten Commandments. The Church of God (COG) movement is often criticized for adherence to “the Law”, and, in some cases, even for elevating the Ten Commandments above other laws. Of course, when you teach that the Law has been done away, made obsolete, has been made “spiritual” (which really means turned into thin air), then it is an obsolete point what Law falls into what category or even what its intent was.
Yet, the Ten Commandments are different. The Ten Commandments are special. Even some Protestant circles recognize this, and monuments to them and/or Moses are put up even against court rulings and such.
This isn’t rocket science, you know. They are different because they were the only ones written on stone. They were placed in the Mercy Seat in the Ark of the Covenant, which is symbolic of God’s throne! All of God’s laws and decrees come from love, even the Ten Commandments. However, it is significant that the Ten Commandments form the foundation of God’s judgment and mercy.
So, which of the Ten Commandments is the most important one? The answer really depends upon what you mean by the question.
On one hand, there is a specific order to them. The first four show how to establish a relationship with God. Without the proper frame of reference in realtionship to God Himself, all else will be skewed. The last six govern the relationships with other human beings. The fifth really is a dual application, however, as God is also “Our Father”, but I digress on that point.
However, Paul tells us covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). Therefore, the 10th and the 1st commandments are linked together in an ongoing chain rather than a linear list. It’s sort of difficult to pick out one point in a circle as being most important, as pulling any one of them breaks the chain. Each point in the circle is dependent upon the preceding one.
Added to all of this is the fact than any one of these that are not repented of will land you in a very hot place.
So, the question of which is the most important isn’t as easy as all that. It basically boils down to they are all important.
Please forgive me for going to such great lengths to make such obvious points. However, there is a great temptation for people to elevate one commandment over another. When this is done, there is a great temptation to focus on one point to the exclusion of all others.
Yet, Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs) will often point to the 4th as the most important. There may be a number of reasons for this, including some of their membership not even understanding their own teachings. I remember listening to an episode of Way of the Master Radio, where an SDA stated that you were saved by keeping the Sabbath. I doubt that any credentialed SDA pastor taught her that, but it does show that even the Sabbath command can receive too much weight in comparison to other matters.
For the record, you aren’t saved by keeping any commandment! The reason you need to be saved in the first place is because you have broken the commandments.
Having said that, you are not free to continue breaking them, either. Like the thief who was acquitted in a trial is not free to go out and steal once more, being pardoned of your sins doesn’t mean you can go out and sin more.
Yet, the Sabbath does receive special attention, doesn’t it? The reasons why are quite clear: It is the one commandment that most people will refuse to keep. It is also the main reason the Jews were allowed to be taken captive by Babylon. On top of that, it is the one command that God says is a “sign” of His people. So, while one cannot say that the Sabbath command is the most important, the Sabbath command is important, and it does receive a certain amount of special attention.
Therefore, it would behoove a true Christian to understand it, what the principles are and how to apply them, right? Yet, it appears that in spite of some very good material out there, some UCG members really aren’t grasping some of those principles. Therefore, I point you UCG members to UCG material that gives some of those principles you really need to be considering right now.
First of all, Richard Pinelli gave a 2 part sermon about “How to Keep the Sabbath Day Holy”. This is the sermon that I’d like to hear Dennis Luker give. In both Part 1 and Part 2, Pinelli gives principles and even some practical applications of legitimate “exceptions” (aka, “ox in the ditch”). I put “exceptions” in quotes because in reality it just shows that there are overriding principles where compassion and love win out when it comes to disasters and suffering.
Only once you have the proper basis can you truly look at all situations with any clarity. Once you understand and are putting the principle into action, then United News articles like "Remember the Sabbath to Keep It Holy: Business Questions" can be viewed in their proper perspective. You begin to understand why Dave Myers writes:
Therefore, the Church of God teaches that a believer should not hire employees to work on the Sabbath and Holy Days. It does not set the right example of respecting holy time; it does not teach them the holiness of the Sabbath; and it does not give employees the benefit or option of rest during holy time. Employees working on the Sabbath place the member business owner in a position of responsibility. Employing others on the Sabbath also brings into question our motivation for owning a business that is open on the Sabbath. Is it just to make money? Does this lead to other problems?
You can also then understand more the roles of caregivers, ranchers and business owners as is written in “Letters on Keeping the Sabbath as Ranchers, Caregivers or Business Owners”:
Due to your ownership and your position as an employer, you would be the responsible party in a business that operates seven days a week and therefore on the Sabbath and Holy Days. Since it is the view of the Church that this would be a violation of God’s law, a Christian should not be involved in such business ventures unless he is willing to close on the Sabbath and Holy Days. We realize that ownership may not give absolute control in all situations. If you have any questions, we would advise you to seek further clarification before making a decision to buy or sell a business of this nature.
While oxen in the ditch will occur, someone will live in areas where daytime vs nighttime don’t always work out to 12 hours apiece, a business owner may not be a sole proprietor, etc., it is important to realize that these are issues of circumstance and control. They are the exceptions. Dwelling on the exceptions does little good and will get you lost in the weeds, making everything gray. Dwelling on all of the rules makes you strict and legalistic, making every situation so black and white as to be burdensome. However, dwelling on the principles that make up the general rule makes the exceptions few and far between and doesn’t feel like a straightjacket.
One thing that recent controversies have done is to help me to focus more on how I am keeping the Sabbath. Have I become too relaxed in keeping it? Have I always ended my work, paid or not, before sundown? Or, have I sometimes been caught unawares during time changes, quickly changing earlier/later sunset times or just plain losing track of time? Have I always properly prepared for the Sabbath so that I can truly rest and focus on the important things? Am I physically keeping the Sabbath while my mind is wandering off on some personal or financial problem? Sadly, I have too often failed to keep the Sabbath completely and in the spirit.
The spirit of the law … the driving force behind it all.
All of this has likewise led me thinking … and reminds me of two things my mother says:
1) Your values aren't values until they are tested, and
2) By not making a decision, you are making a decision.
Treating the Sabbath properly has been an interesting experience, especially in the preparation part – and, like you, I have too often failed. But that doesn't mean I give up … it just means I have to fight.
Yet, Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs) will often point to the 4th as the most important.
Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs) tend to emphasize the Sabbath commandment, while at the same time ignoring the commandment against idolatry.
SDAs try to argue for the biblical, weekly, seventh-day Sabbath, and don't seem to understand why Sunday-keepers cannot see that it matters which day one observes.
Amazingly, at the same time, SDAs love their pictures of that long-haired guy that they got from the Roman Catholic Church, and cannot see anything wrong with having these pictures in their books, magazines, church bulletins, calendars, and even framed and hung on their walls.
I'm glad you brought up the Richard Pinelli two-parter — it crossed my mind when I saw your recent poll.
I heard an SDA "Ten Commandments Day" conference a few years ago on Radio 74, where ministers gave sermons on each of the ten — except they decided to give two in a row on #4.
It's that important?! Well, it's really what makes you distinctive from other denominations — but the ministers didn't really say that.
As for the idolatry commandment: I sometimes think SDA's come close to breaking that with the way they treat Ellen White and her writings.
I love "Way of the Master Radio". Get's right down to the purpose of the law and the essence of who one is trusting in for salvation – the law and works OR Jesus alone, which results in obedience and works.
Considering the comments in your last paragraph, to which I believe numerous other people share similiar circumstances. Why should any person demand someone else to keep the sabbath better than they are?
What conclusions should a believer come to?
@Anonymous: I used to listen to Way of the Master Radio all the time. However, their obsession with Hell started to turn me off after a while.
Anonymous wrote: "I guess they'll be more ministers looking to be insurance agents. Isn't that what they all do when they hit the unemployment line?"
Not sure if you're a troll or not, but no email addresses in comments.
@Norbert: I think there's an entire article that could be written based on your comment, and I think I'll publish one today that looks at just one aspect of this.
However, how about some questions? You know I like to challenge assumptions, right? 🙂
1. Who is demanding what from whom? Are they really holding someone else to a higher standard? Is it being misinterpreted that way?
2. Who are we comparing ourselves to? Who should we be comparing ourselves to? Can anyone meet that standard?
3. Does attitude have anything to do with it?
4. Are any of us supposed to prod, exhort, rebuke, etc., each other to be better?
Because, here are my concerns: If I am waiting for someone to be perfect before they can advise me what to do, then I'll be waiting a long time. I'll never grow. I'll never listen to someone in the pulpit. I'll never listen to someone else's interpretation of Scripture. I won't read any organization's material. Basically, I would just remain stuck where I am. I would be the fulfillment of the man with one talent.
For example, what if I have an unbelieving friend who does not keep the Sabbath? What if we go out to a business dinner on Friday evening, and I lose track of time? What if my friend reminds me: "You know, John, you said you needed to go before 7:00, and it's now 6:55."
Is he holding me to a higher standard? If so, does that mean I should not listen? Does this mean my friend is a bad person?
I believe there can be some profit in challenging our own assumptions as well as another person's. The question I asked had more to do with my own understanding, it's a challenge that faces me. Something which I can use some thoughts and even some advice on by bouncing it off your blog.
Likewise, your 4 points bring up some self reflection.
1. Who am I to demand something from someone else? Am I really holding someone else to a higher standard? How would someone interpret my words? (Mt 7:12)
2. Who am I comparing myself to? (2 Cor 2:10) Who should I compare myself to? (1 Cor 11:1) Can I meet that standard?
3. Does my attitude have anything to do with it? (Mt 7:4-5)
4. Am I supposed to prod, exhort, rebuke, etc., myself to be better? (Ro 2:21)
One of my major concerns is reaching a point of being capable to think and behave in a Godlike manner and not look to another person to do it all for me. The point being not to automatically dismiss anything I feel like dismissing because we have imperfections to deal with, but to take 100% responsiblity for my own actions. Whether they are a result of my own understanding or another person's advice to go before 7:00.