The Ten Commandments Revisited – And Taken for Granite

Column by Jim Bishop

bishopj.jpgIs it irreverent to suggest that the Ten Commandments were not an immediately smashing success – centuries ago as well as today?

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai after receiving God’s laws and saw the people preoccupied with hanky-panky, he became so incensed that he threw the stone tablets to the ground, dashing them to pieces.

I’m no modern-day Moses (although some have pointed out that whenever I open my mouth, the bull rushes), but I like to envision what kind of world this would be if everyone adhered to these 10 straightforward rules for living. But beyond this, I find myself re-examining those original directives and asking if some additional guidelines should be added (call it sanctified fine print).

Without beating around the burning bush, permit me to offer some unwritten (until now) additional precepts for consideration – some to me already appear operative – in our respective congregational settings:

– Thou shalt routinely arrive late for church services and committee meetings. Habitually showing up 10-15 minutes late, gasping for breath, gives the favorable impression that one is involved in manifold worthy activities that brings on a perpetually hectic schedule.

– Thou shalt promptly register strong protest if a worship service goes more than five minutes over its allotted time (beware any congregation that doesn’t have several clocks prominently displayed in the sanctuary).

– Thou shalt exercise extreme care in the selection of music used in worship. If in charge of congregational singing or special music, spiritually-tinged tunes like “One Tin Soldier,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Spirit in the Sky” or even “Amazing Grace” sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” may not speak to all congregants. In this politically correct era, “Rise Up, O Men of God” and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” won’t cut it, either.

– Also, thou shalt avoid playing “The Sting” or “Steal Away” on the piano or organ during the offertory.

– Thou shalt assume that at any given church activity, everyone knows everyone else, thus avoiding the embarrassment of welcoming or introducing a person you thought was a visitor but has been there before.

– Thou shalt never give a fellow member a direct compliment for something he or she did well; it will only lead to false pride.

– To have something done right, thou shalt ask someone in the congregation who is already overloaded. Don’t rock the pews (or padded chairs) by approaching someone who usually isn’t in the church “limelight,” for yea, verily, they will most certainly mess up.

– Thou shalt stay away from congregational business meetings and then complain loudly about how the church is run. If in attendance, be the first to suggest what can be reduced or eliminated in order to balance the operating budget, and then look for the nearest exit.

– Church councils or other bodies shalt not work up a list of measurable goals, timetable for implementation or review process for any church project, for that is too businesslike.

– Additionally, thou shalt never suggest a need to be addressed, a job to be done or a proposal to be written, in or beyond the flow of church life, for ye shall be asked to head a group to do it. To sidestep a sticky problem indefinitely, propose that a task force be named to study the issue.

– In oral or written communication in congregational settings, thou shalt not use simple words when complex ones are available, e.g., job – portfolio; help – facilitate, resource, empower; talk – dialog/interface; affect – impacted. It is advisable to sprinkle conversations liberally with redundant phrases – ongoing process, future projections, past history, felt needs, lived experience – and look forward with great anticipation to their operating at full capacity in this ever-changing world in which we live in.

– If ye be teaching a Sunday school class, thou shalt not begin by saying “I’m really not qualified to teach,” for that implies that you’re not or at least haven’t done any advance preparation to teach the lesson.

– Thou shalt not read and support any publications of your particular denomination because “they are all right- or left-wing rags” – and too expensive to boot – yet, thou mayest subscribe to “Time” or “Newsweek,” “People,” the daily newspaper and several special interest magazines.

– Thou shalt stand firm in the belief that only women can teach preschool/primary Sunday school classes or serve on nursery, fellowship or floral committees. Pray thee, why wouldst women be members of the property or worship planning committees?

– Thou mayest have periodic, heated arguments with other parishioners over what the Bible says without ever opening it to see what the Bible says.

Thankfully, unwritten rules like these are not cast in stone. We are earthen vessels, with some leakage. May we allow the grace of God to chip away at the rough edges and seal the cracks that keep us from becoming firmly molded in our Creator’s image.

Are you getting this down, Moses?


Jm Bishop is public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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