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

3 thoughts on “HOW To Tell the Truth

  1. It seems to me that part of the problem is that there are no instructions for handling irreconcilable differences. When there’s a conflict between two parties, and each has made its best argument without winning the other over, what do you do?

    We clearly have a hard time telling the difference between a mistake and us sin. When we label mistakes as sin, we do a lot of damage to ourselves and others. We make it nearly impossible for either side to admit error, lest they have to bear the shame of defeat. Theological disagreements simply indicate the presence of an error, which we all have until we get to the point of being perfected in the faith. There is no shame in making mistakes and we should not be treating theological errors as if they automatically fall into the category of sins against the Holy Spirit. There is no condemnation for anyone in Christ Jesus and we need to start acting like we believe that.

    If we are in a disagreement with someone who is dealing in good faith, stop arguing. Stop bashing what you hate and start promoting what you love. If you’re right, it will show. If you find yourself struggling to respond to challenges to your claims and arguments, it could be that you are the one who is in error. It happens to the best of us and the only way to be sure you’re on the right course, is to be open to correction.

    Trust God when he reveals himself to be better than you ever thought was possible. As Jesus said, “eye has not seen, ear has not heard NOR HAS IT ENTERED INTO THE MIND OF MAN” what God has planned for us. Until Jesus reveals himself again, our ideas about God cannot possibly be the Truth. When he does, those who seek him will be in agreement. Unless you’re ready to declare that the second coming has occurred, you don’t get to say that the Truth of God is bouncing around your head and anyone who doesn’t agree with you is not to be welcomed by faithful Christians whose voices deserve to be heard.

    But there are those sinners and false teachers who need to be confronted. Given that with many disagreements, there’s always the possibility that I’m in error, we need some pretty good reason to begin the biblical pattern for confronting sin. It’s a powerful tool for destroying sin, but is more likely to be used to destroy those we who may simply be in error or who are the victims of sin than those who are engaged in actual sin.

    How to discern if something is an error, which God will lead a person out of in time, if they are sincere in their pursuit of Him? Or if it’s a destructive sin which must be destroyed, we have to follow Jesus’ instructions and tend to the hurting? If someone is saying, “you are causing me to suffer,” we need to listen. We need to pay make sure that person is cared for. If they aren’t, and other Christians start hearing that you are hurting people, we need to address that with you privately. If you refuse to respond, we still need to get you to deal with the people you’ve hurt and tend to their needs. So we will start trying to get your attention in public. If you will not be corrected, then we have a duty to tend to those people ourselves and warn others about the damage you are doing. If you will still not be corrected, God will allow your sin to run its course to its destructive outcome. (Looking at you, RCC, Bill Gothard, Pensacola University, et all.)

    But the only evidence allowed are the voices of those who are suffering. Jesus says to look at the fruit. Suffering is the sort of fruit we need to learn to respond to well before we try to figure out whether God knows everything that’s going to happen before it happens or not. Using this powerful process for dealing with serious sin against those with whom I’m having an arcane argument with is an abuse of the power we have been entrusted with as Christ followers. Maybe once we’ve taken the time to tend to the really, really big basic issues, we will understand God and his ways well enough to figure out the rest.

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    • Thanks so much, Rebecca. Yes, the process of dealing with genuine disagreements can be long and difficult. And yes, we need to be very careful not to label sins as mistakes or mistakes as sins. And finally (for now), yes, we need to confront sin. My point is that, if Edwards and the Westminster Divines are correct (and I think they are), that confrontation needs to be quite different from what it often is. Telling the truth is critically important. But HOW we tell the truth may be JUST AS important. My next blog will highlight a few of the ways in which we should NOT tell the truth. But thank you again for your comment.

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    • There is a lot of material here, Rebecca, and I appreciate it very much. One of the points I would make in response is a very simple one – we can express disagreement with another person without demeaning him. The English language and most other languages are very rich and there are all kinds of ways in which we can say what we are thinking. I am certainly NOT suggesting that we give up discussing hard topics. I am just saying that we can do so in ways which may be more or less gracious and I am urging that we choose the more gracious ways (which is just what you are saying). I am now writing a couple of blogs on the role of the church in our discussions. Sometimes, I think that we ignore the one institution which Christ Himself ordained and I don’t think that is either wise or necessary. But I do thank you for your replies.

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