Monday, August 20, 2012

Decalogue: Ninth Command

At bottom, the 9th Command is one of the easiest to understand. Its primary application is in regards to testifying in court. Nothing is more despicable that a witness who perjures himself. Regardless of the case, we all want justice to be served based on truth. It is a hollow victory for justice that a thief rightly gets sent to prison when witnesses have lied about him. I recently saw a forensic documentary in which one of the prosecution experts perjured herself on the stand regarding some of the evidence. Although there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the defendant’s guilt, the case against him was severely harmed by this unfortunate turn of events.

It is fairly obvious to anyone that the implication of this Command is the necessity of telling the truth in all circumstances. Lying about oneself or one’s neighbor is strictly forbidden. Lies can be told or implied by silence. We are all aware of situations where someone’s reputation has been destroyed by the silence of people who know better. While it is possible to lie through silence, this Command also enjoins silence when necessary. Just become something is true that does not mean that it is fair game for public discussion. This is the pretense behind which gossip frequently hides behind. Many of us have been in ‘prayer meetings’ where prayer was the vehicle for spreading dirt on other people. This is a covert form of gossip, and it is also a taking of God’s name in vain.

Matthew Henry, in his masterpiece commentary writes, “The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbor's good name: Thou shalt not bear false witness, This forbids, 1. Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbor. 2. Speaking unjustly against our neighbor, to the prejudice of his reputation; and (which involves the guilty of both), 3. Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either judicially, upon oath (by which the third commandment, and the sixth of eighth, as well as this, are broken), or extrajudicially, in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale-bearing, aggravating what is done amiss and making it worse than it is, and any way endeavoring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbor's.” All of the Reformation Catechisms handle this Command in exactly the same way.

Of course, a lot of nonsense has been taught in the name of this Command. Some of the Greek Fathers in the early centuries of Christianity held that Paul’s rebuke of Peter recounted in Galatians was actually a charade. It was said that they had agreed upon this little drama before hand and then set up the dummy circumstances whereby they could teach the Jews and Gentiles their lesson. Later theologians had the wisdom to see the folly in this position. The cause of God’s truth cannot be advanced through deception. Plus, admitting that Peter blew it here is not a rip on his character or Apostleship. It is simply an acknowledgment that he was human.

On the other hand, some people have asserted that virtually all strategy is evil because it is deceptive. I remember reading that in the early days of college baseball that the curveball was banned because it was an attempt to deceive the hitter. God Himself gave Joshua (8:2) a strategy which involved fooling the enemy. If you beat me at chess, a feat requiring little effort, I would not think you guilty of violating the 9th Command. We both understand the rules of the game and the strategies which are employed. When nations go to war, both sides expect their enemies to practice strategies which are intended to mislead and outsmart the other. Whatever else may be implied by this is beyond the scope of this article.

Nevertheless we may say this: it is certain that God’s cause is not advanced through deceit. One thinks of all the discrepancies in Benny Hinn’s biography. We might also mention Ergun Caner. Several years ago there was a scandal about the biography of Christian stand-up comedian Mike Warnke. A lot can be said about this, but it seems to me to be the result of the Arminian fascination with “testimonies.”

That word, viz., testimony, never occurs in Scripture as something we say about God or ourselves. Search the book of Psalms and without exception you will find the word testimony used regarding things God has revealed about Himself or His will. Nowhere will you find David saying, “I will declare my testimony in midst of the congregation.” Nowhere do we find in Scripture anyone telling the story of their conversion as part of evangelizing the lost. When Paul tells his, he was on trial! God has ordained that His Word be the instrument through which men are regenerated, not our conversion stories, interesting as they may be. The fact of the matter is, imagine a person, like John the Baptist, regenerated in the womb, or a kid who was raised in a Christian home – there is no less miracle involved in that person’s regeneration than in the salvation of the worst drug-addicted Satan-worshiping mob hit man. We create these distinctions because of a faulty notion of sin. Original Sin makes us all equally unable to come to God, unwilling to repent and believe. Were it not for the sovereign electing grace of God, no one at all would ever repent and believe savingly upon Christ. How dramatic or mundane my conversion story is, is absolutely irrelevant.

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