The Ten Commandments Introduction

Moses Receives the Ten Commandments from God

Luther’s Small Catechism is divided up into Six Chief Parts, The Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar (also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Holy Eucharist among others). The next few posts will be discussing the first of these, The Ten Commandments.

Where Did the Ten Commandments Come From?

The Ten Commandments came from God Himself. They are His Laws and are not man made. They can be found in Holy Scripture in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 as well as Exodus 20:1-17. Here’s what they say from Deuteronomy:

“ ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me. “ ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “ ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. “ ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “ ‘You shall not murder. “ ‘And you shall not commit adultery. “ ‘And you shall not steal. “ ‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “ ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’

The first thing that you may notice is that God did not number the Ten Commandments. The numbering of the commandments is man made, but not the laws themselves. As I go through the commandments, you may notice that the numbering I use is different than the way that you learned them. UPDATE–For more information on this, check out a brief explanation here.

What’s the Purpose of the Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are the Law of God. They are to be kept completely and perfectly. That’s something that you and I simply have failed, and continue to fail to do. God’s Word says, “For there is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). We simply cannot keep these commandments perfectly and as a result we are condemned.

So the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not to make ourselves more worthy to God. We can’t possibly do it. They are not to be used as Ten Steps to a Successful Life. Again, we will fail, and success will end in disaster. They are not the guidelines for WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), for He has done all things perfectly, again, something we can’t do.

Are you beginning to see a trend? The Ten Commandments cannot save you. They will only condemn you. The Law of God is meant to kill, and it does a great job at it. The Law points at you and all your shortcomings and things that you have done wrong or failed to do right. It breaks you down so that you have no where to turn. It does this so that you do not rely on yourself for your salvation.

The purpose of the Ten commandments is to show you your sin. So as I go through the commandments, think about how you fail to keep these commandments. Not as a way to do better and earn your way to salvation, but in order to confess your sin. Then look to Jesus Christ, who has kept the Law perfectly for you. Look to His cross, where He suffered and died for your failures, paying the price that you deserve for your disobedience. In His resurrection, you have the assurance that His sacrifice on your behalf has been accepted by the Father. Through the faith that He gives, you have the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

What is a Catechism?

This is how Wikipedia defines the term Catechism:

A catechism (pronounced /ˈkætəkɪzəm/; Ancient Greek: κατηχισμός from kata = “down” + echein = “to sound”, literally “to sound down” (into the ears), i.e. to indoctrinate) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present. Catechisms are doctrinal manuals often in the form of questions followed by answers to be memorized, a format that has been used in non-religious or secular contexts as well.

The Lutheran church uses Luther’s Small Catechism as the basis for its instruction of both children and adults. It contains questions and answers that are meant to give the student (catechumen) answers about what it is that we believe, teach and confess. Its teachings (as are all of the Lutheran Confessions) are drawn from Holy Scripture. In short, the catechism is a book with questions and answers that proclaim the truths of Scripture that brings salvation. In that spirit, this series of posts will be posed as questions with answers.

If you have any questions, just ask. I will reply personally to you and may even post as a separate blog post in the future.

Reviewing the Catechism

Today I will be beginning a new series that will review what we believe, teach and confess based on Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. I will try and keep this pretty regular, but you may see bursts of posts and then nothing for a while.

As I said previously, this will be based on Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (1991 edition), but I will also be bringing in content from other sources such as Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.

If you have any questions, leave a comment or email me at pastor@shlcfayettemo.com.

Why Is Christmas Celebrated on December 25th?

I was watching Bones the other night. I don’t know exactly what day it ran thanks to the wonders of our DVR, but one thing kind of confused me. It was their Christmas show and one of the techs kept saying that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th because Christ was really born in March. I didn’t understand where she was coming up with that idea, but it did bring up the question, “Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th?”

Many people will tell you that Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th to combat the pagan festival of the Winter Solstice. The idea is that everyone enjoys celebrating, so why should Christians not be able to have some fun. I know, let’s say that Christ was born on December 25th. That way we can join in all the fun!

I never really agreed with it for no particular reason. Somewhere along the line I learned that there was much study done about when we should celebrate Christ’s birth. In ancient times, it was believed that a person died on the day they were conceived or born. So figuring back from when Christ died, they came up with December 25th for His birth (just adding 9 months, you know). 

William J. Tighe approaches this question and comes up with a similar conclusion. He has an article that looks into where the date comes from. You can find the article here. He holds that the exact opposite from what everyone thinks is actually true. Winter Solstice is a response to the Christian celebration of Christmas. It’s not a long article and is quite interesting. I invite you to take a look at it.

Oh, and why did the tech believe that Christmas should be celebrated in March? Well, if you believe that Christ was born on the day He died, then His birth would be in March.

Have a most Blessed Christmas and New Year. Peace be with you!

Who Do We Worship?

We are a small congregation that struggles with finances and the desire to have more people in attendance each week. We’ve been told that we are too rigid in our theology, we’re not keeping up with the rest of the world. If you’d only do this or that thing, we would grow as a congregation.

My response has always been that numbers aren’t everything. We are called to be faithful, faithful to God and His Word. And that Word stands firm forever. It doesn’t change with the winds of the world.

So when I came across this post from Father Hollywood, I thought it was worth linking. Here’s a bit to whet your appetite:

Part of the article consists of a pastor’s bragging about how many people attend his congregation, including one instance where 500 showed up for a "baptism bash" and another "community celebration" that boasts of "more than 1,000" in attendance. But the most interesting boast involves how many come to church on Sunday now as opposed to the ten families he started out with in 2005. The author of the article says this congregation "now worships as many as 600 on Sunday."

I believe this is a case where grammar imitates life.

Why Do You Follow the Teachings of Martin Luther?

What's so special about that guy Martin Luther that you follow his teachings? Shouldn't you just follow what Jesus teaches? These are two questions that I get asked from time to time. The short answer is that we follow the teachings of Martin Luther because they are the teachings of Jesus.

There was a blog post that did an excellent job of explaining this much better than I did. Unfortunately, it's no longer available for me to link to it. I'm copying it here and will update the blog if I'm ever able to find it on-line again. The originally was posted here.

Are Lutherans no different than Mormons following Joseph Smith or Seventh Day Adventists following Ellen G. White or Pentecostals following the imagination of the latest charismatic preacher or Roman Catholics following the Pope? Absolutely not! First of all, while Martin Luther is a very important teacher and pastor in the history of the church and was used by God to help restore very important things to the church, Luther was not restoring anything to the church that was not already the possession of the Christian Church not only in Scripture but also in better times among the early church fathers, as many quotations from them could readily prove. Lutherans find the source of what they teach in Holy Scripture, God’s written Word, and we also find the continuity, or continued teaching, of God’s Word in various times and places throughout the history of the Church, including the time before the Lutheran Reformation among the church fathers of the early church and the medieval church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church. God preserves His faithful remnant until the end, though it is not always easy or happy. So because of this we do value church history and what treasures God has preserved among us throughout the centuries. Lutherans believe that what they teach is nothing new – the Lutheran reformation was a restoration, not a revolution or a start of a new religion, but a restoration in repentance.

But what about the Creeds and the Book of Concord, are these being “added on” to the Bible? Absolutely not. The Creeds and the Book of Concord are simply echoing the teachings of Scripture to help address doctrinal issues which have arisen in the history of the Church so that we have a faithful test and roadmap to Scripture. They are a standard of teaching and practice that is in full agreement with the Bible, but which also do not add to Scripture but find their source in the Bible. The very words of the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions demonstrate this clearly. We hold to the Creeds and Confessions of the Church because they are in full agreement with Scripture, God’s inspired and authoritative Word. Our Creeds and Confessions continue in Peter’s faithful confession of Christ, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Upon the rock of the confessing Christ faithfully, through that ministry the Church is built by Jesus. So we rightfully hold to the Creeds and the Confessions without compromise because they are faithful. In this sense Lutherans are in substance evangelical and catholic.

Lutherans hold their teaching to be “catholic” in the original sense of that word. The word catholic originally meant, “according to the whole or entirety.” We hold that what we confess is fully in agreement with Scripture, is identical to the apostolic faith, and does not add to or take away from the Word of God, and therefore is universal and should be believed by all. Upon that certainty the Church teaches, engages is evangelism and mission work, knowing she has a priceless treasure given to her from the Lord Jesus Christ. It gives peace that surpasses understanding, peace that the world cannot give. This is what enables us to say, “This is most certainly true.” Our Confessions, hymns, liturgy, Catechism, prayers, all confess this openly. There is no gap, no daylight between our doctrine and the doctrine of Scripture. To be a Lutheran is no less being Christian, in fact it is the fullest teaching of Christianity on earth. Otherwise, why be Lutheran at all? That is no cause for arrogance, it is a cause for humility before God, who gave this to us without any merit or worthiness on our part. It is a pure gift to us – grace alone! We have a treasure to tell the world about! We have a unique treasure in the world.

We are not Lutherans simply because our parents or grandparents were. We are not Lutherans simply because we might enjoy a Garrison Keillor story from Lake Wobegon or because we like potlucks. We are Lutherans because what goes under that nickname (which we did not choose for ourselves) confesses Christ most faithfully, purely and completely from Holy Scripture. Because it is the one true faith that we can die into with confidence knowing that we have a gracious God with us who declared us holy in Christ, the crucified and risen One. In teaching and practice, we remain Lutheran because among us we see the Word preached faithfully and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, even when others lean in the wind and water things down to entice the sinful nature. In the time of the Reformation, one Lutheran territorial prince put it well. George the Margrave of Brandenburg wrote:

I am not baptized in the name of Luther; he is not my God and Savior; I do not trust in him and am not saved by him."Therefore, in such a sense I am not a Lutheran." But when I am asked, if with heart and mouth I profess the doctrine which God has restored to me through His blessed instrument, Dr. Luther, then I entertain no scruples about calling myself a Lutheran, nor do I fear to do so; and in that sense I am and will remain a Lutheran all my life.

When Lutherans fall into the trap of relying on “official positions” rather than confessing the faith, it runs the risk of jumping both feet into sectarianism. No synod can claim to be “the official interpreter” of the Lutheran Confessions anymore than any individual can claim to have a monopoly on biblical teaching or interpretation. The Lutheran Confessions are not simply “what we as Lutherans believe” or worse, “what Lutherans once believed” (as museum pieces), but are manifestations of the catholic faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), apostolic doctrine in the sense of Acts 2:42.

The preservation or reclamation of a synod cannot therefore fall into the realm of simply repristination of its founding or early days or some “glory days” nor even to reassert the influence or writings of an individual theologian. That is simply refighting previous wars and ignoring the real issues of the day. Church history keeps moving forward to the Last Day. Doctrine remains the same, though its articulation always comes forth into new controversies and battles. The devil does not relent and the world continues to send its erosive forces against the Church, seeking to push her off the foundation of Christ and the unchanging marks of the Church. Lutherans, of all Christians, ought to have a keen awareness of the church militant, the theology of the cross, and the eschatological (end times) nature of the Church on earth and in heaven. We are not waiting for the end times to begin (Hebrews 1).

There is much more at stake among us than buildings, nostalgia, and benefit plans. The Church is a pilgrim people that has no permanent city of residence in this world, no incorporated 501c3 or left hand organization that cannot be taken away by the Lord. The Church in this world is in her state of humiliation as was her Lord until His bodily resurrection from the dead. We cannot expect to always have an “ecclesiastical Mount of Transfiguration” before our eyes, since we live now in the time of hearing rather than seeing. To be sure, we do not evaporate the church on earth into mere invisibility (as if the church is ontologically invisible), but the Church is certainly hidden under battle, strife, shed blood, argument, slander, and a cloud of dust all around her. Where this is not, we wonder if the devil sees a reason to attack, any threat against him?

We do not simply follow Martin Luther alone, nor any one individual alone, except Christ Himself. But our path is not a new trail to be blazed in the wilderness, but a well-worn path, dare we say even a “rut,” that includes Christ, the apostles, the early church fathers, many medieval fathers, Luther, Chemnitz, Paul Gerhardt, and so many others. And we would be remiss to point out men, women, children, and those who are not famous on that Holy Way as well. We do not blindly follow ruts of those who slipped off the road here and there (many of them driving back up on the road, but some not). But the test of the true way, the road, is Christ and His Word. That’s what makes a real synod, a genuine walking together, not just with each other, but with the Lord who speaks and provides those who speak in His name according to the rule of faith, the apostolic doctrine.