Social Distancing is one of the Ten Commandments
I've been taught nearly my entire life (by a very extroverted mom) to move toward people, especially in times of disaster. This season of social distancing cuts across the grain of my being. But the Westminster Confession's Larger Catechism reminds me that I am obeying the Ten Commandments when I shelter-in-place. The Larger Catechism's teaching on the Fifth Commandment reminds teaches us to honor our "father and mother" during these days of COVID-19 in ways you might not have noticed before.
(Excursus: The premise of my social distancing rests upon the CDC's guidelines. In light of the infectious disease science we know today, these guidelines are wise. Churches should honor them by practicing social distancing in our current moment.)
Notice what the Larger Catechism says,
- Question 123: Which is the fifth commandment?
- Answer: The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Okay, so far so good. This is a retelling of Exodus Ex. 20:12 and Deut. 5:16. But exactly who is our mother and father?
- Question 124: Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
- Answer: By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors [i.e., more mature / older] in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.
Our biological mother and father are obviously included; it is right to honor them (Eph. 6:1–2). Our honor brings them them gladness (Prov. 23:22, 25). But honor doesn't stop at parents for Paul commands us "Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity" (1 Tim 5:1-2). In Genesis Jabal didn't sire all those who played the hard and organ but he is called their father (i.e., the authority, chief influence) of harpist and organists after him (Gen 4:20-21). Joseph calls himself a father of Phaoroh and all his house (Gen 45:8). Clearly he wasn't their parent; he was one with authority and responsibility (i.e., a superior).
- Question 125: Why are superiors styled father and mother?
- Answer: Superiors are styled father and mother, both to teach them in all duties toward their inferiors, like natural parents, to express love and tenderness to them, according to their several relations; and to work inferiors to a greater willingness and cheerfulness in performing their duties to their superiors, as to their parents.
Superiors are those who teach the rest of us, as natural parents do. Think about your school teachers, instructors, coaches, and all those who teach and care for us. Even those who have cared for us in the past count. We are to honor them as we honor our parents. Many of these people are precisely those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Further, Question 126 show us that "honor" in the fifth commandment cuts three ways. It means performing the duties we owe to those who are older / in authority over us (superiors), younger / those under our authority (inferiors), and our equals.
- Question 126: What is the general scope of the fifth commandment?
- Answer: The general scope of the fifth commandment is, the performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals.
Honor in the fifth commandment cuts three ways. It means performing the duties we owe to those who are older / in authority over us (superiors), younger / those under our authority (inferiors), and our equals. One of the most difficult aspects of this moment in time for me is staying away from others.
Toward superiors, we are to bear with their infirmities. This means that we care for their physical vulnerabilities. Notice how the Larger Catechism puts it in the next question.
- Question 127: What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?
- Answer: The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.
In fact, it is a sin to neglect our duties in these ways as Question 128 explains.
- Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
- A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellionn against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.
We may not be able to gather for corporate worship, but we may served the Lord by social-distancing to honor our father and mothers, bearing with the infirmities of our older citizens. The guidelines of the Larger Catechism help me channel my desire to be with people into obedience for the moment.
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