The highest body of the Presbyterian Church, the General Assembly of Australia (GAA) made a resolution that the “Acknowledgement of original land owners” and “Welcome to country” statements are not compatible with Christian worship.

The GAA explanation was that there is often (though not always) a spirituality behind these statements implied or directly stated. And because there is no consensus amongst indigenous peoples whether all acknowledgements are spiritual or not, the GAA rather than try to decipher one from another, simply stated that it was not compatible with Christian worship.

They were not suggesting a ban on people’s choice in their own religious rituals. We believe in that freedom.

But how do you respond when someone asks you why is the Presbyterian church being so narrow as to not acknowledge the indigenous people as being here first? (Maybe you’ve already been asked?) The answer is more than just who was here first but the answer is a text of Scripture so well known as central to the Christian faith that most unbelievers in Australia have heard of the Ten Commandments (TC). And surely even most who disagree with us would want us to have the freedom to obey the TC.

I would be a rich man today if I had a dollar for every time I have heard unbelievers say, “I go along with the TC, I never killed anybody.”

And the TC are in an order of priority. The first four are about God. God first. Then the 5th commandment is the bridge of human authority, beginning with honouring parents. Then the rest as to how we live with each other. So the 6th commandment, murder, is worse than the 7th adultery, is worse than the 8th stealing, is worse than the 9th lying, is worse than the 10th coveting.

So if the TC are in an order for a purpose, what is the very first commandment that is so important to Christians?

You shall have no  other gods before me.

The second is what?

No bowing down to any images or idols as a way of worshipping God. So when someone says, “just worship your true God through the indigenous smoking ceremony.” That’s like when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf. They weren’t saying this was another god, but this is your god who brought you out of Egypt. So not only are we to worship only the one true God, but don’t worship that one true God through some other spirituality.

It’s the same challenge Christianity had back in the Roman Empire. The government says, just do a little smoking ceremony to Caesar (burn incense). You can just believe it’s your God. Christians had to make a choice even with their lives. Don’t bow down. No substitute spirituality.

“But what if I just use images, icons to worship the true God?” Well, how would my wife feel if I had a photograph of some other beautiful girl, nicely framed on my desk. My wife asks, “What is that!” And I say, “It’s okay. Every time I look at her, I am thinking about you!”

Any image is necessarily false because God is Spirit and we must worship him in spirit and in truth! Truth not lies. We don’t know what Jesus looks like and whatever image we make of him necessarily defaces the glory in which Jesus exists now as the exalted God.

And who do you think is the largest Christian people group in Australia? The Australian indigenous people have a higher percentage of those who identify as Christians, than any other people section of Australia. So many indigenous Christians would also be conflicted when these acknowledgements that imply acknowledging a dreamtime spirituality.

This first commandment cuts to the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus said to Satan, worship God and serve him only.

So how do you answer the question why don’t you do the acknowledgement or welcome in worship services?

Answer: the first and second commandment. But what if someone says well how do you know your God is different than other spiritual ways? Aren’t there many paths to the one God?

Well coming back to the TC. We said they are in an order of importance. But there is something that is of even higher importance than that first commandment and it was there in that text all along. Before you even think about trying to obey any commandment, the text tells us who is this God, and why we worship this particular God. We are not worshipping a pagan god or spirituality to try and appease the angry gods or as the smoking ceremonies says, warding off evil spirits.

The first commandment has an introduction that explains who God is and why we worship him. Did you notice it? I am the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. That is what makes the first commandment the most important commandment for the Christian. I am not just any god. I am the God who saved you. He did not say ‘do these commandments and I will be your God.’ No! I am the lord your God – already!!!! Before you even try to obey a single commandment, I am your God. How? Because I saved you already. Now as my children. This is how I want you live. By these ten commandments.

Do you see how this distinguishes the LORD from all other would-be gods? He is the saving God! You can’t keep the TC perfectly any more than you can perfectly love your spouse whom you vowed to love. But if you love her, you will keep trying.

But wait! We didn’t get saved out of slavery in Egypt. How did we get saved? We know this side of the cross just how deep this introduction to the TC runs. Salvation out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery was pointing to a far greater salvation and release from a far greater slavery. For us the introduction to the TC reads. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery to sin death and hell by giving up my one and only Son for you.” He took your debt on the cross. Sins, past, present and future paid in full. Now you have been set free, these commandments are how to live in relationship with me.

And the first is “don’t have any other gods.” No other god who didn’t save you.

So when they ask you to just bow down or acknowledge or burn a little incense to Caesar, all these gods are the same we say, “No! Those other gods or spirituality didn’t give up their lives for me!

We can’t put dreamtime gods next to the cross of Jesus who saved us!

We are not all worshipping the same Creator.

That’s why unbelievers can say “I go along with the TC, I never killed anybody” without even looking at the first four commandments to do with God. Why? Because they don’t know the God who gave his life blood for them.

And the true and living God says, Now I’m not asking you to do anything to earn this. It’s a gift by faith alone.

How do you know the true God? You can’t see him. But, yes, we can. The true God who saves has revealed himself in history in the person of his Son so that there can be no confusion. If you don’t have the saving God you are worshipping another god.

You shall have no other gods before me.

– Bill Medley