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   

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