Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Fourth Commandment – A Christian Science Perspective, Part Two

EXPLORING THE MEANING OF THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
IN THE LIGHT OF CHRISTIAN SCIENCE

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

On February 25, 1889, Mary Baker Eddy addressed a Primary Class of sixty-five students at her Massachusetts Metaphysical College. She opened her remarks with the following: “My students, three picture-stories from the Bible present themselves to my thought; three of those pictures from which we learn without study. The first is that of Joshua and his band before the walls of Jericho. They went seven times around these walls, the seven times corresponding to the seven days of creation: the six days are to find out the nothingness of matter; the seventh is the day of rest, when it is found that evil is naught and good is all.” (Miscellaneous Writings 279)

Elsewhere in “Miscellaneous Writings,” we find: “There ‘remaineth,’ it is true, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; but we must first have done our work, and entered into our rest, as the Scriptures give example.” (Mis. 216)

These statements of Mrs. Eddy provide us with a foundation from which to explore what the Fourth Commandment might mean for Christian Scientists today. There is “work” to be done. There is a “rest” to be earned. But, what exactly is the nature of this work, and what kind of rest can we expect?

As indicated in the citation above, one area of our Christian Science work is to establish in our consciousness the “nothingness of matter.” [For those of you visiting this site who are not “CS,” this concept of the “nothingness of matter” is fully explained in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy.] We must realize that so-called matter is merely a misconception of our true spiritual being — it is the “mist” of mortal mind that would hide the man created in God’s “image and likeness.” It is supported only by what is termed the “Adam dream,” that mesmeric sleep that mankind seems to be in. Our goal is to wake up from that dream, and to de-mesmerize ourselves as to the reality of matter, evil, error, and the physical senses. When that work is done, we will have our “Sabbath rest.”

When our spiritual “work and rest” are properly balanced in our lives, we are reaching the essence of the Fourth Commandment. There are many citations in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy that we can use in researching and teaching the idea of “work and rest” as they might relate to the meaning of the Fourth Commandment. A few of them are:

“God rests in action. Imparting has not impoverished, can never impoverish, the divine Mind. No exhaustion follows the action of this Mind, according to the apprehension of divine Science. The highest and sweetest rest, even from a human standpoint, is in holy work.” (S&H 519)

“Science reveals the possibility of achieving all good, and sets mortals at work to discover what God has already done.” (S&H 260)

“Good demands of man every hour, in which to work out the problem of being.” (S&H 261)

“There is no excellence without labor; and the time to work, is NOW. Only by persistent, unremitting, straightforward toil; by turning neither to the right nor to the left, seeking no other pursuit or pleasure than that which cometh from God, can you win and wear the crown of the faithful.”
(Mis. 340)

“Men must approach God reverently, doing their own work in obedience to divine law, if they would fulfil the intended harmony of being.” (Unity of Good 13)

“The song of Christian Science is, ‘Work — work — work — watch and pray.’ (’00 2)

CHURCH ATTENDANCE

Now we know why there are so few Christian Scientists at the present time — it seems to require so much work!  It is true that it is not always easy to be a Christian Scientist, but along the way we do get some precious “Sabbath moments.” Those are the times when we have done our prayerful work, and reach that realization that God is in control. We then release the problem, hand it over to God, and let His will be done. After all, if we believe that on the “seventh day” of creation, God was finished with His work, and what He had made was “very good,” then our own seventh day should bear witness to that perfection of God and His creation. We can rest in the knowledge of His perfection. We “reflect” that perfection and harmony of being. That brings peace and rest. That is how we experience a Sabbath — a breaking away from material beliefs — and we are obedient to the Fourth Commandment. We remember that God is Supreme.

Does this mean that Christian Scientists do not need to attend church on Sundays? That is a question left up to each individual. No one is required to join the Christian Science church to identify themselves as a “Christian Scientist,” and to practice the teachings found in the textbook, Science and Health. As we saw in the history of the early Christian church, as time went on, it was felt that having church services was helpful to the newer members, but when someone did not need that weekly reminder to worship God, because he or she was “remembering” God on a moment-to-moment basis, then perhaps that Christian did not need to attend. But, certainly, giving back to the newer members would be a worthy contribution to the Cause, as it would be today, if that is how we feel “guided” to spend our time.

But, when material organization or hypocrisy creeps in, and we are attending church services out of habit, or merely to be seen as observant, or because we are being forced to go, then it perhaps does no one any good. One Bible commentator noted that when Christianity became a “state religion” under Constantine, the church suddenly became infiltrated with people who were not truly devout, but came for the wrong reasons, such as to “be seen of men.” This adultery of the congregation led to the demise of true Christianity and healing. As Mrs. Eddy writes: “Hypocrisy is fatal to religion.”

If those who attend these meetings come voluntarily and with a grateful heart, with no fear that they will be asked to do or give more time or money than they can manage, as it appears the early Christians did, it is possible that the focus can once again be shined on healing the sick and sinner, and bringing comfort and encouragement to seekers for Truth, rather than piling on church management and maintenance issues.

For those who would dearly love and appreciate regular church attendance, but have no church in their region to attend, it is good to know that there are individual ways to be obedient to the Fourth Commandment, as explained above.  And thanks to modern technology, The Mother Church in Boston makes available their services online for those with internet connection.

THE COINCIDENCE OF THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT AND “PRINCIPLE”

Although it is easy to conclude that the Fourth Commandment coincides with the seventh day of creation (as described in Genesis) because they are both about work and rest, and the verses in Exodus point to God’s day of rest, there are those who also see a connection between the Fourth Commandment and the fourth Day of Creation.

In Genesis 1:14-19 we read: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.”

What the fourth Day seems to be illustrating is the relationship between God and His reflection, man, as symbolized by the sun and moon, as well as the rhythm of life symbolized by the stars and planets which are for “signs and seasons.” Mrs. Eddy tells us: “Suns and planets teach grand lessons.” (S&H 240) We also see that the two “lights” are to “rule,” or govern.

This fourth Day of Creation can be said to symbolize the aspect of God that is termed in Christian Science “divine Principle” — that foundational Law which governs the universe, operates impersonally, and finds expression in man’s ability to demonstrate and prove this law of God in healing sin and sickness, and maintaining harmony on earth. Principle governs and rules, and man is His “reflection” — just as the light of the moon is a reflection of the light of the Sun.

When we struggle with some temptation, and then reach the point where we remember we must yield to God, and say, as Jesus did, “not my will, but thine, be done” — and then we yield — we have “remembered” the Sabbath day.

In the writings of Mrs. Eddy, you can find “rest” and “Principle” combined. The definition of “Church” in the textbook begins: “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.” When we rest upon Principle, it becomes a platform, or springboard, for our next “week” of inspired work.

Spiritual man (our true identity) is the idea, the image and likeness, of God, our divine Principle, and man is governed by Principle. This concept of Principle is seen not only on the fourth Day of Creation, and the Fourth Commandment, but in the fourth statement of the Lord’s Prayer (“thy will be done”), and the fourth Beatitude (“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”). They all seem to correspond, while at the same time
operating in our lives in unique ways — a blending in harmony.

Specifically, how does Principle operate with regard to our obeying the Fourth Commandment? As it seems to me at this time, when we have been working and praying to the best of our ability, faithfully following the light as far as we see it, and then we let go, and hand our problems over to God, our divine Principle who governs all — not outlining what He should do, but “resting” in our trust of His disposal of events — this is a Sabbath day. When we have done our work denying sin, disease, or discord, and then let our affirmations of Truth guide us to a moment of pure realization of the Allness and supremacy of God — we receive a Sabbath day
or “moment.” Thus, our oneness with Principle, Love is demonstrated and proven in human life.

Sabbath day finds its place, purpose, and activity within consciousness — not within a particular building on a certain day of the week. It is a place of peace and serenity, free from fear, worry, anxiety, sick or sinful beliefs. It is “the secret place of the most High.” And, this is a “holy” place, separate from the material world and the testimony of the physical senses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fourth Commandment – A Christian Science Perspective, Part One

INTRODUCTION

Jesus had a mission to fulfill. He was heading to a final confrontation with the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. He told his disciples what was to come, including that Jesus was to be put to death. Peter, true to form, rebelled against this. He was rebuked by Jesus. It was God’s will that Jesus must follow, not the will of man. Even so, Jesus paused in his journey to Jerusalem. It appears he may have wanted to confirm for himself, one more time, that he was doing the right thing, before continuing his journey.

We can read an account of Jesus’ experience on the “Mount of Transfiguration” in the book of Mark:

“And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.”

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus found himself in the presence of Moses and Elias. According to Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Moses represents the Law of God and the moral courage to follow it. Elias symbolized Prophesy, the spiritual evidence of God as opposed to the testimony of the material senses (See “Glossary” of Science and Health, page 585). Together, the Law and the Prophets brought reassurance and comfort to Jesus, and the vision of success to carry him through the upcoming ordeal of the crucifixion. This experience transformed Jesus’ appearance. He was radiant. It might have been tempting to stay there, to linger in this inspiration, but Jesus descended the mountain and back into the chaos of human need, and the tragic events that awaited him below.

This experience brings to mind a statement by Mary Baker Eddy in her Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” She writes: “Beholding the infinite tasks of truth, we pause, — wait on God. Then we push onward, until boundless thought walks enraptured, and conception unconfined is winged to reach the divine glory.” (S&H 323)  Jesus had important work do, but by taking time to go up into the Mount,

he “remembered” to pause and “wait on God” before resuming his mission. This is, perhaps, an indication of what a true Sabbath should be.

Now, let us take a look at how the disciples of Jesus handled this awe-inspiring event on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John had earned the opportunity to join Jesus on the mountain. They, too, bore witness to the appearance of Moses and Elias, and heard the voice of God. But, at that time, they were so moved and shaken, they were not quite sure what to do in response. Peter demonstrated for us the natural human instinct to such a divine experience: he wanted to organize a building committee!  He suggested they build three tabernacles, or booths, to commemorate and prolong the moment. His motion appeared to die for lack of a second. Jesus directed his disciples not to discuss this incident until he had risen from the dead, perhaps indicating that until Peter and the other followers had found the risen Christ in their hearts (in addition to waiting until the resurrection of Jesus), it would be best not to offer their precious insights and experience as fodder for what may be a dull and ungrateful community.

WHICH KIND OF SABBATH SHOULD WE REMEMBER:

Building and maintaining “tabernacles” is not necessary for our Sabbath worship and communion with God. But, as Jesus demonstrated, pausing to turn to God to seek His will and guidance through His Law and Prophecy, can be a divine and holy experience no matter where we are, or what day of the week it is.

Question: How often in our busy lives do we stop to “wait on God”? Once a week, perhaps, when we go to church? Once a year, such as on Easter? Only when we are in really, really big trouble? Or, only when we are really, really happy at something going the way we had wanted it to, and we praise God for giving it to us?

Setting aside time on a regular basis to approach God, and to be alone with Him, and listen to His particular message for us in a spirit of humility and yearning, is what the “Sabbath” is all about. It is a willingness to give up doing things our way for God’s way. It is accepting God as the Supreme Being who rules the universe. It is recognizing that God governs, and that we must be obedient to Him if we want to fulfill our part in God’s gracious plan for His creation. It is taking a physical and mental rest from all the worldly activities that wear us down, or that seem to drain our human resources, and giving this same opportunity for rest to those in our service or care. In the teachings of Christian Science, the Fourth Commandment provides an important metaphysical lesson, as well, which I will discuss later.

From what is recorded in Exodus 20, the Sabbath does not appear to be a divine requirement to go to a particular denominational church, approved by God, on a certain day of our calendar. It is not a divine requirement to enact laws requiring all citizens to abstain from work designated by the lawmakers or church officials. It is not a call to place burdens on others in order to fulfill public or religious traditions, or to self-righteously segregate church-goers from non-church-goers. It is not an excuse for checking off church attendance on our mental To Do list, and then forgetting about God and His commandments the rest of the week. It is a most sacred commandment that needs to be released from the burdens of traditional thinking and seen from a more spiritual perspective.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The term “sabbath” comes from a Hebrew word which means “to desist” or “to break off.” The word “holy” means to set apart to the service of God, evoking or meriting veneration, or awe, and sacred.

There is evidence that the Hebrews were already taking a “sabbath” rest before the Commandments were given to Moses in Mount Sinai. In Exodus 16:23-30, we read about the manna that God was going to provide the Israelites as they journeyed in the wilderness. They were instructed: “Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none.”

There seems to be a debate among scholars as to whether or not the Hebrews picked up the tradition of a seventh’s day rest from the Babylonians. The Babylonians had laws in which their kings and priests were to stop certain activities at the time of the new moon. It is also possible that the Hebrews may have been influenced by rituals of the Canaanites. We do know that the rhythm of life at that time revolved around the seasons, the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. We see in the story of Noah several mentions of “other seven days,” as if the concept of a week had already taken the form of seven days.

You may be thinking, “what about the seven days of creation in the first chapter of Genesis; wasn’t that first?” Actually, no! According to the dozen or so Bible commentaries I researched, it is a known fact that the first chapter of Genesis, and the first four verses of the second chapter, are from the “Priestly Code” — additions to the Old Testament stories that were written hundreds of years later at the time the Hebrews were exiled in Babylon (about 550-500 B.C.). These writings were interwoven with the earlier documents, and it is not always certain which verses belonged to which manuscripts. In the beginning of Genesis, the Priestly documents can be easily recognized by scholars from the “J” or “Yahwist” writings. There is also the “E,” or “Elohist” document, which starts at Genesis 15.

I bring this up because the Fourth Commandment as given in Exodus 20, is also a product of this intermixing of documents written at different times. The original commandment given to Moses is the familiar statement found in verse 8: “Remember the sabbath day to keep in holy.” The rest of the verses, which expounds upon verse 8, were part of the Priestly Code added hundreds of years later. Let us look at the whole statement of the Fourth Commandment, found in Exodus 20:8-11:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

The original commandment given to Moses did not describe what the Sabbath day was, or how it was to be commemorated. It did not identify it with God’s day of rest.  But, later, after the Jews had been in exile in Babylon, and the Sabbath day had taken on more significance to them, the writers of the Priestly Code created an addition to the Fourth Commandment which identified it with the seventh day of the Days of Creation. As the first chapter of Genesis was an inspired and instructive overture to the Bible, so this explanation added to the Fourth Commandment has given a fuller and clearer idea of the meaning behind the sabbath day, which is useful to us today on both literal and spiritual levels.

The Fourth Commandment instructs us to “Remember” the sabbath day. Since the Hebrews may have already been practicing a day of rest, they are possibly being told to remember this tradition of the past, in addition to being exhorted not to forget it in the future. What may have been new to the Hebrews, as the practice of the commandment evolved over time, was the instruction from the Priestly Code to give others in the household a day of rest, so that they would have the time to refresh their bodies and souls. I have to point out, though, that there is no mention given to the idea of letting wives and mothers have a day of rest! This does not come as a surprise.  After all, someone had to feed the guys taking the day off from work!

THE SABBATH FALLS VICTIM TO ABUSE

Even though the original intent of God’s commandment was both humanitarian and a simple call to remember Him — a wonderful way to unite with God — the Fourth Commandment evolved, instead, into a yoke that enslaved the Hebrews to the terrible burdens of countless rules and regulations that were petty and illogical, and created avenues of hypocrisy. It is a bit of irony that the one commandment meant to ease the stress and strain of human life should be the source of so much stress itself.

This burden did not come from the Commandment as God gave it, but from the human opinions and interpretations of the Priests. The enslavement of others to what they believed was the correct way to obey this law led to the height of unreasonableness during the Maccabean revolt in 165 BC , when the Jews refused to do the work necessary to defend themselves because it was a Sabbath — and their enemies took advantage of them.

JESUS AND THE SABBATH DAY

We read in Luke 4:16: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” We know from that passage, and elsewhere in the Gospels, that it was the custom of Jesus to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day. But, we also know that he challenged the Pharisees on their concept of what obedience to the Fourth Commandment was. On several occasions he healed the sick on the Sabbath, and was severely criticized by the Pharisees. On another day, his disciples were chastised for picking corn to eat on the Sabbath. But Jesus defended their actions. He declared “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” (Matthew 2:28)

One Bible verse that is of interest, and might make a good topic of discussion in a Sunday School class is from John 9:16: “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.”

What this verse shows us is that even Jesus was criticized for not keeping the Sabbath in just the way the Pharisees had deemed correct. But we know now that they were judging the very Son of God. Perhaps we might learn from this that it is not up to us to decide whether or not people are sinning if they do not go to church, or conduct any part of their lives in the way that our personal church beliefs would dictate. We have no idea what is in a person’s heart, or whether or not that heart is open to God. Only God can judge. The apostle Paul would later write the
Colossians: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

THE SABBATH AND THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH

As we see from that quotation of Paul above, the new followers of Christ, the early Christians, were being told that it was not necessary to follow the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath. Paul was glimpsing that the old rituals were but “a shadow of things to come,” hinting that there was a better way of worshipping and communing with God. Bible commentators point out that in Acts 15:20, 29, where Gentiles are being told what would be required of them, the Sabbath was not included. We also know that the early Christians at first worshipped on both the Jewish Sabbath and what is known as the “Lord’s Day.” The Lord’s Day is the term given to the first day of the
week — Sunday — which was when Jesus was resurrected. Over time, the Christians saw that there were too many theological differences with the Jewish teachings, and they eventually switched to the “Lord’s Day” as the Christian day of worship. About 100 A.D., the first service book of the Christian church, “The Didache,” the teaching of the Twelve Apostles, included this: “On the Lord’s Day come together, break bread, and hold Eucharist.”

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr provided us with a description of what the Christians did at their service: “On the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. Then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we said before, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen. There is a distribution to each and a participation in that over which thanks has been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well-to-do and willing to do so give what each thinks fit. What is collected is deposited with the president, who gives help to the orphans and widows, and to those who through illness or any other cause are in want, and to those who are in bonds, and to the strangers among us, and to all who are in need.” (First Apology 67)

We can see that the early Christians were obeying the Fourth Commandment, if it is
interpreted as remembering to worship God. But, what about the Jewish explanation that the Sabbath was to be a literal day of rest, as well? William Barclay, in his book on “The Ten Commandments,” explains (pg 22): “There is no doubt at all that from the early second century onwards — and perhaps even earlier — the Lord’s Day has completely displaced the Sabbath, and that the two are never confused, and are even contrasted with each other . . . There is no indication that the Lord’s Day was a day when all work was suspended. Simply on the grounds it could not have been. In the very earliest days it was to the humbler members of society that the Christian faith
most appealed. It was obviously impossible for a servant, and still more for a slave, to take a whole day off work in a pagan society.”

There were other opinions about church worship at that time, as well. Barclay writes:
“Origen (AD 240) apologizes for the special observance of any day at all. The Sunday is observed as a concession to the weaker brothers because they are either unable or unwilling to keep every day in this way, and so require some visible reminders to prevent spiritual things from passing altogether out of their minds.” (“Against Celsus” 8.22.23)

Origen’s sentiment would find common ground with those today who feel that church
organization and attendance is something that should eventually be out-grown in order to worship and adore God on a more spiritual level, and to find rest in the reign of God, our divine Principle, Love. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote a number of statements suggesting that some day her followers might want to leave “organized” church behind them. For instance, she writes: “The Church, more than any other institution, at present is the cement of society, and it should be the bulwark of civil and religious liberty. But the time cometh when the religious element, or Church of Christ, shall exist alone in the affections, and need no organization to express it.” (Mis. 145) This was written over a century ago, so, perhaps, the time has come.

THE PENDULUM SWINGS BACK AND FORTH

If the early church “powers that be” had only left the Fourth Commandment to individual interpretation and practice, there is no telling where Christianity would be now.

Christian Scientists are aware that Mrs. Eddy’s original church was formed to “reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” She also states elsewhere that this healing ability was lost about three centuries after the crucifixion. You will see from the historical tidbits described below, why the early Christians may have lost their healing power. As William Barclay puts it (pg. 23): “Above all, there was the increasing stress laid on the obligatory nature of the services of the
Church. The more the Church was organized, the more the Lord’s Day became specifically a ‘religious’ day.”

First, we see that the church is becoming more organized, rather than based upon the early voluntary associations of eager participants, who did or gave what they could. Then, in 321 A.D., Constantine, the emperor of the Roman Empire who became a Christian, passed an act requiring everyone to stop work on the Lord’s Day (farmers excepted). Now, we see Christianity being “legalized” by the state. Again, removing it farther from the voluntary nature that Christianity should be.

Over the centuries, scholars such as Alcuin (A.D. 735-804) and Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225-74) concluded that the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day were one and the same, and that work should cease on Sundays. According to Barclay, “this was a complete reversal of the position of the early Church,” and “it was not long before the Church was drawing up as detailed Lord’s Day prohibitions as ever the Pharisees did.”

Then the Reformers came along, and decided that the Lord’s Day was not the same as the Sabbath, and that the Jewish law was not to be obeyed by the Christians. Martin Luther said that servants should have a day of rest, so they can hear God’s word, but that it is not important what day it was. Calvin stated: “The observance of days among us is a free service and void of all superstition.” The Reformers, too, saw the need for a day of rest, but that it should be done freely and on any given day, and should not be legally mandated.

The issue of the Sabbath, and whether or not Christians should observe it as a day of rest from work, continued to be debated. But, then, the Puritans came to power, and according to Barclay, “between 1644 and 1656 a series of ever more severe Sunday Observance laws was passed.” Again, the Jewish Sabbath and the Lord’s Day had become one.

The above historical summary was intended to show that whatever denomination you are, and whatever its Sabbath traditions, very few can prove that those traditions can be called “divinely authorized.” Fallible humans are generally responsible for the rules and rituals imposed upon the modern day Sabbath.

End of Part One

Teaching Children the Third Commandment

The Third Commandment, which tells us not to take God’s name (nature or character) in vain, is to be obeyed literally, morally, and spiritually. The Sunday School children can learn all three, as they progress in their ability to understand and demonstrate.

There are so many facets to this Commandment, it would take several lessons to cover. Whenever you return to this subject, you can review what they already know, and then build upon it with a new idea.

First, explain to them that something that is “vain” is worthless, empty, or hollow. If we do something “in vain,” it is a waste of effort, fruitless.

To introduce the concept of the Third Commandment to young children, perhaps describe a scenario such as this: It is Friday night. Your parents agree that you can watch a movie you’re excited to see that has just become available for home viewing. You are given a DVD or video, with the cover showing the movie’s title and perhaps a scene from the movie.  You make some popcorn and settle down to watch what you know is going to be an exciting film. But you open up the package and discover that what was inside is the wrong movie!  And something you had no interest in watching.  What a disappointment!

Now, ask the kids what their response would be? (Remind them that using God’s name in vain at this point would defeat the purpose of the lesson!)

What would they say or do? How deep would be their disappointment?

Then, ask them why do they feel so disappointed or misled. Isn’t it because the label on the cover identified the movie they thought they were getting? They trusted that the box was correct, because in the past they usually got the same movie that was advertised on the cover? Didn’t they trust the company to keep the movies in their proper covers? Even when they return the movie for a replacement, they may not quite forget the feeling they had of being betrayed. You could say that their efforts to see a good movie were “in vain.”

Explain to the students that sometimes in life people are like that. They say and do things that get you to believe they are special in some way, or that they can do something great, and yet it is a lie. It possibly means nothing to us, until a time comes when we may have to depend upon that knowledge. That person may fail us in some way. We become disappointed when we learn that they were either pretending to be something they were not, or that they were simply unaware of their true limitations. Either way, our trust was broken.

For instance, maybe a young friend at school brags all the time that his family is rich. Maybe he even promises you that you can come swim in his pool, or ride his horses some day. But later, you learn it was all made up. Maybe your friend was ashamed about being poor, and said those things to make himself feel loved or respected by his other classmates. But, he lied. And you feel a bit let down when you learn it was all a big show. You really, really wanted to ride one of his horses!

Now, turn the children’s attention to the Third Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” God gave this Commandment in order to stop people from using His name, or words about Him, in such a way as to make a person appear to be closer to God than he or she really is.

Some people have even tried to use God’s name as if it had magical power to make things happen. They thought it would impress God and anyone else watching. Maybe they even fooled themselves into believing that words alone had power.

Tell the children that this insincere use of God’s name does not make God happy, and He forbids it. And, Jesus warned the people of his time not to pretend to be so good and righteous, when they were not. He called them “hypocrites.”

You might want to have the pupils read some of the situations in the Bible where Jesus confronted the Pharisees and called them hypocrites. These people certainly paraded around flaunting their superiority. Maybe their original motives were to follow God’s laws as closely as possible, but they needed to learn to balance that righteousness with a bit of unselfed mercy and meekness.

People who pretend to be good Christians, but in the privacy of their hearts still hate others, or are greedy, or tell lies, etc., are like the rental movie with a false label on the outside cover! Note: this is just an update on the old saying “You can’t judge a book by looking at its cover,” and it is worthwhile to teach this to the kids. It describes how people are not always what they appear to be on the outside.

Tell the students directly that we want to learn how to obey the Third Commandment, too, so that we will not be like the “hypocrites.” We certainly don’t want to use God’s name in a way that would make us disobedient to Him.

What is our overall goal then? You might put it like this (which is based on a statement found in my book on The Ten Commandments): Our goal is to make our words, and speech, our thoughts, motives, and acts, all flow from the same truth! We want what we say to match what we truly feel and believe. We want to conform our actions to the motives that are our ideals. We want to pause before acting and speaking if we know that we are not ready to tell it like it really is. And we don’t want to use God’s name carelessly, or in moments of anger, as if His name added force to your feelings.

This is not an easy task! But it is a worthy goal, and we need to begin right away with trying to put it to work in our lives. It begins with the Third Commandment, and continues with the Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Older children might be interested in the historical perspective regarding this Commandment. I am quoting below a few paragraphs of commentary from the Interpreter’s Bible relating to the background of the Third Commandment, which you might want to share with older students:

“The Third Commandment deals with the use of Yahweh’s name in vain, i.e. for that which lacks reality or truth. The name of God expresses his character and power. To call upon unreality, i.e., that which is not an expression of the divine character, by means of the divine name is to use the name in vain. Not only perjury, but also the practice of magic, which constitutes the invocation of ultimate powers with whom God stands in conflict, and the invocation of the dead, were in all probability among the specific prohibitions implied by this commandment at its inception.

“The misuse of the divine name was especially heinous among people who believe that the name was an essential part of the personality. The very naming of the name invoked the power of the whole person of whom the name was a part. The magic use of the divine name seems to have lingered on among people who were only beginning to know that true religion is more nearly related to moral
action than to magic formulas. The magic use of the name was frowned upon as a part of a campaign to banish superstitious ideas and practices from the people. There may be reference here also to swearing falsely by God, and to light and blasphemous use of the divine name. We still are subject to both kinds of temptations, to belief in the miraculous power of sacred names, and to the
blasphemous use of holy names.

“Every minister is tempted to cater to the primitive urge on the part of some in the congregation to hear over and over again certain magic formulas which seem to them to guarantee soundness of faith and comfortable doctrine. Whether the phrase is “the blood of Jesus” or “the brotherhood man,” it is merely magical when it is used as a spell. Religion for many people consists in the good feelings
aroused by the repetition of certain beloved formulas. This type of piety can be recognized by its extreme harshness in the denunciation of those who do not use them. It is not an easy type of religion for others to live with. Its sin is disobedience to the Third Commandment, which forbids the cheap and easy use of the divine name to cover up poverty of real thought and feeling.

“Common cursing and swearing are due to the desire on the part of inarticulate people to impress others. The easiest way to shock another person into attention seems to be by the use of some particularly sacred and holy name. But the effect wears off almost immediately, and blasphemy simply becomes a boring habit, an expression of impotence and weakness.”

To summarize what has been written so far, here are some of the ideas for lessons to teach your children and pupils:

The Third Commandment forbids:

Using God’s name to swear or curse. Even if our friends and parents do it, we must understand how precious God is to us, and we to Him, and why we would not stoop to using His name for such cruel purposes.

Using God’s name as if it had magical powers to do good or evil, just by being spoken over and over again, with no meaning or feeling behind it. Our prayers must be heartfelt.

Using God’s name to take an oath, especially if we do not mean it. In courts, we are asked to swear on the Bible. We are expected to honor this type of oath and not lie. In our private life, we should not hide behind the words “I swear to God that . . .” Our life should be so honestly lived, that we would not need to say that. Our simple statements and our personal promises should stand on our trustworthiness.

Using God’s name, or words about Him, to cover up our shortcomings or insincere motives. We should not show off our ability to “talk” God or to worship Him by following church rituals and traditions, while in our hearts we are not really thinking or feeling the selfless love that God really wants His children to express. Jesus demonstrated what a true, humble Christian should
be like. If we are not living up to his Sermon on the Mount, if we are not following his life examples, no amount of church attendance or donations or committee work or reading the Bible Lessons — will save us from the discipline eventually administered to hypocrites.

Using God’s name to justify going to war or killing or hating those who do not share our religious beliefs.

Using God’s name lightly or jokingly for purposes other than the sacred adoration that all His children owe Him daily, for their life and blessings. God is “Amazing Grace” and His name should be seen as no less.

Literally and morally, the Third Commandment teaches us not to use or abuse God’s name for our own personal needs or selfish purposes; it tells us not to use God’s name lightly or jokingly, or as a “magic formula.” But, what about a spiritual meaning, useful for those of us who practice Christian Science, and wish to understand the Commandment on that level? Obviously, this is something that needs to be revealed to you in your study and practice, and those of our children. My sense of a spiritual meaning at the moment, in addition to the moral imperatives mentioned above, is that as the image and likeness of God, man must use the qualities and talents that God gives us only for purposes that are good and worthwhile. We should use our spiritual qualities to glorify God, not ourselves, and we should expect to bring forth “fruit” — demonstrate God’s name, or nature, and prove His power and presence in our earthly life.

One way to accomplish this is to do what is sometimes called in Christian Science our “daily identification work” — taking the time to get a clear recognition in consciousness of our true spiritual identity as a child of God. We identify ourselves as God’s spiritual reflection, as His “image and likeness.” We awaken ourselves from the mesmerism, the “deep sleep,” that
would claim we are sick and sinful mortals. We affirm our identity as ideas of the divine Mind, expressions of His intelligence, substance, Truth, Life, and Love. Believing that God could create or permit a less-than-perfect material universe, filled with sin, sickness, and hatred, could be considered taking His name in vain. We must not identify with that false belief!

Practicing the Third Commandment — as is the same with any of the Ten Commandments — is not always a “black and white” matter. As Jesus taught us, these Commandments are to be fulfilled in love, and a dose of common sense. If we try to force ourselves and others to be perfect humans, sticklers for the law, we may lose our ability to think for ourselves, and to render good judgment and mercy when called for.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for questions to ask your child, or pupils in your Sunday School class, to get a discussion going. Most of these questions are more suitable for older children and teenagers. Use these to get the pupils to think deeply, and express their opinions. Guide them along, if necessary, to possible answers, without telling them their own answers are wrong. Let yourself be surprised!

What would you do if one of your parents habitually uses God’s name while swearing or cursing? What should we do? Should we speak to them about it? How can we best do that? Does a parent using profanity give us the right to do so, as well?

What if one of our good friends uses profanity? How might we handle that?

Is there any value to memorizing Bible verses or other inspirational citations, even if there is no meaning for us when we first do so?

If your parents are forcing you to say “your prayers” at night or in the morning, do we have a right to protest doing so, if we do not feel like praying? What might be the motives of a parent who asks his or her child to say prayers every day? What will you do when you have your own children to raise? How would you encourage them to get to know God?

Is there any value to public group prayers — such as saying the Lord’s Prayer out loud at a church service? Explain your reasoning. Why do you think the Lord’s Prayer is used by so many churches in their services?

What steps might we take to get past “just saying the words” in a Bible verse, or other statement of truth, and start to feel, or connect with, the underlying idea or message?

In courts of law in the United States, people who take the witness stand are first asked to place their hands on a Bible and “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.” Do you think this action stops everyone from lying in court? Do you think if a person does not believe in God or the Bible, he doesn’t have to take this oath seriously? Why is it so important for people to keep this oath?

Is there any situation where it might meet the approval of God, for us to go to war, or kill, or hate, anyone “in the name of God”? Especially “our” God?

Should we judge a particular religion or denomination by how some of its adherents behave, especially those who may be hypocritical? Why or why not? Should we even make judgments about the value of other religions? Does God make judgments about churches and what they teach? What do you think God would consider to be sincere worship of Him?

In the Bible story of the woman taken in adultery, we see Jesus treat the woman with mercy and compassion, even though she broke the Seventh Commandment. However, as you can read in Matthew 23, Jesus was very angry with the Pharisees because of their hypocrisy, and called them all kinds of terrible names! Why would Jesus be tougher on them for breaking the Third
Commandment, than he was for the woman who broke the Seventh? Why might religious hypocrisy be seen as a worse sin?

Is it possible in this day and age to be obedient to this Third Commandment? Aren’t there too many occasions that require our putting on a face of ‘godliness’ even when we aren’t there in our hearts and minds? Isn’t it too easy to make light of God, or laugh at jokes about Him and His son, Christ Jesus? Is there a compromise we can make?

After I originally posted this lesson online years ago, I received a useful idea to share with Sunday School pupils, from a reader in Mexico: “One aspect of the commandment that I’ve found helpful is connecting the quotation from the Bible (I AM THAT I AM) with my daily life.
If I am tempted to say, “I am sick” or “I am unhappy,” this is, in reality, taking the name of God in vain. That idea has been quite helpful in keeping my thoughts in the right channels.”

I hope these ideas for teaching the Third Commandment prove useful.  Feel free to send along comments for others to see.