The Exclusivity of the First Commandment

SDGThe Foundation

Reformed confessions like the Westminster Confession of Faith and London Baptist 1689 Confession of Faith begin with the doctrine of Scripture in order to emphasize that the written divine revelation of God is the foundation upon which all doctrines must be built. This includes the doctrine of God and his plan of redemption. Contemporary religious teachers are mostly opposed to the blatant and unashamed exclusivism of these confessions.

Some contemporary religious pluralists have proposed the idea that men and women who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, to whatever extent their religion shares with the Bible truths about God (e.g. God is Creator, Judge, Righteous, Loving, etc), will be saved without hearing the Gospel and explicitly trusting in Jesus Christ the God Man who died as the substitute for sinners.

Yet these proponents of a new kind of Christianity are seemingly unaware of the constricted nature of the referent “God” in the first and greatest commandment. Ironically, while they claim to be religious pluralists because of their great respect for the many historically and culturally distinct elements of each people group besides Christians, they fail to recognize that the command to “Love the Lord your God” was given in the context of ancient Israel, where an exclusivist monotheism was repeatedly emphasized. To love the Lord was to love a very specific and absolutely unique Being who revealed himself in propositions to mankind. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and no other.

This means that men cannot properly know God apart from his special revelation of himself through the Old and New Testaments. They have no specific knowledge of God to believe. And since this is so, they cannot have faith in him. And without faith it is impossible to please God. Thus, the identity of “the Lord your God” is not intuited, a mere vaporous name referring to an a-logical and a-lingual Something/Absolute Alterity and nothing more. The commandment refers to the God who chose the Jewish nation first and then commanded them to love and serve him only. As Moses writes in Deuteronomy 4:4-8:

“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”

The commandments of God, which contained the law to love God with all of one’s heart and mind and strength, Moses says, will cause the people of Israel to stand out from among the pagans. He further emphasizes this point by asking the rhetorical question “What nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I have set before you today?” (emphasis added)

The first and greatest commandment, therefore, is not a vacuous sentence which can be arbitrarily filled in with whatever content one wishes. Rather, it is a command that can only be understood within the context of the Biblical revelation of God to his people – across the Old and New Testaments. While the command is, no doubt, universal, the referent of the command (viz. God) is known only through the very specific, linguistically and historically delimited biblical texts. The only true God is the God of the Bible, not a nameless sublime abyss or mystical Otherness.

God’s first and greatest commandment is, therefore, exclusivistic to the core, defining love and worship in the sixty-six-fold book which he has written.

-h.

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3 thoughts on “The Exclusivity of the First Commandment

involve yourself

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