One of These Things is Not Like the Others…

Many in the evangelical and reformed churches treat the moral law of God like it was part of that old Sesame Street song. You remember the song?

One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the others, by the time I finish my song? 

Now you may think that sounds absurd. But it’s not. Watch:

As Christians we are free to have other gods before God.
As Christians we are free to make carved images of God.
As Christians we are free to take God’s name in vain.
As Christians we are free to do what we want on the Sabbath.
As Christians we are free to dishonor our parents.
As Christians we are free to murder.
As Christians we are free to  commit adultery.
As Christians we are free to steal.
As Christians we are free lie.
As Christians we are free to covet what does not belong to us.

One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which things is not like the others, by the time I finish my song?  

You see it? Many Christians today teach that the fourth commandment (the Sabbath) is not binding on the church. They argue that the New Testament fulfilled the Sabbath because it was part of the ceremonial law. Here it’s part of the moral law- God’s eternal and binding code of ethics.

Why does it seem strange to hear that Christians are free to commit adultery or to murder, but not strange  to hear of Christians violating the fourth commandment?

The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly reads:

Q. 116. What is required in the fourth commandment? A. The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s Day.

Q. 117. How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified? A. The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose, and seasonably to despatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.

Maybe we need to rewrite our song and reclaim part of God’s ethics for holy living in the church today. How long can we continue to throw out a part of God’s Word and think that he will bless the Church with revival and reformation?

Maybe this thing is like the others, Maybe this thing really does belong. Can you tell that they are all like the others, by the time I finish my song? 


  1. Ben September 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Does this really address the concern, or does it brow-beat the proponents of this view? In fact, don’t the most plausible versions of the view you are attacking actually say that the 4th commandment is binding in a very real sense, it just isn’t binding in exactly the same way as it was prior to Christ’s coming? If that is the view, it isn’t clear that they are saying that there is something unique about the 4th commandment–all of the commandments get unique applications in different contexts. Many of these people I have in mind say that man needs sabbath–it is a requirement to rest, to take time from one’s secular affairs and devote time to God. They simply deny that it is tied to a specific 24-hour period.

    I am not defending this view. Rather, I am suggesting that you’ve set up a straw-man and apparently brow-beat the poor thing.

  2. Nathan Eshelman September 11, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    Ben, I don’t believe that this is a straw-man or brow-beating. I acknowledge in the LC citation that something about the 4th commandment does change in the new economy. The issue though is not whether there are changes, but whether it is relevant AT ALL in the new economy. MANY evangelical Christians, MOST Dispensationalists, and a number of reformed Christians would say that the fourth commandment has NO application in the New Covenant.

    There are changes in understanding in all of the law of God at the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus teaches us the depths and heights and breadth of the law in his exposition of it- our understanding changes, and part of that understanding is that the word “sabbath” is not necessarily connected with the 7th day of the Hebrew calendar, but is connected with the rest after 6 days of labor. That is what the light of the NT gives us.

    Ask around to your evangelical and dispensational friends- I bet that you will find many who think that “one of these things is not like the others…”

  3. Adam K September 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    As someone who grew up in a mainline evangelical context, I can affirm that the 4th commandment was often treated with a double standard as compared to the other nine commands of the Decalogue. This is definitely not a “straw man” presentation of their basic approach.

  4. Woman with the Yellow Hat September 16, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    So I’ve sat on this post a week, and I’m still bothered about its lack of tact. While I’ve held your Puritan view, the other side (the Continental view—remember, that of Calvin, Luther and Augustine) isn’t that 1-dimensional.

    -Jennifer George, Waldorf, MD

  5. Ben September 16, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    @Adam and Nate: I don’t want to risk an unfruitful discussion by talking past each other. I think I granted that many people may think the way you suggest. That’s not up for dispute. Rather, my complaint was more a matter of not putting out the best version of a view you want to take issue with. In philosophy, we call it a charitable reconstruction; in the Bible, I think it’s called the Golden Rule. Either way, I just want to reiterate that there is a more plausible version of this position out there that isn’t addressed in your post. And insofar as this is out there and unaddressed, progress isn’t going to be forthcoming.

    Moreover, I think I was a bit misleading in my original post. The point should have been that you attacked a weak version of a position, not that you were guilty of beating a straw-man. Sorry for that.

  6. dieta September 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    .The first four teach us what pleases God and the last six teaches us what will please others.

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