(by Lisa Robinson)
I was listening to a radio broadcast the other day and the preacher was giving a lesson on the Decalogue. He provided a description of God’s law that broken down into three categories – Ceremonial, Civil and Moral. When Christ fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17), it did not mean an abrogation but continuance of the law. The moral law, as codified in the Decalogue, remains in effect and therefore binding upon Christians. (note this is a correction to what was initially stated) This of course is the Reformed position in a nutshell, influenced by Calvin and disseminated throughout evangelicalism.
The alternate position, which I adhere to (no, I’m not going to use the D word), is that there is no separation of the Law and when Christ fulfilled the law, he fulfilled all of it. The moral obligations are instituted under the teachings of Christ, otherwise known as the law of Christ and obligated through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Christ revealed God to humanity so there is no discontinuity in God’s law. Since the Spirit was also involved in the apostolic witness to the testimony of Christ and that testimony enscripturated, the Word and the Spirit provide the mechanism for which God’s law is revealed and codified. This is what is binding on the Christian. It is of no coincidence that 9 out of the 10 commandments are mirrored in the New Testament since it all comes from the same source.
So while I do not believe that the Ten Commandments are binding on the Christian, I was willing to concede that we essentially end up at the same place – God has imposed a moral law we are to abide by, that there is an objective standard by which we live. That was until this preacher said something that I have increasingly heard as a defense of their position – the reason the Decalogue is binding on the Christian is to prevent relativism.
This is not new. I have heard this before. Basically, he is denying that an alternate explanation to the implementation and adherence to God’s law and insisting that if one does not believe the Decalogue is binding on Christians, they are giving way to subjective truth. In short, they are compromising God’s truth…and they are wrong. I have heard this same argument used with a variety of competing evangelical positions. This is truth and must be believed or else you are sliding the slippery slope of relativism.
While I do understand that two competing truths cannot co-exist, does that mean a charge of relativism is warranted? I would say not necessarily. All truth is relative from our perspective because of human limitations and understanding. But what is necessary to determine is how compatible our truth is to the objective standard proclaimed through the the prophetic and apostolic message proclaimed in the Bible, preserved through the annuls of Church history. Throughout this history, there have been many doctrinal deviations but that does not mean that those deviations have resulted in or are caused by relativism.
What I fear is that relativism becomes a patsy for disagreement with our truth, based on objective standards derived by employing what we believe to be a sound hermeneutic. By throwing up the relativism flag, we insist that the alternate position is necessarily compromising truth, which by implication insists that ours is the only correct one. Might I suggest that this is arrogant and does not concede a possible error in understanding on our part. Moreover, it influences a form of dogmatism that will not consider altering explanations that contradict our own. For those who really fear deviating from God’s objective truth, this can become an arsenal to castigate sincere brothers and sisters in Christ as compromising truth.
When we proclaim something to be relative it is relative to the objective rule of faith provided through the prophetic and apostolic testimony to God’s revelation. We can certainly recognize that there is a body of truth that is consistent to this objective standard, but deviations don’t necessarily undermine it.
So I would appeal to constraint of using relativism as a patsy as it can possibly do a disservice to Christian harmony and our quest for truth.