Speaking the truth as we perceive the truth is not an option. It is a requirement.
Returning to the document I quoted at length in my previous blog, here is part of the admonition from the Westminster Larger Catechism, answer #144:
The duties required in the ninth commandment are, appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth . . .
Further, many Christian leaders have emphasized that keeping silent in the face of sin (or even perceived sin) actually is a form of complicity in that sin. For an especially powerful expression of this principle, see the argument of Dr. Diane Langberg, a member of the Board of Directors of the World Reformed Fellowship, that failure to speak out against the systematic abuse of women may, in itself, render one guilty of that very abuse (REFORMED MEANS MISSIONAL, Chapter 7).
No question, then – when confronted by what we understand to be sin, we must speak out.
The question is, “How?”
HOW should we express our concern about what we perceive to be sin?
That is precisely where both my earlier quotation from Jonathan Edwards’ “Treatise on the Religious Affections” and my reference to the full statement of the Westminster Larger Catechism regarding the Ninth Commandment become relevant.
Of course, the Westminster Divines did say what I quoted above (that we must speak the truth).
But even more than that, they discussed the requirement that Christians speak out against perceived sin, they provided guidelines (authoritative guidelines for anyone who professes to subscribe to the Westminster Standards) for how we must do this. Listen again:
Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, THE PRESERVING AND PROMOTING of truth between man and man, and THE GOOD NAME OF OUR NEIGHBOR, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; A CHARITABLE ESTEEM OF OUR NEIGHBORS; LOVING, DESIRING, AND REJOICING IN THEIR GOOD NAME; SORROWING FOR AND COVERING OF THEIR INFIRMITIES; FREELY ACKNOWLEDGING OF THEIR GIFTS AND GRACES, DEFENDING THEIR INNOCENCY, A READY RECEIVING OF A GOOD REPORT , AND UNWILLINGNESS TO ADMIT OF AN EVIL REPORT, CONCERNING THEM; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report. [Emphasis added]
Now, I am not really an advocate of “the hermeneutics of frequency” which would suggest that the more often an item is mentioned, the more important that item is. If, for example, God says something just ONCE in all the Bible, that is enough to make it absolutely authoritative and binding.
So, while the frequency with which a statement is repeated is not totally determinative of a statement’s importance, neither is it totally irrelevant. After all, there really is a divine purpose behind the INERRANT way in which Jesus introduces some of His sayings, “Verily, VERILY I say to you . . . “
And we cannot miss the extended emphasis which the Westminster Divines place, in their exposition of the meaning of the Ninth Commandment, on the HOW of truth-telling.
We MUST speak the truth. But, according to the Westminster Larger Catechism, we MUST speak the truth in a way which does the following:
•Protects and promotes the good name of our neighbor •Demonstrates a charitable esteem of our neighbor •Seeks to cover our neighbor’s infirmities •Freely acknowledges our neighbor’s gifts and graces •Actively defends our neighbor’s innocence •Demonstrates a readiness to receive good reports about our neighbor •Shows an unwillingness to receive an evil report about our neighbor
That is an extraordinary responsibility!!
Look at that list! Now look at it again!! Now memorize it!!!
Those who claim, as I do, to subscribe to the Westminster Standards, which include the Westminster Larger Catechism, have an extraordinary responsibility with respect to HOW we tell the truth.
To take just one example from the above list, whatever we say about our neighbor must be said in a way which “promotes the good name of that neighbor.”
Now here is a statement recently made on the Internet about John Piper:
John Piper’s theology is intellectualism run amok. [Piper tries] to justify a New Calvinism that is error at best and heresy at worst.
Does the above statement “seek to promote the good name of” Dr. Piper? I submit that it does not and that this statement may itself be, therefore, a violation of the theology which the writer seeks to uphold.
Of course, one way to escape the guilt that may be involved in making such a statement as the one about Dr. Piper that I have quoted is to say that the Westminster Larger Catechism is wrong in what it claims the Ninth Commandment requires. That is certainly possible but I have never heard anyone be so open about this. And I have heard a lot of folks who claim to subscribe to the Westminster Standards say things like what I have quoted above.
Further, even if one seeks to avoid the “how” requirements that I have outlined by claiming that the Westminster Divines were wrong in their exposition of this part of the Larger Catechism, such an individual would need also to explain why the SIXTY-NINE Scripture passages the Westminster Divines cited in defense of their exposition do not mean what the Divines said they did.
Yes, tell the truth.
ALWAYS tell the truth.
But tell the truth in a way does ALL of these things:
Demonstrates a charitable esteem of our neighbor Freely acknowledges our neighbor’s gifts and graces Demonstrates a readiness to receive good reports about our neighbor Shows a reluctance to receive an evil report about our neighbor Actively defends our neighbor’s innocence Seeks to cover our neighbor’s infirmities Protects and promotes the good name of our neighbor
Not only do we not have to choose between “standing for the truth” and “promoting the good name of our neighbor;” WE MAY NOT DO THE ONE WITHOUT DOING THE OTHER.
O.K., that’s my understanding of “how to tell the truth.” Next up, “How NOT to tell the truth” and, while this will involve primarily tracing the implications of the above, it will also be much more specific and thus I anticipate that it will consume several blogs. It will also apply the passage from Edwards which I quoted in my first blog to this matter. So stay tuned!
Sam Logan is a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, though neither of these is responsible for the comments above. To hold accountable the one who IS responsible, write to email@example.com