All our practical theology courses and Christian discipleship models, including the necessary affections and effective Christian life practices (hermeneutics, worship, preaching, Christian education, biblical counseling, apologetics, evangelism and mission) are derivatives and applications of the two great commandments to love God and love neighbor. However, the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 99 principles for interpreting the moral law are not developed enough to show this derivative connectivity to all kinds of practical discipleship. Reforming the moral law hermeneutics of WLC 99 and reinterpreting the moral law in light of those expanded principles will enable the Reformed churches to vivify discipleship in ways that more fully accord with the new covenant promise to write the moral law on the hearts of the elect.

As Paul instructed Timothy to continue in the duties of biblical leadership among the people of God for their edification and Christ-like growth, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith,” (1 Tim. 1:5). 

Existing Models Practical Theology Discipleship

Broad studies about biblical ethics point us in this same direction. Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning by Wayne Grudem (Crossway 2018) links each command with numerous practical theology topics, as well a brief but convincing argument in chapter 1 that evangelism should be based on the moral law’s binding requirement of obedience on all men and a testimony to the wisdom and understanding of Christians (Deut. 4:5-8), and as the standard for grief and hatred of sin leading to repentance and for fear of God in preparation for final judgment (judgment pronounced for their sins against the 2nd commandment by idolatry Acts 17:27-31; Romans. 1:32 pronounces the death sentence against the entire list of sins noted in Romans 1:18-31, which are all sins related to the moral law). The very title of John Frame’s book Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R 2008) indicates his intent to link readers to everything of practical importance for Christian living using the framework of the WLC 99-150 to expound the moral Christian life. Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis by Philip Graham Ryken (P&R 2010) and How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments by Edmund Clowney (P&R 2007) both offer very practical and readable summaries of the moral law and show connections to Christ and the Gospel.  

Specific studies in matters of global concern show our moral law foundations. International Ethics: Concepts, Theories and Cases in Global Politics by Mark R. Amstutz (Rowman and Littlefield, 5th ed., 2018) show connections between the 5th, 6th and 8th commandments and human rights and foreign policy. Though not always explicitly linked to commandments, we can make deductive connections between good poverty relief and the Ten Commandments in these good books: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (Moody 2014), From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance by Brian Fikkert and Russell Mask (Zondervan 2015), and Helping without Hurting in Church Benevolence: A Practical Guide to Walking with Low-Income People by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (Moody 2015). Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus (Crossway 2013) is filled with ethical dimensions of good political climates for human cultural and economic thriving.

A good biblical counseling book by David Powlison called Good and Angry (2016) shows biblical morality, connecting morality texts with their correlative moral law command. For example, amidst pastoral treatment of different types of anger, he shows that good anger is shaped by indignation against disregard for the moral law (chapter 9). He clarifies that true guilt or anger at self should be shaped by these same moral standards, not simply cultural or social standards (chapter 16). He notes that the commandments prohibit any types of life-destructive anger (6th) sexual immorality (7th) or theft (8th). Another book by Powlison called Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken (2017) offers biblical counseling related to the the entire second table of the law, not just the 7th commandment, since he deals with both sexual lust and sexual abuse.

The Center for Christian Business Ethics Today published two excellent books on moral law foundations for business ethics, called Business Ethics Today: Foundations (2011) and Business Ethics Today: Stealing (2011).  

However, when it comes to the typical subjects in the M.Div. practical theology list, the Ten Commandments are usually defined under the systematic theology topic of ethics. In courses like preaching, evangelism, missions, apologetics, or pastoral theology, and the related books used to teach these subjects, there seems to be a gap that neglects the New Covenant vivifying discipleship of the moral law. Even the most exhaustive treatments of the moral law by Grudem and Frame above tend to point us in the direction of individuals embracing ethical choices lifestyles or rejecting unethical choices and lifestyles. WLC 99-150 takes this same sanctification trajectory, which in summary biblical terms, means showing individual Christians the way to put off sin and put on righteousness (Eph. 4:20-6:9), and to assist others in that process according to our callings, roles and gifts (Eph. 4:11-16; 5:11, 25-27; 6:4, 18-20; WLC 99:7-8).   

Recently I observed that my biblical counseling classes followed a similar structural pattern in each class to review my theological Foundations: God’s Glory as an Integrating Perspective on Reformed Theology book concepts followed by a survey of some of the Ten Commandments and their related biblical texts in relation to the topics of marriage, parenting, or youth counseling. I extrapolated from this observation to compare my recent class on biblical leadership and looked for moral law foundations to all the teaching content. Using this Second Great Command centered practical theology book as one of the course assignments, Leading with Love by Alexander Strauch, and free online companion study guide, my focus on love was clarified, specifically in relation to themes for discipling leaders. Yet in comparing all biblical leadership class topics to the moral law, I found that some of the principles were obviously moral law related (use of authority relates to the 5th commandment) and others seemed lees obviously connected (I linked vision and strategy to the 2nd and 3rd commandments related to maintaining proper submission to the Word in all our personal and organizational behaviors). This led me to conclude that more linkages are possible with all practical theology topics, and that the WLC hermeneutical foundations in Q&A 99 need to be clarified and expanded, then applied to interpreting the commands, to make more obvious practical theology connections.  

First, we need to repeat that righteousness is a meta-category describing the totality of God’s perfections, synonymous with holiness, or when used in describing people, additional terms are godly or spiritual. To be righteous is to please God and be saved from death, first perfected by Christ, then to us through faith (Rom. 5:17-19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:21; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1).[1]

Because we have often taught our practical theology in a theologically fragmented (that is disconnected from the Great and Ten Commandments)[2] and primarily emphasized methods and best-practice principles,[3] we (all who engage in practical theology discipleship in the church, Christian schools and the seminaries through all kinds of relational and communicative media) tend to neglect the most important elements of practical theology, namely, how that moral law is connected to saving faith in the Gospel (WCF 14:2). A biblical perspective in concise summary form could be as follows.

1.  Righteousness proclaimed (the Triune Lord’s works in history that reveal his righteous attributes and how the moral law reflects his character, as well as commands that reflection by his people).

2. Righteousness fulfilled (in Christ): Use the moral law to show us the character of God, derivatively reflected in the humanity of the resurrected Christ who fulfilled all righteousness, proven by his resurrection, and credited to us [justification] when we believe God raise him from the dead (Rom 10:9-10). 

3. Righteousness applied (by the Spirit to believers who repent of their unrighteousness, receive credited righteousness, and vivify imparted righteousness): Use the moral law to show us our sin and lead us to the cross or Christ [propitiation] Rom 3:25-26; 5:8-9, John 16:8-11. Use the moral law to define our transformation in the New Covenant [sanctification] to write that law on our hearts Heb 10:16). It is especially in this category that the moral law must also be applied to our ministry (our practical theology), as the character of the transformed minister (purposes, motives and practices) and the teaching and discipleship that accords with the new-covenant transformation promised and accomplished in others by the Spirit.

4. Righteousness perfected (in the New Jerusalem): Use the moral law to proclaim our hope of our final completed righteousness when we, with resurrected bodies, enter eternal life, when we see Jesus as he is (1 John 3:2-3; Phil 3:20-21). 

In practical terms, what this means is, what we most need for the Bible’s model of the proper Master of Divinity pastoral training and model and for all other ministry training in worship, evangelism and missions, biblical leadership, Christian education, preaching, worship, pastoral ministry, and biblical counseling is the content of WLC on the moral law as the seedbed and foundation of all other practical theology methodologies.

Here’s how it should work in explaining #3 above about ministry as defined by the new covenant sanctification process:

a.       The moral law defines the affections, purposes, character and practices of the transformed minister (BEING, which is the integrity of biblical leadership).

b.      The moral law defines the teaching and discipleship (DOING, which is the practical theology that flows out of BE) that accords with the new-covenant transformation promised and accomplished in others by the Spirit. All discipleship methods and principles must be derived from this moral law root, this seedbed, this foundation and shown to be integrally connected to this new covenant transformation. Our best practices, mission and vision statements, educational objectives, course syllabi need to be rescued from the drift into fragmented methods and rejoin all biblical methods to our new covenant roots.       

For each command below, write a list of personal BEING growth-in-biblical-leadership goals linked with biblical proof texts, praying that the Spirit would write his law on your heart, as he promised (Heb 10:16). Biblical leadership will discern the importance of the moral law foundations and lead in a way that connects all leading, teaching and discipleship to these goals.

For each command below, write a list of personal DOING growth goals linked with biblical proof texts, praying that the Spirit would use your particular ministry foci (hermeneutics, preaching, Christian education, pastoral ministry, biblical counseling, evangelism and mission) and gifts to write his law on the hearts of the saints you minister to, as he promised (Heb. 10:16). For example, training in preaching tends to focus on methods of interpretation and communication, to the neglect of emphasis on 1st-4th commandment duties. Read over the WLC 99 principles for interpreting the commands first, then study the duties enjoined in each of the first four commands and wonder to yourself what this kind of primary emphasis for preacher-preparation this might produce in a servant of God, and how methods and contextualization would take a secondary and incidental seat (1 Cor. 9:17-21).

The details of the moral law, the Ten Commandments, as developed using biblical theology by the Westminster pastors in the Larger Catechism WLC 99-150, contain the foundational content and basic seed elements of all important practical theology topics. 


1st commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 104-105

Whole-hearted love and obedience for God as the only true God, our God, with humility, trust, fear, joy, worship and honor in all our thoughts and choices, showing zeal for him, and sorrow at all sins against him.

Resist, oppose and remove ignorance, forgetfulness, false opinions, resisting self-love and self-seeking, lukewarmness and deadness, trying to discover God’s unrevealed secrets, heresy, distrust, despair, making men the lords of our faith and conscience, slighting and despising God and his commands, discontent and impatience at his dispensations, ascribing the praise of any good, we either are, have, or can do to fortune, idols, ourselves or any other creature.  


2nd commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 108-109

All that pertains to biblically defined worship and ordinances must be received, observed and keep pure (fasting & prayer, ministry of the Word, administration of sacraments, oaths and vows, church government and discipline).

Resist, oppose and remove all false worship, human-devised traditions of worship, visible or mental idols, superstitions, simony, sacrilege, contempt for, hindering of and neglect of true worship.


3rd commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 112-113

Holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, worship, Word and ordinances and living with integrity as an ambassador of his reputation and glory.

Resist, oppose and remove all misuse of God’s names, titles, attributes, worship, Word and ordinances, hypocrisy, or the neglect of proper uses of God’s name, reputation and glory.


4th commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 116-120

Prepare for set apart times established by God in his Word, namely, the Lord’s Day, by resting from our employments and recreations and spent it in worship with works of necessity and mercy.

Resist, oppose and remove negligence, laziness, weariness in observing, and distractedness, as this command to worship one day in seven through worship, prayer and ministry of the Word, is at the root of reinforcing all other commands.


5th commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 127-132

Delight in, practice and promote the proper relations of superiors, inferiors and equals.

Inferiors to Superiors: honor them from the heart, and with words and behaviors, praying for and giving thanks for them, imitating their virtues and graces, obeying their lawful counsels and commands, submitting to their corrections, allegiance to and defense of their persons and offices, bearing with their infirmities and covering them with love.

Superiors to Inferiors: love, pray for, bless, instruct, counsel, admonish, rewarding those who do well, discouraging and correcting those who do evil, providing for their souls and bodies, and being an example of integrity to preserve the honor due to your authority.

Equals: serve, give honor, praise and thanks to others above yourself

Resist, oppose and remove all improper relations of superiors, inferiors and equals:

Inferior to Superior: envy and contempt of, cursing, mocking, rebellion against authorities

Superior to Inferior: neglect of duties to, self-seeking by them, unlawful commands, unable to perform, encouraging evil, discouraging good, excessive correction, carelessly exposing them to sin, temptation and danger, provoking them to anger, or giving a bad example. 

Equals: neglect of duties, undervaluing, envying, grieving at advancement of others, putting yourself above others


6th commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC  135-136

Increasing knowledge and lawful actions (sober use of foods, drinks, medicines, sleep, work and rest) to preserve our own and other’s lives, protection of innocent life by just authorities, humble, patient submission to God’s difficult providences, cheerfulness, thinking the best of others and showing the fruits of the Spirit to them, willing to reconcile and forgive, paying back good for evil, and comforting the distressed.  

Resist, oppose and remove all thoughts purposes, passions, opportunities, temptations to or practices that lead to unjust taking of life (not including just execution, lawful war or necessary defense), sinful anger, provoking, fighting, hatred, envy, revenge, hitting, wounding, oppression, distracting cares, immoderate use of foods, drinks, medicines, sleep, work and rest.


7th commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 138-139 about

Sexual purity of and protection of affections, mind, words behavior and body, and helping others to this goal, associating with pure examples, dressing modestly, getting married to enjoy sexual pleasure with spouse by living together (if no gift of singleness), and staying busy with six days of labor to avoid idleness and opportunities for immorality.

Resist, oppose and remove adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, bestiality, and any other unnatural lusts, unclean fantasies, affections, thoughts, purposes or ways of speaking, or listening to or associating with others unclean imaginations or exploits, lustful looking at people, or seductively portraying yourself, immodest dress, prohibiting lawful marriage, unlawful divorce, prostitution, unnecessary vows of singleness, delaying marriage unduly, polygamy, desertion, idleness, use of any sexually seductive entertainment (adult stores, nude bars, pornography or sexually explicit movies). 


8th commandment: Here is a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 141-142

Protecting of the value and use of each person’s private property, rendering to each what has been promised or what is due: contracts, taxes, making restitution for damage or theft, giving and lending freely according to our ability and other’s needs, moderating our affections, judgments and will towards worldly goods, choosing a calling and faithfully working to supply our own needs and those we are responsible for, frugality, and encouraging others to do the same.

Resist, oppose and remove, neglect of duties, theft, kidnapping, use of stolen goods, fraud, cheating, bribery, breaking contracts, taking interest from brothers, unnecessary lawsuits and taking on unnecessary debts, oppression, hostile take-overs, inflating prices, coveting, love of the world’s goods, distracted by getting keeping and using them, envy, idleness, wastefulness, gambling.


9th commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 144-145

Preserve, stand for and promote truth between people, our own and our neighbor’s good reputation, speaking the whole truth clearly and truthfully from the heart in matters of justice and judgment, and having as a positive of a view as possible of our neighbor and rejoicing in any good, gifts, graces and innocence we observe in their reputation. We keep our promises and focus on whatever is true, honest, lovely and of good report. We are ready to receive good reports, while discouraging evil reports, gossip, flattery, slander We sorrow for and cover their infirmities.  

Resist, oppose and remove all prejudice against the truth and our own and the good name of our neighbors, (especially in courts of law), false evidence, false witnesses, knowingly defending an evil cause, calling evil good, speaking wrongly and suppressing the truth, unjust legal sentencing or discipline based on faulty evidence, breaking contracts, rewarding the wicked, forgery, hiding the truth, undue silence on a just cause, not speaking up for justice or correcting evil, speaking truth without love, with malice or for other sinful purposes, altering the meaning by doubtful and equivocal expressions to prejudice the truth and justice, lying, slander, back biting, gossip, scoffing, reviling, rash or harsh statements, willfully misinterpreting the plain meaning of another person’s motives, words and actions, flattery, boasting, thinking or speaking too highly of ourselves, denying that these are all God’s gifts and graces, making a small matter too big, hiding, excusing, or over-emphasizing others sins, acting like a police-sin inspector to all faults, starting rumors, receiving and accepting evil reports, preventing just defense and truthful speaking, evil suspicion, envy or grief or suppression of another’s deserved credit, rejoicing in their disgrace, contempt for others.  


10th commandment: a brief summary of duties and prohibitions in WLC 147-148

Full contentment with our own condition and a loving, gracious positive attitude to all that rightfully belongs to our neighbor, wanting him to receive all good that is due him.

Resist, oppose and remove all discontentment, envy, grief at our neighbors prosperity or good.


Vision for Pastoral Training in Practical Theology

What if the practical theology training we gave focused more on the WLC moral law themes and proof texts linked to these ideas to develop this kind of attitude to God and to the biblical text, and aimed for this kind of application to hearers in all types of practical theology topics? What if the foundational concepts in all our worship, hermeneutics, preaching, Christian education, pastoral counseling, motives for evangelism and mission were derived from and integrally linked to the moral law written on the heart? What if seminary teachers taught preaching classes and evaluated preachers and their sermons based on their conformity to the new covenant use of the moral law? What if hermeneutics research papers were passed or failed based on their conformity to the new covenant use of the moral law? What if we evaluated scholarship and knowledge in all our theological disciplines (OT, NT, TH, CH, PT, BC) based on whether these books and articles used their positions of authority as scholars (5th) to promote love for God and man in all kinds of situations and economic conditions, true witness about God (3rd) and man (9th), promoted the blessed life, or promoted the destruction of love and moral chaos? What if biblical counselors connected all their pastoral investigation, analysis and counsel to the new covenant use of the moral law? What if evangelism training spent more time discussion the implications of the 3rd commandment for our witness, than on methods to talk to people? Then we would not just be talking about fragmented methodologies and human opinions about cultural relevance, but about God writing the moral law on the hearts of his servants, not just a "try-this idea," but a sure promise to accomplish this specific kind of good will in us (Phil 1:6; 2:13). Then, of course, we can talk about our methods to connect with non-Christian neighbors in missions, evangelism and church planting, but the whole tone is shifted to divine command & promised fulfilment in his people in the new covenant. I believe our Sunday schools, small groups, training efforts in the churches and seminaries would see something like a wake-up revival as practical theology is connected to the doctrine of God and Christ and see how the Spirit brings his likeness to our practical efforts.

[1] Timothy Paul Yates, Foundations: God’s Glory as an Integrating Perspective on Reformed Theology (Unveiled Faces Reformed Press, 2017) 96-97.

[2] Reformed seminaries teach a systematic theology (TH/ST) class on ethics, but this has not been the foundation for everything that the practical theology department models and teaches. Even without this proposed conceptual unity, seminaries have rightly discerned important practical theology topics and linked them to important biblical concepts.

[3] Even Richard Pratt’s correct distillation of what seminary faculty should teach and model as “orthodoxy, orthopraxis and orthopathos” creates abstracts terms fragmented from their intra-connected links in the New Covenant, from the revelation of the righteous nature of God in the moral law, the righteousness of Christ fulfilling that law, and the Spirit’s work to convict of unrighteousness, credit Christ’s righteousness and impart righteousness by writing the moral law on the heart.