How NOT To Tell the Truth – Volume IIIb, “Consult the Church {ESPECIALLY When The Church and I Agree Theologically}”

I have recently been suggesting that telling the truth biblically involves considering and consulting the church and “giving due authority to the church.”

There are problems when we try to do this and I want to try to address some of these problems.  But I genuinely do believe that there are greater problems when we DON’T consider and consult the church, not least the shame it brings on the church when its members attack one another in a public forum.

Problem #1 – The fragmented state of the church

I have taken the opportunity recently to poll a number of leaders in both the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America about this matter of “considering and consulting the church.” In general, there is strong agreement with the principle I have outlined above.  The one concern raised by a number of them was that, if the person being spoken or acted against is a member of a very different ecclesiastical body from the individual or group doing the speaking or acting, it can be hard to exercise this principle effectively.  That, I am sure, would be one of the responses of the person who made the statement that I quoted earlier about Tim Keller. 

But in some (many? most?) situations, this simply is not a problem.  If the person or the institution with the concerns about a brother or sister shares official theological commitments with that brother or sister, there should be no question about considering and consulting that body to which the suspect brother or sister is accountable.  To return to the personal example above, both Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church profess allegiance to the Westminster Standards.  That made it clearly appropriate for my presbytery to be considered and consulted when Westminster’s Board had concerns about my obedience to the Ninth Commandment. No organization or individual should ever ignore the church if there are shared theological commitments between themselves and the church to which those with whom they disagree are accountable.

And yet this happens with painful regularity. A friend of mine was forced out of a teaching position from a seminary which shared theological commitments with the church to which that friend was accountable but the church was never consulted . . . even though it wanted to be consulted.  More recently, I read this statement in a public blog by a PCA minister about another PCA minister, “. . . [he is] digging in his heels, employing his law-gospel cookie cutter with ever more reckless abandon.” [In the statement which I have quoted, the second minister was named; I have omitted the names of both ministers because this blog itself is a public forum.  I have, however, added the emphasis to the quotation.]  It may very well be that criticism is warranted; that is not my point.  My point is that, if this public statement was made without a consultation with the presbytery to which the criticized minister is accountable, then I believe the church has been ignored and that is exactly how NOT to tell the truth.  

But what if the one with concerns and the one about whom there are concerns are NOT part of the same church or a very similar church.  What then?

I think the principle holds.

Yes, the church is fragmented and occasionally concerns may arise in one context which would not be concerns in another context.  That’s completely understandable.

But do we or do we not believe that Christ has ONE church and that He is the Head of that church?

Do those of us who subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith really believe what that Confession says about “the universal VISIBLE church” [WCF XXV, 2. and 3.]?

If we answer these questions affirmatively, then even when the church of someone with whom I have a theological disagreement professes a different theology from that which I profess, I have an obligation to consider and consult that church in the context of communicating my theological disagreement with my neighbor.  Such consideration and consultation might take a somewhat different shape from what it would take if I and the church of my neighbor share identical theological commitments.  But the consideration and the consultation must still be there; if it is not, then no matter what I have said about my neighbor and no matter how theological precise I have been, I have provided an example of how NOT to tell the truth.

To put the matter in its simplest form, whenever I have been involved in expressing disagreement with my neighbor, I should always be able to answer the question, “Exactly HOW have I considered and consulted the church in this situation?” At least I should if I believe that there is a single Church of which Christ is the Head and if I believe that I should give that Church what Calvin calls “due authority.”

What other problems might we face if we genuinely seek to “consult the church”?

Well, the church may be too busy to respond to us.  Or the church may agree with our neighbor instead of with our criticism.  Or, most challenging of all, the church may itself BE the problem.  Then what?

I will try to tackle these questions in future blogs.

And one final item – some have said that the kind of truth-telling and label-avoiding that I have been advocating would make it impossible for us ever to express meaningful disagreement with a neighbor when we see what we believe is serious theological error.  But I have just read a superb example of gracious and firm truth-telling that identifies theological error and conforms entirely to what the Westminster Larger Catechism requires of us. I will share information about that example in a future blog.

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 sloganwrf@gmail.com         

How NOT To Tell the Truth – Volume IIIa, “Consult the Church”

Remember where we are going with this blog.

We MUST tell the truth but we MUST do so in a way that “promotes the good name of the neighbor” about whom we are speaking (the quotation is from the Westminster Larger Catechism).

I’ve mentioned the problems involved when evangelical Christians use labels to describe other evangelical Christians.  And of course, it’s not just labels that are the problem.  Here is a direct quotation from one evangelical Christian which was posted on Facebook recently, “The Family Research Council is the Christian version of Boko Haram.”  I just don’t think that kind of comment is helpful.  One can certainly call into question the policies and actions of the Family Research Council without using this kind of inflammatory language.  I will have much more to say in future blogs about labels and statements like the one above .

In the blog just prior to the present one, I urged us all to “Consider the Church.”  That’s because, so far as I know, the church is the only human organization which the INERRANT Scriptures directly commend to us.  And, in most ecclesiastical traditions, the church is regarded quite highly.  For example, Calvin says that we must “ . . . give due authority to the church.”  Thus, ignoring the church is precisely how NOT to tell the truth.

When it comes to “truth-telling,” what exactly would it mean to “give due authority to the church?”  This question is much harder to answer today than it would have been in Calvin’s day because of the current fragmented condition of the church. But hard doesn’t mean impossible. In fact, I would suggest that that, for modern Western Christians, the hardest part of “giving due authority to the church” is that “contagion of liberty” about which I spoke several blogs ago. 

I maintain that it is nearly impossible for Western Christians to step outside the cultural framework which has been set for us by such events as the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the period in Britain which the Oxford historian Christopher Hill calls “The World Turned Upside Down.”  But if we cannot escape that framework, we can at least try to keep conscious of it and how it impacts every part of our lives.

For most of us, this “upside down world” involves the notion that the church is little more than a spiritual club.  We go when we want to go, we stay away on a whim, and we seldom seek the counsel of the church except when we are absolutely forced to do so.  We certainly seem to “give due authority to the church” very rarely.

This seems to be especially true when it comes to our dealings with other Christians with whom we disagree.  The “contagion of liberty” combined with the ubiquitous availability of Facebook and Twitter has created an atmosphere within which we can make the most extreme statements to the entire world about other Christians without ever being held accountable ourselves for those statements.  This is what, for example, makes it possible (and easy!) for a self-identified evangelical and Reformed Christian to announce to the world this “fact” about Tim Keller: “He does not proclaim the historic gospel of truth once delivered to the saints, but a gospel of his own making.”  

Certainly those with concerns about Dr. Keller’s theology need to be able to follow up on those concerns.  But they must do so in a way that does not violate what the Westminster Larger Catechism says about the duties required and the sins prohibited by the Ninth Commandment.  And they need to follow up on those concerns in a way which “gives due authority to the church.”

What exactly might this mean?  Well, Dr. Keller is a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America and that church proclaims its commitment to the absolute authority of the Scriptures as those Scriptures are interpreted by the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.  Instead of broadcasting to the world such claims as the one above about Dr. Keller, the author should first contact Dr. Keller to communicate his concerns.  And if Dr. Keller does not provide a response which is satisfactory, the author should make a formal complaint about Dr. Keller to the Presbytery of which he is a member. That’s THE LEAST that it would mean, in this case, to “give due authority to the church.”

But that would take so much time!  And those folks are his friends; they wouldn’t listen!! And worst of all, that Presbytery is far too busy to be bothered by what a single person thinks about Dr. Keller.  Therefore, I will just blast away, knowing that I will never be held accountable for what I say.  I have FREE speech and I’m going to use it.  If it walks like a contagion and quacks like a contagion, then I suspect it IS a contagion.

Considering the church also means consulting the church . . . especially when I believe another professing Christian is in the wrong.  At the very least, I must do that consulting before publicly speaking any words or publicly taking any actions which might, in any way, damage or even raise questions about the good name of my Christian neighbor. 

A quick (but very painful) example – as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was, in December of 2003, told this by the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary: “We would ask Dr. Logan to consider that . . . he has been guilty of shading the truth and thus bearing false witness.”  It was absolutely imperative, in my judgment, that the church to which I was accountable be considered and consulted about this matter. And it was.  The Ministerial Relations Committee of the Presbytery of New York and New England of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church received a full report of this action and participated in an extensive follow-up process. This was done even though there was and is no official connection between Westminster and the OPC. It was done because this is what it means to consider and consult the church and to “give due authority to the church.”

But there are so many problems with always trying to do this!

Yes, there are, and I will, in the next several blogs, try to address some of those problems.  I would simply suggest here that if we lived biblically obedient lives only when our obedience caused no problems, we probably wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning.  [But then, that, too, would cause problems!]

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 sloganwrf@gmail.com           

How NOT To Tell the Truth – Volume II, “Consider the Church”

Remember where we are – we MUST tell the truth but we MUST do so in a way that “promotes the good name of the neighbor” about whom we are speaking.

That’s hard.

But one way ahead is by abandoning all of the “lazy labels” evangelical Reformed Christians seem to love when talking about their neighbors whom they think are in serious theological error.  Let’s just not call ANYONE homophobic or heretical or a “fire-breathing T.R.” (I came across this last label since posting my previous blog).

Another way ahead involves the Church, the Body of Christ, the Family of God.

This blog will make some general points about the church and then, in my next blog, I will suggest a few possible ways in which the church might be more involved than it usually is in this matter of our truth-telling.

Americans are notoriously freedom-living and individualistic in our mindsets.  One of the best books ever written about the American Revolution is Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.  It was so good that it was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize, an honor that has been repeated only 16 times in history.  The book is 335 pages long and its longest chapter, Chapter Six, takes up 89 of those pages.  Entitled “The Contagion of Liberty,” that chapter traces the various ways in which the notion of the absolute freedom of the individual came to pervade all of Colonial society in the years just before and just after the American Revolution.

Remember, I said “all of society.”  In his analysis, Bailyn quotes as many sermons as he does any other type of source.  And if one reads Bailyn’s book together with Mark Noll’s magnificent, Princeton and the Republic, 1768-1822: The Search for Christian Enlightenment in the Era of Samuel Stanhope Smith, one will get a very clear sense of how “the contagion of liberty” swept through the American church at the end of the 18th century.  It is no surprise that Unitarianism flourished and that ecclesiastical disestablishment occurred during these years.

Now, more to the point at hand. 

Contrary to the perspectives of some, I do not believe that everything “American” is “Christian.”  Further, I believe that the attitude toward personal freedom which was built into the American psyche (and Constitution) by the events which Bailyn and Noll describe cannot be considered the equivalent of the understanding of freedom in Scripture.  The former understanding is primarily a “freedom from” (ANYone’s telling me what to do) and the latter is primarily a “freedom to” (worship God as He deserves).

But few of us American theologians or semi-theologians have, in my opinion, taken seriously the degree to which our own view of the world and of the Christian faith has been radically shaped by that Colonial “contagion of liberty.”  And one of the areas that has been most profoundly contagion-shaped is our understanding of the nature of the church, especially when it comes to the degree to which we recognize and submit to the authority of the church.  

Let me mention here one set of consequences and then, in my next blog, I will focus on the relationship between this contagion and truth-telling.

As I look at the behavior of American evangelical and Reformed Christians, I think I see one result of “the contagion of liberty” in the way in which we regard church membership.  We are so conditioned by the “freedom from” mentality that we regard church membership as little more binding on us than a country club membership would be.  “I don’t like the music at my church, so I will switch churches. I have no more accountability to the officers of my church than I would to a country club board.”  Does this sound familiar?  I know I have heard it, or the equivalent, many times.

Occasionally, examples from church history are used to justify leaving a church.  “Martin Luther did it and he’s a great hero of global Protestants.”  Or, “J. Gresham Machen did it and he’s a great hero of American Presbyterians.”  But even if these statements were true, they would not, in my judgment, be adequate defenses.  No human beings should be cited as an example to us unless it can be clearly demonstrated that their actions were in line with biblical principles.  In fact, however, neither Luther nor Machen left his church.  Neither of them was thinking of freedom as “freedom from” ecclesiastical jurisdiction.  Both of them stood for biblical principles and they were, for that reason, EXPELLED FROM their churches.   If Luther and Machen are examples to be followed at all, they are examples of insisting on the “freedom to” worship God as He deserves, even if that costs me my church membership.  But simply “walking away” from a church jurisdiction was not the way of either Luther or Machen.

To put it a simpler way, both Luther and Machen CONSIDERED THE CHURCH in taking the actions they did.  And that’s what I think we should do – take very seriously the nature of the church and its authority over us in every part of our lives.  I am more accountable, MUCH more accountable, to the officers of my church than I am to the officers of my country club. [Below, I have included some statements from Calvin, from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and from the Presbyterian Church in America to provide some sense of how and why we are more accountable to our church officers than we are to the officers of our country club.]

Does this mean that once I am a member of a church, I can never leave, under any circumstances?  Historically, some have argued this way but it is not what I am suggesting.  I am suggesting that any consideration of my leaving a church should first be brought by me to the officers of that church.  In other words, those directly responsible for the operation of the church must be engaged in the discussion about my concerns regarding the church.  [For what it is worth, this is exactly how both Luther and Machen proceeded.]  One result of those discussions may be general agreement that it would be better for both me and the church if I moved my membership elsewhere.  But in such a case, I would still be honoring my membership vows to “be in subjection to my brothers in the Lord.”  If there is no such agreement, it is my judgment that only the most extreme situations would warrant my departing over the objection of the officers of the church.

And this is the same model that I want to suggest with the matter of “truth-telling.” CONSIDER THE CHURCH. Or, to keep faith with the title of this blog, one of the ways NOT to tell the truth is by IGNORING the church.  Those of us who really want to tell the truth absolutely must “consider the church.”  If the church is what most of us believe it is, then it MUST have a place in our conversation about other Christians, especially when we are disagreeing with those Christians about matters of faith or life.

What exactly should that place be?

As they say, “tune in next time.”

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 sloganwrf@gmail.com       

 

Statements About the Nature of the Church:

From John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:

Let no one, therefore, contumaciously despise the judgment of the Church – Institutes IV, 11, 2

Every one of us must maintain brotherly concord with all the children of God, give due authority to the Church, and, in short, conduct ourselves as sheep of the flock. – Institutes, IV, 1, 3

From the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church:

II, 1. Jesus Christ, being now exalted far above all principality and power, has erected in this world a kingdom, which is his church.

III, 5. Church government is a valid and authentic jurisdiction to which Christians are commanded to submit themselves. Therefore the decisions of church officers when properly rendered and if in accord with the Word of God “are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word” (Confession of Faith, Chapter XXXI, Section 2).

From the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America

I., 1. Christ, as King, has given to His Church officers, oracles and ordinances; and especially has He ordained therein His system of doctrine, government, discipline and worship, all of which are either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary inference may be deduced therefrom; and to which things He commands that nothing be added, and that from them naught be taken away.

II. 3. Our blessed Saviour, for the edification of the visible Church, which is His body, has appointed officers not only to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, but also to exercise discipline for the preservation both of truth and duty. It is incumbent upon these officers and upon the whole Church in whose name they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing in all cases the rules contained in the Word of God.

How NOT To Tell the Truth- Volume I, “Labels Likely Lie”

I ended my previous blog with this statement:    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.

Easier said than done.

But, of course, as Edwards points out and as I quoted in my first blog, “The whole Christian life is compared to a warfare, and fitly so.”  As he explained this statement further, he pointed clearly at the location of the most intense spiritual battles:  “True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind; and in steadfastly and freely exerting, and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear, or the opposition of enemies. But the passions that are restrained and kept under, in the exercise of this Christian strength and fortitude, are those very passions that are vigorously and violently exerted in a false boldness for Christ.”

My most strenuous spiritual exertion must be focused inward – “. . . in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of [my] mind.”

So yes, of course, it will be hard to stand for the truth while at the same time promoting the good name of that rascally neighbor who keeps making those questionable theological statements.  It will be hard precisely because my own sinful nature leads me to feel about my mistaken neighbor just as Jonah felt about those heathen Ninevites.  But, no matter how hard, standing for the truth while at the same time promoting the good name of my neighbor is precisely what both Edwards and the Westminster Divines say is my responsibility.  

In this blog, I will suggest one specific way ahead in this difficult task.  In a sense, this will be the technically easiest thing for us to do but, emotionally, it may be one of the more challenging.

I’m not very good at developing catchy alliterative titles for my sermons or talks but I do like this one – “Labels likely lie.”

I know that I love to cut to the chase with those who are clearly (at least in my eyes!) WRONG.  Because I feel so strongly the need to correct error wherever it is found, I tend quickly to apply some kind of horrendous label to my sinning neighbor to make it clear to him and the world how bad and dangerous he is.

We all know how this works and many of us have participated in “labeling.”

Of course, labels can have a good function – they provide quick (and often important) information about a product or a location or an institution.  If I see the label ‘Psychiatrist” on a building, I won’t wander in hoping to find someone to treat my broken foot.  If I see “Poison” on a can, I probably won’t  pour the contents over ice and enjoy it on a hot afternoon.

But applying labels to people . . . ahh, that is much trickier – precisely because every single person we have ever met or ever will meet is BOTH made in the image of God AND a sinner.  Even when (perhaps especially when) we add the qualifier “professing Christian,” there is a level of complexity not found in a can of rat poison.  Further, no confession of which I am aware applies the Ninth Commandment to anything BUT people or groups of people.

So let’s start by considering a “people-label” which doesn’t seem to be used often anymore; then we might proceed, on tiptoe, to consider labels which are still very much in use.  In other words, we will start with a non-threatening label and proceed to some others.

When I was growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s, just about the worst label which could be applied to anyone was the label, “Communist.”  And, to be sure, there were actual flesh-and-blood Communists around. But in my high school world, that word was easily used about anyone who, for example, wanted to integrate Mississippi’s public schools.  If either I or my classmates had been able to go “back to the future” and visit the Acton Institute in 2014 Michigan, we would have been absolutely convinced that the place was overrun with “Communists” because those folks, to this very day, support the racial integration of all of American life.  And no amount of argument that, at least in economic theory, the Action Institute is as far from Communist as it is possible to get would make a bit of impression on those of us who arrived from the 1950’s. 

No problem here, I suspect.  Most readers of this blog would probably agree that labeling someone a communist just because he supported the integration of schools would be ridiculous.

But let’s try a more familiar label – “liberal.”  What in the world does this word actually mean?  All I know is that during the first 30 years of my professional life, any person or organization that was “liberal” was bad.  And I mean REALLY bad!!  Now the force of that particular label has shifted sufficiently that we often hear it modified before being applied to individuals or organizations – “she is  theologically conservative but politically liberal.” 

These days, it seems rare for the word to be used unmodified in some way.  Why? Because the unmodified label “liberal” likely lies more than it tells the truth.  That is, while there may be some accuracy in that word when applied to a certain individual, because of the freight which it bears and because of the complexity of human beings, it often fails to “promote the good name” of the person about whom it is being used.  And that, according to the Westminster Divines, is a violation of the Ninth Commandment, a lie.

One further point – especially in “the age of Twitter,” we know that, in order to get our readers’ or our listeners’ attention, we must make a quick impression.  And there is no better way to do that that by the use of some kind of inflammatory label.  Just look at the headlines emanating from the Huffington Post or listen to sound bites from Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher (to cite example from different ends of the spectrum).  Frequently, labels try to make a statement with a minimum of words and, in such cases, we can rephrase the alliteration with which I began this blog by replacing the word “likely” – LAZY labels lie.  At least they do if you accept the definition of lying provided by the Westminster Divines.  This is because labels that are used to attract attention are specifically geared to shock, not to tell a nuanced and carefully examined truth.  

So what am I suggesting here?

Simple – if we REALLY subscribe to the Westminster Standards and/or to the Scriptures on which those Standards are based, we will simply quit using labels to talk about other professing Christians.

This does NOT mean that we abandon speaking the truth.  But it does mean that we will change HOW we speak the truth.  We will speak the truth without using inflammatory labels.  The use of labels is “How NOT to tell the truth.”

I have been out on a limb and now I am going out on a twig.  But at least it’s not crowded out here!

I am going to suggest some labels which I believe we should all agree never to use again . . . and I am going to ask of anyone who reads this blog that you respond to the specific labels I am suggesting we abandon when talking about other professing Christians.  Further, I am going to ask that you suggest other possible labels that we should ban. 

But you ask – who is ever going to pay any attention to a list which a few individuals like us create?  This whole idea is utter foolishness . . . sort of like every sermon I have ever preached! [See I Corinthians 1: 18 – 2: 5]  This exercise may be utter foolishness.  But it may also be obedience to the Ninth Commandment as that commandment has been interpreted by those Christians at the Westminster Assembly.

So here is my preliminary list of labels to be banned.  I start with a relative short list but every item in this list has been taken directly from comments BY self-professed Christians ABOUT other self-professed Christians.

absolutism
syncretism 
legalism
false doctrines
false gospel
heretic/heretical/heresy
homophobic
racist

unbiblical
unconverted

So what do you think?

And what are some other labels that we should ban when one professing Christian is talking about another professing Christian?

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 sloganwrf@gmail.com     

HOW To Tell the Truth

Let this be clearly heard and understood:

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

WOW!

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 sloganwrf@gmail.com

What Does It Mean “To Tell the Truth”?

This blog intends to deal carefully and biblically with the matter of telling the truth . . .  especially when “the truth” involves disagreement with brothers or sisters over matters of Christian doctrine/theology.

I ended my previous blog with a lengthy quotation from Jonathan Edwards.

Since I have linked my theological identity (and therefore the perspective from which I will be writing) to both Edwards and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, I think it would be appropriate to begin this blog with an even more lengthy quotation from one of the doctrinal standards of the OPC.  The particular standard I will be quoting is the Westminster Larger Catechism, specifically what this official standard of the OPC says about the duties required and the sins prohibited in the Ninth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness”).

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.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?

 A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

Before suggesting some possible implications of the statements above, an item of full disclosure is required – at its meeting in December of 2003, the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) considered charges that I had violated this commandment and, as a result of that consideration, sent me this official statement:

That, based on the testimony heard by the Governance and Administrative Oversight Committee, we would ask Dr. Logan to consider that, though motivated by, we believe, the good of Westminster Theological Seminary, he has been guilty of shading the truth and thus bearing false witness as well as failure in wisdom and discernment, and to make appropriate confession to offended parties.

The matter in question had to do with the purchase of a home for a member of the Faculty at Westminster’s branch campus in Dallas, Texas.  And Westminster’s Board was correct in its judgment.  That’s the “bad news.”

The “worse news” is that there were other times when, I now realize, I was guilty of even more egregious violations of the Ninth Commandment.  Every time I sought to raise money for Westminster by saying the kinds of things about other seminaries that are now being said about Tim Keller and John Piper on the Internet,  I was violating the Ninth Commandment.  I cringe when I read statements like this about Tim:  “The truth is that Keller does not abide by the orthodox doctrines of the Christian Church. He uses a pseudo intellectual, philosophical approach to propagate a man made gospel. He is promoting a false gospel that is far from biblical truth. “ Of course, I cringe because this is being said about a godly man whose stand for the Gospel  is globally recognized and has been greatly blessed by God’s Spirit.  But even more, I cringe because I hear in those words distinct echoes of words I have spoken about faithful others who identified themselves by the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

So whatever I say about the application of the Ninth Commandment, as interpreted by the Westminster Larger Catechism, is, first and foremost,  a confession that I have personally not done as I ought.

So what exactly AM I going to say about the Ninth Commandment?  Well, tune in to the next blog in this series.  In the meantime, think about the quotation from the Larger Catechism above.  And note how much emphasis is placed on things like these:

Duties required of us:

* a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name;

* a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them;

* discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers;

Sins prohibited:

* speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice;

* unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports

* receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense;

And as you reflect on such things, note how highly the Westminster Larger Catechism, that extraordinary document of orthodox Reformed theology, values the preservation of good interpersonal relationships among Christians.  But more on that next time.

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 sloganwrf@gmail.com   

Why ANOTHER Blog?

I have started this blog in order to give me some way to express publicly my dismay at the way in which (evangelical and Reformed) Christians often treat other (evangelical and Reformed) Christians.

When I was fired from a previous job, a good friend gave me a copy of Gene Edwards’ book, CRUCIFIED BY CHRISTIANS. I found that book very helpful. It is my (possibly very naïve) hope that I can at least provide some support for others who have been – or believe they have been – “crucified by Christians.”

That’s my purpose.

At this beginning point, I would like to describe the specific theological position which will inform what I say. This is a quotation from another Edwards – Jonathan to be exact – and this book, TREATISE ON RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS, is, in my judgment, the best ever written by a human being.

We – especially we who are theologically conservative and Reformed – seem to love a good theological fight. This has always been true since the Reformation itself . . . and it was certainly true during Jonathan Edwards’s lifetime when one of the greatest fighting among Christians occurred in the context of what we now call “The Great Awakening.”

Here is exactly what Edwards says about that fight and, by extension, about the fights which seem to consume the (Reformed and evangelical) church today. This will be the kind of perspective that I seek to apply to our ways of handling disagreements over such issues as the days of Creation, the Insider Movement, the role of women in church leadership, worship music, etc., etc.:

But here some may be ready to say, Is there no such thing as Christian fortitude, and boldness for Christ, being good soldiers in the Christian warfare, and coming out boldly against the enemies of Christ and his people?

To which I answer, There doubtless is such a thing. The whole Christian life is compared to a warfare, and fitly so. And the most eminent Christians are the best soldiers, endued with the greatest degrees of Christian fortitude. And it is the duty of God’s people to be steadfast and vigorous in their opposition to the designs and ways of such as are endeavoring to overthrow the kingdom of Christ, and the interest of religion. But yet many persons seem to be quite mistaken concerning the nature of Christian fortitude. It is an exceeding diverse thing from a brutal fierceness, or the boldness of the beasts of prey.

True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind; and in steadfastly and freely exerting, and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear, or the opposition of enemies. But the passions that are restrained and kept under, in the exercise of this Christian strength and fortitude, are those very passions that are vigorously and violently exerted in a false boldness for Christ.

And those affections that are vigorously exerted in true fortitude, are those Christian, holy affections that are directly contrary to them. Though Christian fortitude appears, in withstanding and counteracting the enemies that are without us; yet it much more appears, in resisting and suppressing the enemies that are within us; because they are our worst and strongest enemies, and have greatest advantage against us. The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more, than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behavior, and surprising acts and events of this evil and unreasonable world. The Scripture seems to intimate that true fortitude consists chiefly in this: Prov. 16:32, “He that is slow to anger, is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.”

Edwards’s – and my – point will be to urge us all, starting with myself, to “image” a lamb more than we do “a beast of prey.”

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 to one who IS responsible, write to sloganwrf@gmail.com