Over the years I’ve connected with Tony Campolo on a few occasions. Campolo’s ministry has been controversial to some, but profoundly impactful on me.
He’s an amazing storyteller. At a missions conference in 1983, he told the story of a group of liberal educators who once tried an experiment with kindergarten children and their playground. They took away all the boundary fences around the property because they were perceived to create harmful restrictions on children as they played and learned personal responsibility. By removing them they hoped that children would feel the freedom of having no barriers and develop their own values and limits on their play.
An interesting thing happened. The children tended to huddle in the centre of the playground and showed signs of deep insecurity in their play. Then they put the boundary fences back, and again something really interesting happened. The children began to play all over the playground, even right up to the edges of the property that were now bounded by fences.
In a postmodern culture, we’re ambivalent about rules. We want less of them, and those from an ancient past are increasingly challenged. All foundations of morality, belief and religion seem to be increasingly challenged when viewed through the lens of contemporary thought and values. The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), which God gave to Moses for a newly emerging nation, are a case in point. They once gave boundary fences that fostered freedom, liberty and safety within which God’s people could play the game of life. But are they for today?
There’s no shortage of moral commentators on the age in which we live. By way of an analogy, imagine each of our individual lives was likened to a series of boats floating on ‘the sea of life’. Could it be argued that the moral anchors have been pulled up from anything solid on the seabed and our boats are merely tied to each other—giving the illusion of safety? Together we drift on the tide of popular opinion. Permissible behaviour becomes whatever the majority believe is right.
Living in San Francisco, we often drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. The fences on either side were an annoying barrier, inhibiting the view. “Surely in our enlightened age such boundaries are unnecessary; as grown-ups we can make wise choices and lane selections!” The drop to the harbour below is 67 metres and almost always not survivable. Do those boundaries really inhibit freedom, or do they create it? Without them, I suspect we’d all drive in the middle lane; with them there all six lanes are used.
To preachers and small group leaders: maybe the Ten Commandments are worth a fresh look. Jesus seemed to think so (Matthew 5:17-20). Are they as anachronistic and outdated as some like to think? Or is their wisdom worth rediscovering in our 21st century?
Reflection: Brian Winslade
Brian has been a Baptist pastor for 40 years, including missionary service in Bangladesh, national leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand (2001-2006), and national director for the Baptist Union of Australia. He studied at Carey Baptist College and Bethel University, MN (D.Min). He currently is senior pastor of Hamilton Central Baptist Church, and a member of the International Council for the World Evangelical Alliance. Read a review of Brian’s book Boundaries: Re‑discovering the Ten Commandments for the Twenty‑first Century.