The Sixth Commandment forbids murder. This commandment is one of God’s moral laws, grounded in His nature, and articulated across the dispensations. The first murderer, Cain, faced God’s judgment for his crime (Gen 4:8–12). After the Flood, God pronounced capital punishment to be the penalty for murder (Gen 9:5–6). Jesus expounded the Sixth Commandment in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21–26). The apostle John warns church saints against becoming murderers like Cain (1 John 3:12). These and many other scriptures clearly teach that murder is always and everywhere wrong.
The Lord Jesus applied the Sixth Commandment in ways that went beyond physical murder (Matt 5:21–26). According to Jesus, other violations of this commandment include unjustified anger, abusive speech, and character assassination. Jesus was pointing out that the Sixth Commandment (as well as the others) implies more than it states directly. He was also pointing out that God’s people are responsible both to work out and to live out the implications of the commandments.
One attempt at working out the implications of the Ten Commandments can be found in the Westminster Larger Catechism. The catechism devotes an entire section to duties that are required in the Sixth Commandment (Q 135). Another section (Q 136) deals with sins that this commandment forbids.
Remarkably, the catechism does not consider all homicide to be murder. On the contrary, it recognizes the possibility of taking another life lawfully as part of “public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence.” This position is not surprising: the Westminster Standards were drafted by Puritans whose New Model Army trounced the Cavaliers in the English Civil War. The same Puritans ultimately executed Charles I for treason. These men were not afraid of a fight.
Nevertheless, they were lovers of peace and temperance. The burden of their comments in the Larger Catechism is not to justify violence but to escape it. The duties that the catechism infers from the Sixth Commandment include “avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any.” Furthermore, God requires attitudes characterized by “charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior: forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil.” Among the sins that the commandment forbids are “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge . . . provoking words; oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”
The thrust of these teachings is that we do not have to commit a murder ourselves to become guilty of murder. Provoking a murder gives us at least a share of the guilt. Consequently, we must avoid not only murder but also those behaviors which incline people toward murder. If we wish to avoid bloodguiltiness, then we will not even go looking for trouble. To the best of our ability we will stay out of situations where we know it could arise. We will not strut, bluster, or carry a chip on our shoulder. We will not display a demanding, bellicose, or vengeful attitude. We will not degrade people in either our speech or our manner. Instead, we will model gentleness, kindness, patience, reconciliation, forgiveness, and forbearance.
If the Larger Catechism is right (and I believe it is), then these standards are implicit in God’s moral law. As such they are not merely Christian virtues to be cultivated by the most spiritual among the redeemed, but moral minimums for all human beings. A civilization that tolerates their transgression can expect natural consequences to follow. Among other results, it will pay the price of increasing brutality and anarchy.
That appears to be where American civilization stands at this moment. American civilization now glorifies exactly those behaviors and attitudes that tend toward murder. It rewards brashness, swagger, and confrontation. Its people are conditioned to respond with demonstrations instead of due process, slander instead of sober speech, and riot instead of reason. America has a civilization that has lost its moral center and is consequently faced with the choice between either uncontrolled chaos or the sheer will to power. Those whose sole concern is power are willing to use the threat of chaos as their stalking horse, temporarily fostering anarchy until tyranny begins to seem like an acceptable alternative.
So great is the pressure that people who traditionally favor order and decency—that is to say, conservatives—have begun to feel as if they must respond in kind. They have begun to resort to coarseness, caricature, abusive speech, and the argumentum ad baculum. If the Left mounts a protest, then the Right feels that it has to counter-protest. If the Left carries Molotov cocktails and bricks, then the Right shows up brandishing guns. This tactic plays right into the hands of the Left because every escalation brings the civilization one step closer to anarchy, and after anarchy comes tyranny—which by definition can never be conservative.
Perhaps that last comment requires a word of explanation. Someone might object that Naziism and Fascism produced tyrannies, did they not? Of course they did, but the difference between Communism and Fascism is not a difference between the Left and the Right. It is a difference between two versions of the Left. The operative word in National Socialism (Naziism) is socialism. All socialist schemes—indeed, all schemes for economic and social leveling or “social justice”—are by definition Leftist and by definition unjust. I repeat: no genuine conservative ever favors tyranny, even in the name of Nationalism.
Now, back to the point. Not only Christians but all people who wish to avoid the charge of murder must commit themselves to keeping the Sixth Commandment and all its implications. We who profess to be genuinely conservative (let alone Christian) have a duty both to avoid unnecessary conflict and to de-escalate unavoidable conflicts if we can. As our civilization becomes more anarchic, our duty is to stand forth as voices of reason and temperance. We must resist the temptation to demonize our opponents or to appeal to violence. We must distance ourselves from every behavior and attitude that tends to inflame violence and to incite the taking of life. Unfortunately, those behaviors and attitudes have become too common on the Right as well as the Left, in both public and private discourse, by the high and mighty as well as the low and mouthy.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Great King of Glory and of Grace
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
Great King of glory and of grace,
We own, with humble shame,
How vile is our degen’rate race,
And our first father’s name.
From Adam flows our tainted blood,
The poison reigns within;
Makes us averse to all that’s good,
And willing slaves to sin.
Daily we break thy holy laws,
And then reject thy grace;
Engaged in the old serpent’s cause,
Against our Maker’s face.
We live estranged afar from God,
And love the distance well;
With haste we run the dangerous road
That leads to death and hell.
And can such rebels be restored?
Such natures made divine?
Let sinners see thy glory, Lord,
And feel this power of thine.
We raise our Fathers name on high
Who his own Spirit sends
To bring rebellious strangers nigh,
And turn his foes to friends.