The Ten Commandments, Christianity and Dominionism


From the start, “Only Human” has been a column that views current events through a Christian worldview intent on exploring the vast common ground between religions. It seeks neither to downplay the differences between Christianity and other religions, nor spend much time drawing out the differences.

Such a project, however, lends itself to a major misunderstanding that troubles both friend and foe alike. The misunderstanding is that Christianity is one vast and vague religion. This rankles believers who clearly see important differences in doctrine among various religions. It also invites nonbelievers to misunderstand the true nature of Christianity.

As an example of the latter, I recently came across an article titled, “Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight.” It was published in the summer 2016 issue of The Public Eye, a magazine devoted to “Challenging the Right, [and] Advancing Social Justice.” 

If you have never heard of “Dominionism” that is because the word did not exist until the author of the article coined it, along with a like-minded friend. He coined it to put a label on the idea “that Christians have a mandate to take dominion over every area of life.” 

That sounds scary. It’s supposed to. But it expresses nothing more and nothing less than the idea common to every human being that our entire life — and not just a few hours a week — should be lived in accordance with our fundamental understanding of the world. We should both speak the truth and listen to the truth. 

Whether you are a Lutheran, Mormon, Catholic or atheist, I assume that you want to do these things. Progressives want to “take dominion over every area of life” just as much as Buddhists do. That’s usually not a problem because differences in religion mostly have to do with our understanding of the truth about God, salvation, and the afterlife. These differences usually don’t deny the basic rules of life in this world.

Almost everybody agrees that children should obey parents and citizens should obey lawful authorities. We all agree that murder is a bad thing. Spouses across the board feel hurt if they are cheated on. Nobody likes to be robbed or slandered or envied. 

You should recognize this laundry list of evils as simply what is commonly called the Second Table of the Law, expressed in Exodus 20:12-17: “Honor your father and your mother, etc. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet, etc.” 

You should also recognize that to live according to the truth, to speak it and to hear it, constitute a pretty good summary of the First Table of the Law: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, etc. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:3-8).

Every religious person who counts Exodus as an authoritative book agrees—whether Christian or not. Even those who don’t care about the Bible generally agree on these principles. Free speech and free exercise protections allow each person the space to live out the First Table of the Law. Laws against insurrection, murder, rape, stealing and slander are the natural result of our agreement on the second tablet.

The Ten Commandments are not distinctively Christian. They are not even “religious.” They are only human. Even if they were not found in the Bible, we should all agree on them. That’s why the article about “Dominionism” really got my attention. In an attempt to define Christian “Dominionists,” Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson write: “they believe that the Ten Commandments, or ‘biblical law,’ should be the foundation of American law.” 

Let that sink in. At first reading, it sounds like a swipe against Christian fundamentalism — as it is intended to be. But on a more fundamental level, it is making two huge assumptions that need to be called out.

First, it assumes that anyone who agrees with the Ten Commandments is a Christian Dominionist. Second, it would seem to assume that American law would be just as good if insurrection, murder, rape, thievery, slander and envy were the law of the land.

It boggles my mind that a magazine advocating for “social justice” would take such a stand. But that is the logical outcome of opposition to the Ten Commandments. I am not exaggerating. It is simply a cold, hard fact that if you oppose some law, you are advocating for its opposite.

If you don’t think children should honor their father and mother, you think instead that children should dishonor them. Do we really think America would be better off if people were encouraged to disobey every law and authority that they didn’t like?

Again, if you oppose the commandment, “You shall not murder,” you are embracing a principle that allows murder. If you oppose restraints on adultery, you are encouraging parents to break up families. If you throw out laws against stealing, you are breaking down the doors of every home on the block.

I sincerely hope that my progressive friends will think this through. I understand that those who oppose Christianity don’t recognize the Bible as an authority and don’t want American law to be based on the Bible as such. I can respect this. I certainly would not want American law to be based on the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita. 

But neither would I want to rule out good laws just because they may be found in these books. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. You don’t need biblical authority to tell you what every society in the history of the world has figured out by common sense.

In his excellent book, “What We Can’t Not Know,” J. Budziszewski explores which basic principles can be known by pure human reason, apart from any religious revelation. It’s a tour de force into the arena that many call the “natural law.” 

Budziszewski is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas. He argues powerfully that the Ten Commandments are in the minds of all mankind quite apart from the tablets of stone brought down from Mount Sinai. 

In the process, he demonstrates another point that we would all do well to grasp. The Ten Commandments do not define Christianity. Just because various religious people can agree on the Ten Commandments, doesn’t mean that they are Christian. 

Christ did not come to reveal what can be known and understood by anybody. Christ came because our common knowledge of the natural law cannot save us from our own propensity to break it. That’s the human dilemma. We know how we should act and speak and think, but can’t do it.

The distinctly Christian Truth is that God came to earth as a man to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Jesus not only knew the natural law but lived it. He is the only person who ever has. By living it, He fulfilled it for you and invites you to believe in Him to save you from yourself.

That is Christianity. You will never come to know this by philosophy or natural law. You can only learn this news from Christ in His Bible and His Church. 

Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at OnlyHuman-JL.blogspot.com.

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